Do you know when to ’empower’ and when to ‘command and control’?

In most organizations, a leader who manages in a command and control style is frowned upon and branded as an uncaring tyrant who doesn’t listen to people and doesn’t empower them.

While, people’s negative reaction to a top-down command and control leadership style is understandable and most often legitimate, there are times in which a command and control approach is the most appropriate and effective. In fact, at times it is necessary.

Take as an example the new CEO of a large global financial service organization. When he took the helm of his organization, he soon realized that he inherited a bigger mess than he anticipated.

The financial performance of the company had been on a downward trend for the past three years. Customers were losing confidence. Investors were becoming skeptical, and all this was reflecting badly on the stock price.

The internal picture was not any prettier. The culture of this firm was siloed and political. Regional, Global and Headquarter functions were not communicating and collaborating in a cohesive and effective way. There were cliques with different agendas, no one wanted to make the tough or selfless decisions and there was no sense or practice of holding anyone to account. Needless to say, things were steadily deteriorating.

The lack of agility and accountability started at the top. Many of the senior executives were nearing retirement, they felt entitled and cared mostly about self-preservation. As a result, there was no sense of real ownership, accountability or urgency to fix things and turn the company around.

The new CEO didn’t waste much time. He fired a whole bunch of senior leaders and replaced them with leaders who were ambitious and eager to succeed.

He took away most of the authority from senior managers and he insisted on being involved in all key decisions. Any executive that wanted to drive a project or strategy had to pass it by the CEO first, and any departure from that policy was treated with harsh consequences. People learned very quickly that with this CEO they had better ask for permission because if they don’t, they won’t get forgiveness.

Needless to say, people were upset and there was a lot of complaining. This CEO was definitely a shock to the system. But he didn’t really care about how people felt. He continued to single-handedly govern, control and drive the decisions and activities of his large global organization.

In the first year, the decline in performance slowed. In the second year, the company broke even and in the third year, they made a small profit, which was a major accomplishment.

The external winds started to shift. Customers were more satisfied, investors felt more optimistic and the employees started to notice too. They weren’t happy, but there was less complaining and morale was a bit higher.

Command and control is a very targeted management/leadership strategy. When applied appropriately and effectively it can help you turn things around. However, when you have succeeded to turn things around, you need to adjust your strategy from command and control to empowerment; to rebuilding trust, cohesion, and open communication. If you fail to do that your command and control methods that helped you achieve success could easily and quickly destroy it.

In Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, versus 1-8 there is a passage/poem that starts with:

For everything there is a season and a time…”

Well, there is a time for empowerment and there is a time for command and control.

You just need to know when to empower and when to command and control and have the foresight and wisdom to know the difference.

Do you have an attitude of gratitude?

My mother taught me to be polite and say “Please” and “Thank you” when interacting with others. I am sure yours did too.

However, there is a much greater potential power in acknowledging, recognizing, praising and thanking people than good manners.

Committed people who aspire for excellence tend to often be too self-critical and also too critical of others. We tend to focus on what isn’t working, what is wrong, broken, bad and negative more than on the good things.

The critical perspective is often legitimate – meaning, people and teams could do better – and if you are level headed about criticizing yourself in an authentic way without taking it personally, it could be empowering and motivating. It could make you want to strive to do better.

However, let’s be honest, most of us are not super great at being motivated by criticism. We tend to feel invalidated and as a result, we lower our sights and become more resigned and cynical about what is possible for us. And for those of us who are better at it, we also need some positive reinforcement from time to time.

Acknowledgment, recognition and praise highlight the greatness, affirmative and positive in people and teams.

Highlighting what is good and positive is so easy to do. It doesn’t cost a dime and it makes so much difference. However, most people suck at it.

Why?

Either because they are stingy or because they are lazy. Yes, you heard it right, stingy or lazy.

The stingy have a ‘zero-sum’ mindset. They believe that if they make other people’s brand greater it will inevitably make their brand lower. This comes from a cynical point of view that “There is only a limited amount of greatness, recognition, compliments, and praise to go around, so I want it all to myself…

The lazy misunderstand the essence and magic of acknowledgment, recognition, praise, and gratitude altogether. They think it about it as conveying information or data. If you ask the lazy “Why don’t you recognize the person who did all these great things for you?”, they would say: “Well, I already told them how great they are last week. I don’t need to tell them again. They already know it.

But acknowledgment, recognition, and praise are not at all about sharing information or data. It is about touching people’s hearts genuinely and profoundly.

When you acknowledge, recognize and/or praise someone sincerely, from your heart, it goes directly to their heart and soul. It makes them feel unique and special; it makes them feel seen and heard; it makes them feel valued and valuable; it uplifts their spirit and energizes and empowers them.

Highlighting the greatness in others requires courage and generosity.

The good news is that there is never a scarcity of what you can recognize others for. You can acknowledge them for their spirit and heart; for their effort, dedication and behaviors; for their achievements and results. You just need to get over your potential stinginess or laziness.

I recommend you take on a practice of acknowledging at least one person every day and see how people react and what magic it creates.

The only advice I would add is that when you recognize someone, talk to them not about them.

For example, if you want to recognize your co-worker Joe, in a team meeting, don’t look at the rest of the team and say: “I would like to recognize Joe for staying every night this week to help me complete project x…“. Instead, look at Joe and say: “Joe, I would like to recognize you for staying every night this week to help me complete project x…”.

If you start practicing and adding this muscle to your daily routine at first it will feel like a technique. However, the more you practice the more it will become a part of your DNA; Just the way you approach relationships and interactions.

Needless to say, recognizing and praising people doesn’t cost a dime, but it can provide priceless value and impact.  Try it and see for yourself.

 

Do you talk about your issues or not?

When it comes to communication and conversation, especially about the more sensitive, touchy and uncomfortable topics there are two types of leaders: the “Let’s talk about it… type and the “Let’s not talk about it and it will go away…”.

Let’s be frank, no one looks forward to, or enjoys discussing the tough topics such as “What is not working?”, “Who is not doing their job properly?” or “Who is accountable for the failure in results?“.

People especially don’t like to talk about these topics when they know or suspect that their people are frustrated with, or blaming their leadership, performance or behavior.

However, some leaders seem to be braver, more mature or more responsible about their role and duty to foster an environment of frank conversation.

But more importantly, not talking about it doesn’t solve the problem, it pushes the problem and people’s frustrations under the carpet, so they are not visible and apparent. But that doesn’t make any of this go away, in fact, it makes things worse because it forms an undercurrent of unspoken negative chatter that wastes energy and time that forms a sentiment of resignation and cynicism.

Let me share two true stories…

The CEO of a global service company was a powerful leader who knew exactly what he wanted and how he wanted things to be done. He commanded his organization and executive team with an iron fist and because he had such strong industry knowledge, he wanted to be involved in, and control pretty much everything.

He was convinced that his leadership style was very successful because the company was doing better in terms of performance. Therefore, he had little patience for varying or contradicting views, especially critical feedback about his decisions or leadership methods.

There were many significant organizational, operational and customer issues and problems in the company, but the senior executives were very reluctant to bring them up because every time they attempted to do so the CEO would play down the issues and shut down the conversation.

Under this CEO the company reached a plateau, which it never overcame. While the business results improved, the CEO was unable to transform the culture of his organization. The levels of cynicism, resignation, and fear to speak up deepened and the company continued to be very political and siloed.

In contrast to the first story, the CEO of a global telecommunication organization, in this second true story, was a very bold, passionate and inspirational leader. He believed in teamwork and communication and he promoted that environment throughout his senior executive team and his entire organization at every opportunity.

In fact, when he as much as suspected that teams were not discussing or addressing the real issues that were preventing effectiveness or success, he was not shy to summon the relevant leaders and compel them to start talking.

However, his hands-on approach frustrated some of his executives, as they felt that he was too involved in their business and interaction with their peers. When the CEO picked this frustration up, he brought up the conversation at his next executive team meeting.

Despite people’s uncomfortableness to give him the feedback the CEO encouraged his leaders to communicate courageously. The senior team had a very open, honest and productive conversation, at the end of which the executives took responsibility for the fact that they were not promptly addressing issues between their functions. They committed to doing so. The CEO committed to taking a step back in his interference in his leader’s interactions.

Things visibly changed for the better and the CEO and many of his executives continued to remember these conversations as a milestone in the development of the executive team.

No doubt that the “Let’s talk about it” route is often harder, more uncomfortable and at times messier and more chaotic. However, it is a more powerful and effective route and it makes a bigger difference to the culture and performance of the organization.

 

Are you open to your possibilities?

If you don’t believe that some future goal is actually achievable or likely to happen, would you still put your heart into it and go after it? I am sure your answer is NO!

People only really wholeheartedly pursue the aspirations that they believe are achievable and doable.

I was trying to convince a client that he can achieve the promotion he wanted to VP in the short time frame he wanted, but he was very skeptical about his odds for success as he could not see any apparent openings for a VP role in the foreseeable future. He kept telling me “There is no way!” This was his outlook and mindset about his chances to succeed. Needless to say, he remained discouraged and he took no action to look or explore any further.

But then, something happened that changed his mind. The company announced a major reorganization and in the shuffle a couple of new leadership roles became available. They were not published as VP roles, however, their scope suggested that they could become so.

The competition for these new roles was fierce. However, these openings shifted my client’s mindset away from “There is no way!”. He saw a new possibility and his mindset shifted to “But, of course!” As his outlook shifted so did his spirit, energy, and behaviors.

He got up the next day dusted off his resume and started sending out emails and setting up meetings to make his request to be considered for the new role known. He ended up getting one of the new leadership roles, with a promise that over the following three months he would be promoted to VP.

There is a lesson in my client’s example for all of us!

We all know that in the last 5-10 years the rate of change has been the fastest ever. There are so many examples in business and society of realities that were considered impossible for a long time, or not considered or imagined at all, that have actually happened. Take the end of Apartheid, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, as well as the advances in flight, the Apple empire, September 11th, and the most recent financial collapse to mention just a few.

In 1895 Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society said:

“Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.”

In 1943 Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM said:

“There is a world market for about five computers.”

And Ken Olsen, President of Digital Equipment Corp said:

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer at their home.”

And to top it all, in 1899 Charles H. Duel, Director of the U.S. Patent Office said:

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

We really do not know what is possible in the future, including for us personally.

Whenever you want to achieve something and your mindset about it is “There is no way!” all you have to do is shift your mindset to But, of course! and your outlook and behaviors will automatically shift too.

At times, that could be easier said than done. Here are three practical tips for how to proactively shift your mindset and belief in this way:

  1. Don’t confuse facts with beliefs and feelings. When we feel that something is beyond our reach and we feel “it’s never going to happen for us” that is NOT a fact, it’s a belief or feeling. When people describe to me why they will have difficulty to achieve their goals they often say things like: “It is going to be hard” or “It is going to take a long time“. First of all, the actual premise of describing the future as if it is a fact is flawed. There are no facts about the future as it hasn’t happened yet. The more you have awareness and can tell the difference between your beliefs and the facts, you will be able to have more powerful and open thoughts about what could be possible for you.
  2. Start questioning your own and other’s assumptions and truths. We don’t question our own thoughts and assumptions, as well as other people’s statements enough. If we think that something is not doable, we rarely challenge our own thought with “Why not?”, “Who said it isn’t possible?“. We take our own limiting thoughts as well as people’s limiting statements as truth and fact, even when they are NOT. In fact, it’s worse, we start collecting evidence that it isn’t possible. But, once you shift your thought process, you will start collecting evidence that what you want is in fact possible.
  3. Ask for help from the right people. If you want to achieve something that you have never achieved before and you have doubts about your ability to do so, find someone who has achieved that goal and ask them for help, support, guidance, and coaching. Trust me, your paradigm will shift very quickly as they enlighten you with new ways of thinking and viewing your desired outcome and all the obstacles that you think are in your way.

It takes courage to stay awake and aware, not fall into false and limiting assumptions and think independently. It’s easier to conform to common thinking about what is possible and not possible. It’s easier to replicate other people’s benchmarks and use these as your benchmark.

But it is much more exciting, stimulating and empowering to push your thinking beyond the norm and be a pioneer in imagining, staking, pursuing and fulfilling your own life vision and aspirations.

 

Are you controlling or empowering?

I don’t think I have ever met an executive, leader or manager who didn’t pronounce the importance of teamwork and collaboration, then express their commitment to building that environment around them.

Unfortunately, I have met quite a few executives, leaders, and managers who said it but when the moment of truth arrived, they were too closeminded, proud, self-righteous or afraid to let go of their control and truly invest in, promote and leverage the collective power of their team.

These leaders when in public took every opportunity to express platitudes about “we are stronger together”, “the power of teams” and “feedback is a gift“.

However, when their team members wanted to have real, authentic and courageous conversations about the topics that were important to them, these leaders were very quick to shut down the conversation in a defensive and passive aggressive way.

For example, the Head of HR in a large global technology company launched a company-wide initiative to build a more honest and engaging culture. However, her own organization probably had one of most political, passive-aggressive and siloed cultures in the company, and many of her leaders blamed her lack of willingness to deal with conflict and have uncomfortable conversations, for it.

When it came time to implement the cultural change in the human resources organization the HR leader asked her leaders to invite a few second level HR managers to give both her and them some feedback and input about how the rest of HR were feeling about the culture.

The managers were asked to be honest about the perceptions of their teams, but when they described the senior HR leaders as operating in an ivory tower, disconnected from the rest of the HR team, the HR leader became visibly upset and defensive.

The open conversation quickly shut down, the honesty evaporated, the senior leaders were embarrassed, and the second level managers left shaken by the traumatic experience.

The meetings had a lasting effect on the HR team. As the word quickly caught on about what happened in the meeting, people concluded that it was dangerous to speak up and give critical feedback to the HR leader. The negative feedback didn’t stop. In fact, it increased. It just went underground, making the HR culture even more toxic.

Leaders who want to control everything give feedback to others, but they do not want to receive feedback themselves, especially critical feedback about their leadership behavior and style or any project or program they feel identified with.

Despite their declaration to the contrary, they don’t trust others, they believe they know best and they are smartest. In fact, it is more important to them that things are done exactly the way they want them to be done than it is to promote and develop the spirit of ownership, commitment, accountability and innovation among their team members. By design or by default they foster a culture of compliance, not ownership. Around them, the likelihood of a team member coming up with a better solution or outcome to a problem, or a better way to achieve something is slim.

The people who work for these leaders are very smart and perceptive. They don’t listen to what their leaders say, they watch how their leaders behave. They get the inauthenticity and hypocrisy. They don’t dare bring it up or challenge it for fear of retribution. So, the frustrations, disappointment, and criticism go underground, to the ‘around the cooler’ gossipy backchannel conversation.

Leaders who want to control everything seem to be oblivious and insensitive to the negative undercurrent. For them, as long as people do what they are told things are progressing well. In fact, for them, if there is no bad press means there is no bad news.

However, people don’t forget the traumatic passive-aggressive moments. These become the corporate scars that remind people to “Be careful”, “Not rock the boat” and “Pick their battles” because “Nothing will change anyways“.

While on the surface things may seem to be going well, this passive-aggressive environment is exhausting, discouraging and demotivating.

And, have no delusions, it has a direct consequential toll on performance too.

Never forget the power and magic of Courage

W.H. Murray, the leader of the Scottish Himalayan Expedition that pioneered the path to the top of Mt. Everest, knew something about courage. He shared his experience in a known quote, which I really love:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.

Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:

That, the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.

I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.

Courage is the single most critical ingredient for achieving our dreams, aspirations and other great things.

Yes, knowledge, experience, credentials, skills and a good plan are material too. However, any plan is only as good as your relationship to it. I have seen too many people with a brilliant plan fail because they lacked the courage to take bold action, have faith or stay the course in challenging times.

Courage comes in many forms, expressions and styles. Sometimes, standing for what you believe and fully expressing yourselves with a loud and assertive voice is an act of courage. But, sometimes, remaining thoughtful and calm in the face of turmoil, allowing yourself to be vulnerable or simply listening to other’s with openness and generosity requires courage too.

Being ‘courageous‘ is very different than ‘being fearless‘. The dictionary defines fearless as ‘Lacking fear’. However, if you are courageous it does not mean you lack fear. On the contrary, you need to be most courageous when you are most afraid.

As Nelson Mandela put it:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

If anyone knew something about courage, it was Nelson Mandela.

We all have the natural ability to bring forth courage and live by it every moment and day of our life, no matter what our circumstances are. Unfortunately, we often seem to forget or underestimate just how powerful and magical courage really is, so we don’t fully bet on it.

Early in my career when I was struggling with achieving my sales goals, my mentor at the time gave me some advice that impacted my entire life thereafter. He said, “If you do the right thing for long enough eventually you will get the outcome you want.”

It worked. I became the most productive and successful sales leader in the company. I have experienced this first principle time and time again in multiple areas of my life and the lives of others.

If you are willing to be courageous, take a stand for what you want and then stay the course by living, acting and behaving consistently, sooner or later the circumstances will line up with your stance. As W.H. Murray put it in his quote: ‘Providence will move too‘.

Yes, you need to believe in yourself and your ability; you need to have faith for this to work. If you allow yourself to become cynical, negative or sarcastic, the circumstances will prove you right. You know how the saying goes: “Be careful what you wish for!”

Someone shared with me this gospel of Thomas, which I thought is relevant:

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. However, if you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

Inaction can have grave consequences when it comes to being true to yourself and achieving your dreams and aspirations. In order to become confident and proficient at the practice and discipline of courage, you need to practice on a regular basis.

Eleanor Roosevelt, another brave and inspiring leader, gave very practical and powerful advice on this. She recommended:

“Do one thing every day that scares you!”

Courage inspires, enables, pushes and reminds us to pursue our dreams and never give up. And, when we remain true to our self, we are always the happiest.

Are you having courageous conversations?

I’d like to share three true stories with you…

True Story One:

In a very large global financial service organization there was a strategic conflict between one of the lines of business and the regions, who were selling its products. The regions felt they were different. They knew their territory and customers best, so they wanted to control the sales process. But the business unit believed their products were meant to be sold through a consistent global program, which only they could do. Needless to say, this caused a lot of conflicts, tensions, and stress among the senior leaders. It was causing even more anxiety at the middle managers level as they felt stuck between a rock and a hard place, feeling political pressure to pick sides between the senior leaders they reported to. And, most of all this conflict was hurting business productivity and results.

Everyone acknowledged that this was a big problem, but the CEO didn’t seem to get it. He kept claiming that things were clear, while at the same time telling both sides what they wanted to hear.

At first, the senior leaders tried to bring the issue up at the senior leadership team meetings. However, the CEO refused to engage, so, it didn’t take long before the leaders simply stopped trying to bring it up. They continued to discuss the topic in the ‘around the cooler’ gossipy back channel conversations.

This continued on for a long time… Why?

True Story Two:

A large global technology company acquired another large competitor and was in the midst of integrating the new company. At the most senior leadership level, there were challenges as the existing and new leaders didn’t see eye to eye about important strategic decisions.

The senior leaders held several meetings to get aligned on key strategies and priorities. However, these meetings didn’t go well, and the leaders remained divided, cynical and not on the same page. The lack of alignment at the top affected the performance of the entire organization. Engineering and Product blamed Sales for the problems and Sales blamed everyone else.

Everyone was frustrated about what was going on, including the CEO, the senior leaders, the middle managers, and the employees, but, no one stood up and screamed: “Enough Already!!!” Why?

True Story Three:

An almost fatal accident on the factory floor uncovered significant safety issues that were a result of people cutting corners and not complying with the safety protocols.

The CEO launched an investigation which revealed that the issues that led to the accident were caused by the fact that at the end of the quarter management was driving production so hard in order to meet quarterly quotas that managers prioritized volume and speed over safety. Everyone knew that closing the line would hurt production quotas, so supervisors turned a blind eye to safety compromises.

The investigation also disclosed that the workers knew that this was going on; they understood the risks and consequences of an accident. In fact, many workers discussed these problems among themselves…

But they didn’t bring it up to their supervisors… Why?

Almost every day I meet executives, leaders, managers, and employees who are extremely bright, smart, and knowledgeable. Many describe to me with great insight, confidence and passion the issues, problems, barriers and also opportunities their organization faces. In fact, I often hear about the root causes of many of the issues, and what needs to be done.

However, when I ask these leaders and managers: “So, what have you done about it?” or “Have you brought it up to your superiors?“, they often turn white and acknowledge in an embarrassed kind-of-a-way that they have not.

When I ask “Why?”, they begin struggling, squirming and stuttering, they usually finally admit that they weren’t brave enough!

So my question to you, when you’re faced with challenging situations – are you having courageous conversations?

 

You can’t have your cake and eat it too…

Words are only cheap when we make them cheap.

It’s no wonder concepts like “alignment” “empowerment” and “accountability” are considered faded clichés in most organizations.

This is because leaders have abused these terms for so long by pronouncing them left, right and center at their convenience to present themselves as modern and enlightened leaders only to repeatedly not live up to their declarations and to the promise of these powerful leadership concepts.

Many senior executives say they want to build greater trust with their team, but they are unwilling to invest the time to bring their team together in order to build that trust.

Many leaders say they want to empower their people, but when their leaders attempt to give them critical feedback, they become irritated and angry, which suppresses any space for authentic communication.

Many leaders say they want to engage their people in the mission of the company, but when their people give them advice or bring up ideas for improving things, they ignore these inputs because they feel ‘they know best’.

Alignment and ownership, or ‘command-and-control’. They are mutually exclusive. You can’t play both games. You have to choose one or the other.

Leaders who think that alignment means everyone agreeing with their direction, views and management style and wholeheartedly following them and doing what they say with ownership and passion are simply naïve, disconnected and/or delusional.

If you want to build an environment of genuine ownership and alignment it comes with the price of people being encouraged and allowed to think for themselves, express their views and get the job done with their own voice and in their own way.

Empowerment is not a cliché or slogan from a management textbook, it is a powerful leadership paradigm and approach that is not for the faint-hearted.

If you are so convinced that you know best, you have all the answers, you are smarter than everyone in your team or you are simply too afraid of getting feedback and criticism from your people an empowered and aligned team environment is not for you.

If you behave like a dictator you will trade-off people’s ownership, empowerment and commitment. If you don’t listen, you will surround yourself with people who don’t speak.

The problem is that most leaders know how to play the corporate game and say the right slogans. Some actually drink their own Kool-Aid and believe their own stories. They believe that they are committed to promoting empowerment and alignment around them.

If you want to know the truth, find a way to ask your people. Either directly or through a trusted third party. If you are reluctant to do that you are probably not open to building an empowered and aligned team environment. However, if you are eager to do so, you probably are committed to building an open, honest and authentic team environment.

None of this is set in stone. If you recognize that you haven’t been focused on, or effective at building an environment of empowerment, trust and communication in your team you could always shift gears and start doing so.

However, to succeed you must first be honest with yourself and probably with others too, about the type of leader you have been and who you really want to be in the future. You cannot pretend to be committed to building an environment of empowerment, trust, and communication. Your inauthenticity would be clearly recognized. Some leaders really believe in the command-and-control approach. They have achieved good results with that and they don’t have a desire to change. If you are one of those leaders, be honest about that.

However, if you are committed to leading through empowerment, trust, and communication, declare that, acknowledge your gaps and identify your opportunities and start developing the necessary skills to become really good at it.

 

Take One Little Step…

One little step stands between being courageous or being a coward. Literally!

The difference between being courageous and being a coward is – Action.

If you are committed to an outcome or direction that is beyond your comfort level and you take action toward it, you are courageous. If you don’t – you are a coward.

If you are committed to an outcome of direction that is beyond your comfort level most likely you will be afraid; you will have anxiety and/or nervousness about your ability to succeed. You will have moments of doubt, second-guessing yourself and even moments in which you will regret having committed to the direction. You will definitely be tempted to buy-in to excuses such as “It’s the wrong time”, “The risks are too high” and the variety of “I am not good enough” justifications. The fear and anxiety aspects are the same whether you are courageous or a coward.

In fact, the essence of courage is to acknowledge and embrace your fear and then go forward in the face of it. To not be stopped by fear. If you didn’t have the fear, you wouldn’t need to be courageous. Fearless people don’t need courage. However, what makes the difference is how you behave when you are afraid; do you take action to fulfill your commitment or not.

I was coaching a manager who unexpectedly lost his job after dedicating 25 years of his life to the company. He needed to work and earn an income, but he believed he was too old and unqualified to find a new job. He was discouraged, and this led to overwhelming hopelessness and desperation, that paralyzed him.

He made some attempts to reach out to people in his network seeking employment opportunities, but after these weren’t fruitful, he stopped trying. In fact, he stopped other things too, like going to the gym and eating well.

When I met him, he wasn’t in good physical and mental shape. However, he was in good enough shape to sincerely want to change.

My conditions for helping him included him going back to exercising at least four times a week and returning to eating well. These were small familiar actions that he could easily take on. I could see a noticeable difference in his energy and outlook within a few days.

We then made a list of contacts and leads and devised a plan whereby he would contact at least one person every day and then call me to share his progress. Within, a week he lined up two job interviews. Needless to say, this boosted his morale significantly. After four weeks he landed a new job.

If you adopt the mantra of “Progress, not perfection” it will empower you to take action.

You can get yourself unstuck from anything by taking small steps of action. Don’t try to take on too much at once, otherwise, you are likely to fall short, get discouraged and fall back into a bad place. Start with small steps of action in the right direction. I know it may not seem enough, but I promise you that small steps will eventually lead to bigger steps. Progress evokes more progress.

The good news is that we all have everything that we need to be courageous and take action. We may convince ourselves and others of all the reasons why we cannot take a small action forward. However, even if our reasons are legitimate, they are never the true cause of not taking action.

Taking action doesn’t guarantee the outcomes you want. However, if you go full out and fall short you will probably feel much better about yourself and your chances to succeed next time than if you fail because you didn’t try much in the first place.

One of my early professional mentors once told me:

You either have the results you want, or you have the story why not.”

This mindset has stayed with me ever since.

There are two types of players in life: those who are brave and take action, and those who avoid action.

Which of these do you want to be?

 

What kind of leader do you want to be?

The CEO of a large global service organization was a very strong and tough leader. This enabled him to drive, almost single-handedly, significant and impressive changes in the structure, performance and market position of this organization.

His leaders admired the CEO for his bold leadership and the progress that he was driving. However pretty much all of them also felt intimidated by his strong personality and assertive and decisive leadership style.

The CEO stated that he wanted his leaders to be engaged and co-own and co-lead the company with him. However, in reality, he had such strong views about the business – which were often the right ones – that he infrequently actually listened or incorporated his leader’s ideas. And, the fact that he was wicked smart and knowledgeable about most aspects of the business, as well as an extremely rigorous and diligent leader presented an extremely high bar, which most of his people couldn’t match or live up to.

The members of the senior leadership team were frustrated because they weren’t making the difference, they felt they should and could be making and the difference they wanted to make. They felt they weren’t engaged and involved enough in influencing and shaping the important strategic topics and directions. They were also frustrated about the fact that they were not operating as a real cohesive and aligned team. They felt discouraged because they felt they couldn’t change their predicament. Needless to say, this company had significant alignment, teaming and cohesion challenges across and within its businesses and functions.

However, the story is not all bad. The company was making great progress and people, including the senior leaders, were feeling good about that.

Everyone wants to be part of a winning team. Everyone wants to be associated with great results. There are benefits from success – a sense of pride, satisfaction and often financial rewards too. That is why people are often willing to put up with a lot of hardship in order to stay associated with success.

Business success is important, but it isn’t everything. People spend the majority of their life at work. They dedicate so much of their heart and soul to their company’s cause. And, they often make a personal sacrifice for their job and put their work before their personal priorities.

The way you drive and achieve the results is often as important as the results themselves.

Unfortunately, many senior leaders still believe that business success is everything and the only thing that matters at work. They relate to team spirit, culture and job satisfaction as ‘nice to have’, but not a critical aspect of the business, or their job. So, they behave accordingly.

If you think back through your career and recall the most memorable teams you were part of, and impactful experiences you had – what do you remember most? The business results or the team dynamics, atmosphere, spirit, relationships and communications that took place that led to the business results. I am sure it is the latter.

People remember the leaders who inspired them by driving team unity, alignment, collaboration, growth, accomplishments, and pride. They remember the environment that enabled, empowered and encouraged them to be authentic, brave, express themselves, grow, be part of something bigger, and make a difference.

So, if you are a formal or informal leader or you want to be, you should ask yourself the questions:

  • What type of leader do I want to be?
  • What legacy do I want to leave on others?
  • What impact do I want to have on people that I lead?

Can you tolerate things getting worse before they get better?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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