If you don’t have a clear outcome and someone who owns it, you have nothing!

I was supporting a group of senior leaders in a global technology company to create breakthrough projects in a few key areas of their business in which they wanted to elevated performance. As a kickoff, I asked each of the project teams to present their ‘Starting Point Status’.

Different projects were at different stages of maturity. However, they all shared a few common mistakes.

One team outlined several initiatives, but it wasn’t clear what was the overarching outcome of their project.  So beyond the individual outcome of each initiative, I couldn’t tell if the initiatives they’d taken on were the right ones for this breakthrough project.

Another team outlined the outcome of their project, but when I asked who was accountable for that overall outcome they stuttered and started to tell me what each project will do and what each function in the company will do to support it. Not what I was asking…

The third project team had a clear outcome and they had outlined the owners of the overall project as well as the different initiatives that supported it. However, when I asked if all the leaders who were listed owned their role and felt passionate about it, they acknowledged that in some cases not and in other cases, they picked leaders by assumption based on their functional role, without talking directly to these people.

All the projects were very strategic to the company as they spanned across multiple functions. In one case, I asked the entire group of senior leaders to share and acknowledge the level of belief, ownership and passionate within the senior team about the project. It became clear quickly that the level was not strong.

The fourth project leader stood up and acknowledged in a heartfelt way that the area they were trying to turn around was an area the company has repeatedly said they wanted to fix but had failed to do so. It wasn’t hard to detect that the same powerful project elements were missing here too.

Generating breakthroughs is both an art and a science.

The art part is people’s personality and style, and their ability to inspire motivation and confidence in others to believe in a bigger cause and follow them to achieve it.

The science part is a few elements that make or break any breakthrough effort.

If you want to structure your projects to achieve breakthrough-results make sure you have the following elements:

  1. An overarching measurable outcome for the project.
  2. A clear and genuine owner for that overarching outcome. You cannot assume this. Someone has to stand up and declare: “You can count on me to ensure this outcome will be achieved!” This doesn’t mean that the project is their problem, or that they have to do everything. In big complex projects, there are multiple people and functions who are involved. But, one leader has to be the driving force.
  3. A passionate belief by all team members in the purpose and importance of the project and in the fact that it can be and will be achieved.

You can view this as the classic “What?” – “Who?” – “Why?”.

People jump to activities and plans too quickly. Why?

Because it is easier to identify activities and plans than it is to confront ownership and commitment.

I have seen elaborate plans be presented so many times. These are often misleading because it appears the team is on top of the project, whilst in reality, they are generating a lot of activities that won’t necessarily hit the mark.

If people don’t wholeheartedly believe in the project, in its purpose and reason for being, as well as in the fact that it can be and will be achieved, you don’t have a strong enough foundation to drive a breakthrough.

And if you don’t have a clear outcome and someone who owns it you have nothing!

 

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?

 

Are you addicted to your smartphone?

I spent a few days on the beach in Miami with my wife, and I couldn’t help but be shocked by people’s behavior with their smartphones.

My day started early at the gym with a small handful of exercisers. Even at 7am many of the exercisers were glued to their smartphones for the entire duration of their exercise. People were walking on the treadmill and cycling on the bike while being completely immersed in their smartphone for 90 minutes, without lifting their eyes from it.

At breakfast I saw a few couples and families sitting around the table, everyone with eyes glued to their smartphone as they were eating, with an occasional brief exchange of looks and words.

And, then at the beach, so many people sitting in their beach chairs glued to their smartphones for hours at a time. I even saw a few people walking on the beach holding their smartphones in front of their eyes literally walking and typing. I’m not sure how they managed to watch where they were going.

And then again at the restaurant over dinner, same behaviors.

I don’t know what the official statistics are of daily smartphone usage, but assume it is very high. In fact, I would bet some people spend 60-70 percent of their day glued to their smartphones. And, to be clear, the people I saw were not all teenagers or young adults. Some were clearly in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.

This is our modern, enlightened society.

If modern, enlightened means not being able to put your smartphone down and control your usage, not being able to make eye contact and/or converse with your loved ones, and/or not being able to simply be present in the moment in order to ‘stop and smell the roses’ – then, count me out!

Please don’t get me wrong, I love technology; I depend on it; I can’t imagine being without my computer or my phone for even one day. My entire life is entangled in technology – my personal and business calendars, my food and exercise apps, my immediate and extended family WhatsApp groups, my personal and business contacts, my emails, texts and more…

However, I don’t want to be so consumed by my technology that I am unable to function without constantly glancing at my smartphone. I don’t want to be impatient and anxious to receive the next message; I don’t want to worry that if I go off the grid for an hour or two, I may miss something. I want my technology to be my tool, resource and support mechanism, not my addiction. I want to control my impulses, I don’t want my impulses to control me.

Call me old fashion, but when my kids come over and we spend time together I want us to just be with each other and catch up, without smartphones. The same with my friends. I want to have quality time with my wife without either of us thinking about or looking at our smartphone. I want to exercise and do yoga without being concerned about missing out on something at work while I am nurturing my body and soul.

My wife often challenges me to eat my salad without dressing and to try other foods without sauce or gravy, in order to remember the taste of vegetables, grains, and meats in their natural and pure form. To be honest, I don’t love doing that because I have become used to the taste of meat with honey mustard or fish with Hollandaise.

However, when it comes to my connection and quality time with my wife, kids and loved ones I will do my best to keep our relationships as natural and pure as possible.

 

Stop wasting time in worthless meetings

I was working with two different organizations that were going through significant growth and change. One company had completed its second acquisition of a large competitor and was in the midst of integrating teams, products and strategies to optimize this significant change and growth.

The other company had done such a great job in their core business of selling machines and hardware that they were expanding their market reach into adjacent areas of software development and consulting. This change required new capabilities, skills, processes and mindset.

Needless to say, in both cases, there were many complex details for the leadership teams to debate, make decisions about and iron out both in their growth and change strategy, as well as in its execution. In both cases, decisions were not being made fast enough.

The leadership teams of both of these companies had a similar routine of holding a weekly call for about 90 minutes each, where leaders, in turn, shared updates on the activities they were working on. These weekly calls were mostly oriented around updates and sharing with little-to-no interaction or debate. In fact, most leaders didn’t find these weekly calls very productive and critical, so throughout the calls, they were busy doing their emails while the call was going on, so they weren’t even paying that much attention to their colleague’s updates to begin with.

Needless to say, these weekly update calls were not the forum where the leaders could debate and dig into the big topics of challenges and opportunities that were affecting everyone’s day-to-day life given all the massive growth and change they were going through.

Every one of the leaders in both companies felt a burning need for their leadership team to spend quality time together in order to debate the urgent topics that were on their minds, but they had no other meeting scheduled beyond the weekly calls to do that in.

The leaders actually did have plenty of opportunities to meet each other in-person in their quarterly business reviews (QBR) and other company functions, but these always included many other participants beyond the leaders so there was no opportunity for alone time for the leaders. They occasional dinners together as a leadership team also didn’t provide the opportunity for meaningful debates.

Everyone was frustrated about the lack of quality leadership team time, but no one did anything much about it. When I asked why the leaders don’t schedule additional leadership team meetings people responded with: “We are too busy with the day-to-day” and “We can’t find the time….”. When I challenged them they added and explained: “We have too many other meetings that are filling our schedule, that are a waste of time; things we could cover via email”

I see this exact same dynamic with so many companies!!!

The “We don’t have time” excuse is exactly that – a lame excuse and a cop out!

It’s actually worse, the need for the leadership team to spend quality time in order to debate and address the big challenges and opportunity of their growth and change is real and critical. It is not a “luxury” or “nice to have”. It is a “must” and a “leadership responsibility”. Not doing it is unacceptable.

The solution is actually quite simple and straightforward:

  1. Have the courage to stop/cancel all the meetings that are unproductive and not a good use of time.
  2. Share information that could be shared/updated via email – via email.
  3. Schedule meetings with enough time, on topics that are important. For a company that is going through significant change, the leadership team should meet no less than once a quarter for one or two full days. In some periods/phases of change, even that is insufficient and the leadership team should meet every month or every other month.
  4. Make sure the important meetings are productive, with clear objectives, agenda and someone to manage/facilitate them. Don’t let them decline or get out of control.

If you stop the ineffective and worthless meetings and you make sure the important meetings are productive and worthwhile people won’t feel like there are too many meetings. They will simply see these as “what we do to be successful”

 

Stop focusing on lagging indicators!

I was supporting a technology company that was going through tremendous growth and change. They had ripped apart and restructured their entire business and they were working very hard on integrating the new pieces.

Even though they were going through all this change they were given no relief from achieving their bold sales numbers. What made things worse is that they had fallen short in their few previous quarters. Needless to say, the pressure and stress were very high. Everyone was focused on achieving the next quarter’s results.

But, a growing number of leaders were becoming frustrated. They felt that the short-term focus was part of the problem. They believed that the team’s single focus on the next thirty-day and ninety-day results was perpetuating the short-term challenges and problems that were causing the continuous shortfalls. The short-term focus was preventing the team from coming up with longer-term strategies that may not help in the near future but would lay the foundation for elevating the team out of its predicament in the longer run.

It was hard for this team to change its mindset.  Many leaders felt that if the team doesn’t make its short-term results the company won’t have a longer-term future.

Have you ever been in a situation like this? Where your existing results were in jeopardy and even though you knew that reacting to the poor results in the short term would be a mistake you couldn’t help but do so.

I see this dynamic in organizations all the time.

Many leaders don’t seem to understand that their business results are lagging indicators, therefore focusing on them, or reacting to them is the wrong thing to do.

You don’t want to focus on the lagging indicator. You want to focus on their source.

Context is the source of results.  In organizations context manifests through the culture of the organization: how people at all levels, functions and locations behave and act, what people consider possible and impossible, achievable and unachievable, and the degree to which people feel that they matter, they can make a difference and they can affect and change things.

Leaders who understand this know that they have to focus on and nurture their people’s ownership, commitment, empowerment and motivation. Everything else falls out of that.

If your people are frustrated, they feel like the company is not doing the right things and they can’t speak up or influence and change that, they’ll leave or worse – they will stay as skeptical, cynical and resigned team members. You can be sure that if this happens the results will start stalling or declining – it’s not a matter of if, only when.

But, if your people feel genuinely excited and committed; that they matter and they can make a difference, they will own the objectives and they will go the extra mile to reach them. And, if the results are declining, they will work together in a very transparent and candid way to get to the source of the issues and turn things around.

Your people’s level of excitement, commitment and ownership, as well as their clarity of destination and sense of empowerment to make the difference in achieving it, is your leading indicator of success.

Strong results will dry up when the context is weak. On the other hand, a strong context will overcome any bad results! And, don’t get confused about the benchmark: you could be better than your competitors, even the best in your industry and still be much less than you could be.

If you and your team are clear about who you are, what you stand for, what you are committed to, and you have a plan, and then you and your team act and behave consistently with your commitments, values and plan, it is only a matter of when, not if you will achieve what you want.

The universe three tests rule – a Fable:

A team of professionals who were successful for many years in their craft decided to take their game to a new level. They took on a bold stand and aligned on a set of audacious objectives to leap themselves beyond anything they have ever done or achieved before.

The universe listened to their declaration and said skeptically: “I have heard so many empty declarations. What is different with this team?

To check them out, the universe threw at them a few small obstacles and challenges to make their new endeavor more challenging.

The professionals remained calm and collected, they stayed the course, overcame these small curveballs and moved on.

The universe took notice, but it wasn’t overly impressed. “Beginner’s luck,” it said as it released a bigger wave of issues and problems for the professionals to deal with.

These bigger obstacles definitely raffled the professional’s feathers. They scrambled and struggled to overcome the problems. Their partnership and trust were strained. However, eventually, they figured it out and continued forward with commitment and resolve.

OK, you have my attention!” the universe stated. “Now let’s see if you are truly for real.” The universe unleashed issues, challenges, problems and unfavorable circumstances bigger than the first two times combined.

The team scrambled and struggled. Their performance and results declined, some of their people gave up and left, and their own partnership, trust and belief in the future were significantly strained. But, at the end they endured, they figured it out and continued forward with commitment and resolve.

The universe, who was taking notice the whole time finally exclaimed: “Yes! You are for real!” and then everything began to change. Instead of issues, problems and obstacles, the universe started sending favorable incidents, meetings, material assistant and circumstances that the team couldn’t have anticipated would come their way. As a result, they started to gain momentum towards their desired change and eventually achieved it.

The End!

Most teams give up too quickly!

Their first mistake – they focus on the results, which are lagging indicators.

Their second mistake – they don’t focus on nurturing people’s commitment, ownership and empowerment, which are leading indicators.

Their third mistake – they don’t stay the course for long enough to pass the universe three tests and get to the other side, where they could reap the rewards.

Stop Prioritizing and start Promising!

You would think that getting your priorities straight would be the answer to the overwhelming, stressful burden of too many commitments, too little time and scarce resources.  Well, you may want to think again!

Setting priorities is definitely a solution, but it isn’t the most powerful and effective one.

You write down everything you are supposed to do, want to do, said you would do and have to do. You then take that list and through some form of screening criteria, rank each in order of importance, sense of opportunity, urgency or obligation. You then tackle each item on your to-do list in order of importance starting with the “A” priorities then, as time and capacity permit, getting to those ranked “B” and “C”.

From a practical content standpoint, this method sounds very clear, logical and effective. However, in reality, things often don’t work out according to our lists. In addition, from a mindset standpoint prioritizing often gets us to compromise and sell-out too easily and quickly. .

Take the following real story (fictional name):

George was a very ambitious, driven and impatient sales manager. He had many things he wanted to achieve in his professional and personal life. In fact, he wanted to achieve everything right away. But he knew it wasn’t realistic, so he made a list of his six commitments and prioritized them from first to last. At the top of his list was to achieve a record sales year with his team, in the middle he had going to the gym at least 3 times a week and at the bottom, he had dating and finding a relationship.

His first priority was all consuming. He worked 80-hour weeks in order to achieve his sales goals and when he got to the weekend he was so exhausted that most of the time he simply couldn’t get himself to go to the gym, never mind going on dates. At first, he was frustrated with his inability to get beyond his first priority to the others. However, as time passed the frustration turned into resignation, apathy, and skepticism. He simply stopped believing that he could have a life beyond achieving his sales goals.

Every time one of his friends or family members would ask why he isn’t exercising or dating he would blame his work for it. In fact, when he would socialize with some of his other professional friends who had the same predicament he had, they would often talk about how “you can’t have a personal life while having a successful career, especially being a successful sales manager.” They all believed that.

In contrast, Kevin, a mid-level lawyer was also very ambitious and driven. He was putting in extreme hours hoping to become a partner. He was completely dedicated to his professional success but, like  George, he wanted a life beyond work.

Prioritizing and Promising are two completely different approaches to achieving your goals. They evoke and compel a significantly different mindset and behavior.

Prioritizing evokes the mindset of “I’ll do my best and if I can’t get to the other priorities it’s because the previous ones took too much of my time and effort…

Promising evokes the mindset of “I’ll keep my word no matter what. No excuse is acceptable…”

It is much easier to prioritize than to promise. The prioritizing approach has a built-in tolerance and acceptance to excuses, justifications and copouts. That is why when you don’t live up to your commitment it is so easy to say things like: “Something more important came up” or “I didn’t get to it because I was too busy with something else…”  After all, like in George’s story, it is acceptable that if you are so busy in your work you won’t have time to exercise, spend time with your wife or husband and/or kids and do other things that are important to you.

Neither of these approaches guarantees success. However, promising is a much more powerful approach.

It evokes a higher and more authentic mindset of ownership and accountability and it makes you much less determined and limited by circumstances. No matter what circumstances you have to deal with, when you make a promise you tend to not get stopped by these.

Making promises about what you will fulfill in your commitments could be more challenging because you have to be honest with yourself and own the truth about what really is important to you. You have to take a stand and not sell out on it. This requires courage. As my friend’s 8-year-old son said to his dad: “Daddy if I make you a promise, I’m going to keep it.”

I don’t know about you, but if I am going into battle with someone, I want them fully committed, not merely “doing their best…”. You are only going to get that level of relentless commitment from someone who has promised to do something.

No one keeps their promises all the time. Hopefully, we will keep them most of the time. However, there will be times when we won’t. That’s a fact. However, by making explicit promises you carve-out a clear path for action and fulfillment. This reduces the chance for surprises, excuses, and drama, especially when challenges arise.

While the dialogue around priorities is often a one-way street – you decide what your priorities are and you are the one to tell others that “you just couldn’t get to it today” the dialogue of promises by design is a two-way street.

Promises are really only effective if you make them to someone. In fact, if you promise your entire family that you are going to lose a certain number of pounds (weight) in the next 6 months, it’s probably going to be more powerful and effective than if you tell one person or tell no one at all. The minute you make a promise to others you are now tied at the hip. The promise is no longer just your commitment – it becomes our commitment. The success of this project is now our success. The dialogue of promising evokes a much deeper and more powerful dynamic of open, honest, courageous and effective communication, and trust. It also generates a stronger sense of bond, partnership, trust and owning each other’s success with the people you promise to.  A joint approach is more effective and fulfilling than going it alone.

When people have a more earnest relationship with their promises it causes two things.

First, they are much less casual about saying “I promise” than the myriad of ways people add a priority to an already overflowing list. “I’ll do my best”, “Let me see what I can do”, “I’ll get to it as soon as I can”, “I’ll try”, “Leave it with me”, and many other half-hearted statements that fill the conference rooms and corridors of corporations.

Secondly, when people make a promise to do something, and at some point, prior to the time it is due they realize their promise is in jeopardy of not being fulfilled, they are far more likely to reach out to the receiver of that promise and attempt to negotiate – in advance – a mutually agreeable solution. Together people can figure out alternative ways to fulfill the same commitment with new or different promises. This also strengthens the partnership and trust between the promise maker and receiver.

Obviously, if you don’t do what you say repeatedly your credibility and sense of partnership with others are likely to suffer. However, when you keep using the “lower priority” excuse and you assign the blame for not living up to your commitments elsewhere, it will also undermine your own sense of possibilities, ability, and power to make things happen and have the life you want.

The point of prioritizing is not to avoid responsibility and make excuses for the commitments you make, but rather to be more effective at making and keeping commitments. This being the case, making and managing promises, rather than hiding arm’s length behind “not-up-to-me” excuses of “priorities changed” puts us in the driving seat,

Which of these approaches appeals to you most?

 

Be careful what you wish for…

A wise man once told me that there are two things that make people upset – when they don’t get what they want and when they do get what they want.

Here are two real stories…

I was invited to help an organization that was struggling to survive. They had not made their revenue targets for more than two years. As a result, they had to undergo several cost-cutting initiatives, including letting people go. The lack of investment and reduced headcount meant that the remaining people had to do more work. As a result, people felt overworked, under pressure, anxious and stressed with a poor work/life balance. People were resigned and upset, and as you can imagine employee morale and confidence were low.

When I was introduced to the organization, I spent a few days interviewing people at all levels. Even though there was a general atmosphere of gloom and resignation everyone expressed a yearning for a better, more dynamic, active and exciting future of big change and growth.

Contrast that with the story of another smaller company that was doing well but wanted to grow and got to the next level. They were known in their market as a ‘Tier B player’ who can only sell and deliver smaller size projects. They wanted to change their predicament and reputation and become a ‘Tier A’ player with large-scale projects. They gathered their team, aligned everyone around a bold growth objective and started to pursue this new direction.

Through some bold courage and a lot of hard work, as well as a bit of luck too, they landed a huge project – the biggest in their history – which more than doubled their revenue overnight.

At first, everyone was elated. However, as the weeks and months passed and customer demands started to ramp up things started to change. They couldn’t hire new people, train them and make them productive fast enough.

Over the following months, things were deteriorating internally, as people couldn’t keep up with the workload. The company started to miss important deadlines, which made the customers increasingly frustrated. Some good people who couldn’t take it any longer even jumped ship.

When I came in to help this organization most people were also feeling overworked, under pressure, anxious and stressed with a poor work/life balance. They were wishing for a break, relief, sanity, and stability.

Bold and ambitious people always look for bold and ambitious opportunities, problems and challenges to solve. They wouldn’t have it any other way. If you are one of these people, ask yourself the question: If you had a 9-5 job in which everything worked in a completely smooth, effortless and eventless way, would you be excited about coming to work every day, or would you be bored out of your mind and go elsewhere?

While problems are problems and they are going to feel the same in your day-to-day experience – overwork, lack of life balance, pressure, anxiety, and stress – there is a significant difference between problems that stem from struggle or failure versus those that stem from growth and success.

But, for some reason, we tend to overlook this simple truth. We complain and suffer when things are broken/not working and we have to fix them. We also complain when things are so good that they require us to grow, expand and elevate our leadership and performance in order to keep it up.

So, if you are dealing with fixing an environment that isn’t working don’t think that when things get better you will have fewer problems. You will have different problems but not necessarily smaller ones.

On the other hand, if you are blessed with problems that are associated with growth and success count your blessing and don’t think that things are easier in a status quo environment.

The question is not ‘Will you have problems?’ and the challenge is not ‘How to avoid them’. The actual question is ‘What type of problems do you want to have?’

The Power of Starting

Many years ago, I played the classical guitar. At the time I was even half-decent at it, and it brought me great pleasure. I stopped playing about 26 years ago, but about a year ago I picked it up again and I have been playing ever since.

To be honest, it took a while between the time that I decided to start and the actual time that I started. I kept procrastinating the starting point because every time I intended to start playing negative thoughts came up about the challenge of starting again from scratch. Starting again as a beginner felt daunting, so I convinced myself to start another day, and this happened a few times.

I was coaching a highly committed and passionate professional on his wellbeing. He was struggling with his commitment to lose weight and get in shape. He lost a lot of weight, then gained it back again and he wanted to lose it again. He knew what he needed to do. In fact, he had a comprehensive plan, including exercise and a meal plan from a nutritionist. However, he couldn’t get himself to restart the program.

Have you ever experienced this type of situation in which you wanted to start something new or restart something you had done in the past, but you found yourself delaying starting because of overwhelming feelings of invalidation, fear and/or doubt?

Well, the good news for me is that I did start playing about a year ago and in the process, I learned something simple, but profound about the ‘Power of Starting’:

Starting is critical for success. Being able to start is powerful. I know I am stating the obvious. However, even though everyone knows this, so many people get stuck in starting. Another proof point that knowing and doing are two different things.

If you want to be someone who can start effectively here are a few of my thoughts:

To be a powerful starter you need to untangle the act of starting from all your thoughts and internal conversations about it. You will have thoughts and feelings. They will try and delay and stop you. It is a natural human reaction to any uncomfortable situation which ‘starting’ is always one of. You need to expect the thoughts and feelings and act anyways.

To help you focus while you have all the noise in your head, I recommend you clearly state to someone you trust what you are going to do and then do it. In simple terms: “Say what you will do and then do what you say!” Make it very explicit. Something like: “I will go to the gym 4 times a week on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday for an hour” or “I will practice 4 times a week for an hour”.

When you start you may feel that your initial actions are not ‘natural’, ‘easy’; they are mechanical, contrived and artificial. That is completely natural and alright! Even if you feel that what you are doing and the way you are doing it is counter-intuitive still go ahead and do it. In simple terms: “Fake it till you make it” Put one foot in front of the other until it becomes walking motion.

It takes tremendous courage to start. Don’t underestimate that. It is a big deal.

When you are about to start it may feel like you are jumping off a cliff and you will learn how to fly in the process of falling. It is not a comfortable feeling. It takes a leap of faith and trust in yourself. That takes courage!

If you have missteps in the starting process, don’t over think it, make it mean anything or agonize about it. Just start over! Say what you will do next and do what you said. Keep it short-term – what you will do today, not this month. Keep it very practical, not aspirational or visionary. Box yourself in day by day, say what you will do and do what you say. Follow this routine until you start to see that you are back in a routine.

The more you do what I told you here, the more you will begin to regain your power and self-confidence. This will quickly lead to higher energy and motivation and enable you to promise bigger things and deliver them.

Motivation and action are like the chicken and the egg. They feed, fuel and inspire each other. When you are at the top of your game, your motivation inspires your action. That is the time to declare your vision, commitments and what you stand for, set goals and act spontaneously.

But, when you are stuck, promising what you will do and doing it will get you unstuck and back on track with your motivation and commitment. You will regain your integrity and recover your motivation and power.

It may sound too simple, but it really works.

Are you promoting ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking?

Most leaders and teams don’t seem to be good at thinking outside the box; thinking in new and different ways from the way they are accustomed to.

Even when teams are engaged in conversations about improvement and change these conversations frequently have their roots in, “What have we done to date?” “What are our current resources and capabilities?” and “How do we measure up against others?”. The end game so often seems defined by some rearrangement of the same familiar stuff. As the saying goes:

Rearranging the deck seats on the Titanic

Even though the benchmark mania has somewhat passed in corporate America, for many companies the bar seems to still be set by other companies’ levels of success. With few exceptions, there is very little courageous and independent thinking when it comes to inventing a company’s future.

But where these exceptions do exist, they are startling. I would venture to guess, for example, that Apple did not, and does not benchmark itself against anyone else. Apple’s scale of success in recent years is wholly their own. In fact, Apple has been reinventing the scale that everyone else in the industry has been trying to emulate and use.

But unfortunately, Apple is not the rule. Most businesses today approach their future from year-to-year by figuring out modest, reasonable and incremental objectives, based on past performance.

Leaders simply don’t feel comfortable promising or expecting something that they don’t know how to achieve.

Most leaders don’t know how to promise something they don’t feel they have enough control over; something that is not an easy enough extension of what they are already doing or have done in the past.

Countless business books, seminars, and coaching programs promise the much-sought-after breakthrough thinking and high-performance leaders claim to crave. But a closer look at the way most organization function reveals that despite the stated desire for new thinking and breakthroughs, there is an almost institutionalized conspiracy around not thinking outside the box.

A regional sales team of a global technology company engaged me to coach them on taking their game to the next level. This was a very disciplined, reliable and successful sales team. They had a whole routine of forecast and prospect management meetings each week for managing their weekly sales targets. They were good at it and for the most part, they achieved their weekly results. They got a lot of recognition from their superiors, both verbal and financial, and overall all sales reps were doing well. Needless to say, no one was in a hurry to change things.

However, the market was changing, technology was evolving, new competitors were entering the race and all this meant that customer needs and consumption models were shifting fast. The sales team members understood that if they didn’t adjust and adapt to the new market trends they would be at risk. However, knowing this didn’t make thinking differently any easier.

I was able to help them articulate a new strategy and agree to do things differently, but the continuous expectations and demand from above to not miss a beat in delivering the short-term results, as well as their own comfort level in continuing to do what they were good at, made it very difficult for them to change.

In most organizations, employees are incentivized, rewarded and compensated for continuing to do the same things they always do that bring short-term results. In fact, you could say that in most organizations rewards and compensation are designed to minimize risk, not to maximize new and creative thinking.

When Kennedy declared that the USA would put a man on the moon and bring him back safely by the end of the decade that was a bold, out-of-the-box idea. However, Kennedy’s courageous future-based vision and strategy changed the course of history.

He did not look to the past to determine if his vision was realistic or doable. In fact, at the time of inception, it wasn’t. Instead, he marshaled his priority, energy, and resources to pursue his dream, fulfill it and prove to everyone that his vision right!

If you want to enable your people to think outside the box, promote an environment where people are encouraged, recognized and incented for taking a stand and coming up with out-of-the-box business ideas, operationalizing them, executing them and proving them right.

In addition, develop the patience in your organization to go through the inevitable rollercoaster associated with being in a new learning curve while new routines and practices become the new norm. Also ensure the organization has the tolerance for the inevitable cycle of failure before success, and things getting worse before they get better.

This lack of patience and tolerance makes it very challenging for people to think outside the box. Afterall, no matter what you say to the contrary, if you don’t show people that you have the commitment and capability to support them to turn their new innovative business idea into reality, they won’t come up with these in the first place.

Bottom line – if creating a culture innovation and out-of-the-box thinking is truly important for your business, not merely a ‘nice to have’, then ‘put your money where your mouth is!’

Move your orientation from Activities to Outcomes, then Breakthroughs

I was participating in a performance review meeting with a successful division of a global technology company. In this meeting, the team members responsible for leading the key strategic initiatives were updating the entire management team on the status and progress of their initiatives.

With slight variations, pretty much every presenter jumped almost immediately into the details of the metrics they are tracking, the status of these metrics and the activities their initiative team is involved with.

None of the presenters provided any higher level context on the purpose and objectives of their initiative, or where they aim to take it. Based on these updates you could tell how efficient the team was at tracking the metrics and activities they chose, but not the impact and value of their initiatives, or the greater potential of their initiatives to reach a new level in the future.

Many leaders and managers have the same tendency to jump right into activities. I see it all the time. In fact, many leaders think that the higher purpose and objective stuff is “fluff” and “nice to have”.

These leaders are so mistaken! They are oblivious to a different level of powerful strategic approach.

When it comes to creating and achieving powerful strategies and extraordinary results, there are three levels of the game a team could be operating at: Activities, Outcomes, and Breakthroughs.

Activity-Orientated

Most leaders operate at the activities level. Managing and tracking activities is the easiest and safest strategic approach. You think about where you want to be and then you identify and commit to the activities that you assume and hope will get you there. In many cases leaders don’t even spend much time on where they want to get to, they just identify activities, because that is what they are most familiar and comfortable with.

In the activities approach, there isn’t typically a conversation about commitment, and if there is it is about promising to carry out the activities. People tend to take on comfortable, familiar and realistic activities in order to reduce the risk of challenging the status quo or thinking outside the box.

In the performance review meetings, the activity oriented leaders give a detailed account of what they have been doing and what they will do moving forward. In this approach, success is ‘ticking the box’ on on-scheduled activities.

What can happen is that you carry out all the activities and you still don’t achieve your results. Usually, when that happens activity-based leaders come up with excuses or they blame the circumstances and others; things like: “We did our part but they didn’t do theirs” and “We were on track but the circumstances changed”.

If you push on the activity-oriented leaders to promise the end results, not the activities to get there, they typically get nervous and defensive. They would tell you something like “How can we promise outcomes that we don’t have enough control over“.

Accountability for Activities is no accountability at all!

Outcome-Orientated

Leaders who focus on outcomes want to know “What are we out to achieve?”. For them, the activities are a derivative of the outcomes, not an end in themselves. As, the circumstances or the status of the outcome change, so do the activities.

I work with a powerful technical leader who has become outcome oriented. Every time one of his managers gives him a report on what they are planning to do he stops them and asks: “What is the outcome you are going to achieve with all these activities?“. As he has shifted his managers’ orientation from activities to outcomes, they have been able to elevate their results and impact.

Outcome-oriented leaders want their managers to promise outcomes, not activities. This shift is a big step up. Sometimes the outcomes are clear but many times they are not, and the team needs to engage in a deeper and more powerful strategic dialogue to align around what they want their future state to look like.

You can only reach the breakthrough level if you are oriented around outcomes.

Breakthrough-Orientated

If you move from “What will we do this quarter?” to “What outcome will we achieve this quarter?” you are making a big step forward, but it still doesn’t mean you have taken the game to a new level. In order to generate a breakthrough mindset and conversation, you need to promise an outcome that is beyond what is predictable; you need to put a stake in the ground for a bigger, bolder future that requires you and your team to think, behave and work differently together. You need to ask: “What breakthrough outcome are we going to cause this quarter?“.

You could call it a stretch goal. However, in most organizations stretch goals are driven down from above. If you want to create a breakthrough orientation in your team you need everyone to think bolder and believe that they can shape their destiny, set the bar and achieve more than what is predictable.

As Alan Kay called it:

The best way to predict the future is to invent it!

The most powerful leaders feel comfortable to promise a bold future state and trust themselves and their teams to get there without knowing how to do so in advance.

You can do it too!

Are you able to unplug and disconnect?

I just returned from a successful winter vacation at a great beachside resort. I say “successful” because being the proud workaholic that I am I determine the success of my vacations on my ability to unplug, disconnect and truly rejuvenate.

A long time ago I concluded that when I really want time off, I have to spend it in a place that supports that cause; a place where I don’t need to carry a wallet, buy food and drinks; a place that doesn’t have easy access to internet or internet at all.

Unfortunately, in today’s digital era it is becoming increasingly challenging to find places that don’t have internet. We can’t even escape from it on flights anymore. There doesn’t seem to be many places left where you can hide from the rat race these days.

In most companies, it’s accepted, even expected for people to continue to work or stay connected while on vacation. Most professionals find it hard to disconnect, even if their company doesn’t require them to stay in touch. Even if you love your work, it requires personal determination and discipline (for us fast-paced workaholics) to truly disconnect and unwind.

Personally, I need this physical and mental disconnection every so often. In addition, unplugging has greatly contributed to my business success. These periods of time off have provided invaluable opportunities to think, reflect, gain new perspectives, take stock of progress, create and plan for the future.

As my wife and I were sitting on the beach and by the pool, I was blown away (though not surprised) by the number of people of all ages who were constantly glued to their smartphones.

I could tell most of them were not just taking photos or videos, they were doing emails and/or interacting with Facebook, Instagram, and other social media apps.  Many of them were just with their swimsuit and smartphone. Some were standing on the beach with their feet in the ocean and their eyes glued to their smartphones.

It was the same way at the restaurants during breakfast, lunch and dinner – people sitting around a table, each glued to their phones in their private virtual world, consumed by what was on their screen rather than ‘being’ with the other people in their company. I would predict that in some cases they were texting and posting with each other, rather than looking each other in the eyes and having a conversation.

Why would you spend the time and money to travel away from your home to a beautiful isolated beach destination, with different scenery, climate, and atmosphere in order to merely continue with the same routine and behavior that you do at home?

And, if you take a vacation and spend the majority of your time and attention on your device, when do you actually get time to enjoy and reap the benefits of your vacation?

I am not naïve, and I pride myself on being open-minded and not judgmental. I understand the modern digital age we live in. I take part in it every day. I can’t live without my iPhone, iPad, and laptop too. I fully get it.

However, I try very hard to manage and control my smartphone usage and not allow it to manage and control my life. It seems that so many people have reached an unhealthy point, and this vacation again validated that.

In fact, it often seems to me that some people are more focused on showing off their life than just living it.

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

I don’t buy it! 

When you are consumed by your smart device, you are not fully present in the moment with the people and activities around you. It is as simple as that. We live more in our conversational worlds than in our physical worlds.

For example: Leaving behind an unresolved issue or upset at work could ruin your entire vacation because you constantly think and agonize about it. Participating in a conference call while driving your car on the highway dangerously takes your attention from the dynamics on the road because you are so consumed by your conversation.

How many times have you seen someone board a plane plugged into a conference call, speaking loudly, even about sensitive things, without any regard for the people around them?

When you are on your smartphones 60-80% of the time, you can be fully present with your immediate environment only 20-40% of the time – at best.

Don’t take this the wrong way, I value the digital transformation, I try to take the fullest advantage of technological innovations and smart devices and social media have already brought many benefits to my life.

At the same time, I also see the negative effects of technology – mainly with people being so preoccupied with their devices that it undermines their ability to relate, communicate and drive intimacy with others.

Where are you on this spectrum?

What are you out to prove?

Being a leader means adopting a certain point of view about people, circumstances, opportunities and challenges. It means being oriented around perspectives and conversations that promote and generate new possibilities and effective action, rather than cynicism, resignation and excuses. It means always being the champion for “what’s possible” and “how can we make it work” rather than “why we can’t…” and “why it won’t work…”.

Every point of view is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Have you ever noticed that when you have a point of view that something isn’t possible you always gather evidence and proof of your circumstances and environment to support and prove that point of view? And, if you change our mind, even 180 degrees, and adopt a different point of view, you will immediately find new evidence and proof in the exact same environment and circumstances for your new point of view?

If you have a strong point of view that one of your team members is lazy and uncommitted I am sure you would have a lot of data points to prove it; things like: he keeps coming to work late and leaving early, he seems distracted most of the time and his output is not very good compared to his peers. However, if you learn that this person is going through a major personal tragedy in his life – he lost his significant other to cancer and another family member is unwell – that new information may completely change your mind. Suddenly, you have a new sense of empathy and compassion for your team member. In fact, you now reflect on recent events in a completely new light. Perhaps he isn’t lazy at all, he is just temporarily immobilized. Anyone in his shoes would behave the same…

With every thought, comment and conversation we are constantly promoting and proving one point of view or another. Sometimes we do it consciously, but most of the time we are not aware of doing it at all.

If you have a negative or cynical point of view about an area that is important to you, you may have the point of view, something like: “I won’t get what I want…“, “Things don’t work out smoothly and amazingly in life, at least not for me…” and “Some people are lucky, just not me…“. Perhaps without realizing it, you would constantly be promoting and out to prove that point of view. It will be reflected in your thoughts, comments and conversations.

Every time things don’t work out you may say or imply things like “you see, I knew it.” or “you see I told you so.” And, if someone criticizes you, you may come back with “I am not negative, I am just being realistic!”. This is a common rationalization and justification for cynical people. And, every time something great does happen, you may view it as a “one-off” or something to be “cautiously optimistic” about.

However, you can stand for a drastically different point of view, such as: “Life works and I can and will have what I want in my life, with no compromises…”. In this mindset, your life will be oriented around proving that point of view. Every time something great happens to you, it will serve as evidence – “you see, life works for me…”. Every time something doesn’t work and you don’t get what you want you will view it as a “glitch” or a “one-off.” You will try to learn something worthwhile from the mishap to validate and strengthen your point of view.

We often say “I can’t believe what I see“. But, in fact, we don’t believe or disbelieve what we see. We see what we believe or disbelieve. We don’t really see with our eyes, we see with our point of view. That’s why two people can participate in the same “physical” circumstance or situation and experience it drastically differently, often contradicting.

One of my clients (the CEO of a small but ambitious Marketing company) took on a significant change initiative to elevate his company’s brand, client base and market share from sixth to third in his marketplace. After a lot of hard work, his team lost a mega bid after making it to the final shortlist of two companies out of eight. While many of his team members were upset and discouraged by the loss, the CEO felt extremely proud and encouraged by the fact that for the first time his team made it that far in such a lucrative opportunity. For him, the fact that his team made it to the top two, even though they lost at the end, only signified proof that they were in fact on track to achieve their goal.

If you accept the premise that you are constantly out to proving your points of view, and therefore your points of view are always self-fulfilling prophecies, you have a choice about what point of view you will promote in your comments and conversations.

Contrary to what many people may think there are no “right”, “true” or “correct” points of view. There are only “empowering” or “disempowering” ones; points of view that enable more possibilities, ideas and dreams, and ones that shut down possibilities, ideas and dreams, and explain and justify why these can’t and won’t come true.

I recommend building a life that reflects the point of view: “I am going to have it all“.

I can tell you from experience that being out to prove that things work is much more exciting than proving that they don’t.

What point of view are YOU out to prove in your life?