Are your commitments strong enough to justify your time?

Do you have a commitment to any of these things: To be healthy and fit? To advance at work? To have a nurturing relationship and/or family?

Are you spending enough time doing the things you want and need to do in these areas in order to be as successful and happy as you would want?

If not, are you one of those people who say: “I know, I have to find the time to exercise…” or “I have to make the time to spend with my family…”???

Too often I hear people give the excuse of “I don’t have the time…”, “I can’t find the time…” or “I need to make the time…” when they don’t live up to their prime commitments.

I understand how busy people feel. I talk to so many busy people who want to do things in other areas of their life and they feel that “they don’t have the time for that commitment.”

Perhaps people who don’t have enough time for their commitment, don’t have a commitment at all!

Perhaps you need to look at the commitment and time equation the other way around:

Perhaps: 

It is not that you don’t have enough time for your commitment, but you don’t have enough commitment for your time.

Time is an interesting phenomenon. Every hour of the day is equal in length as the next hour. However, our experience of an hour could be quite different depending on the circumstances and what we are up to. Not for naught, people say: “Time flies when you are having fun” or “Time moves at a snail’s pace when you are not enjoying what you are doing”.

I live in Canada, and every year around January my wife turns to me and says with a sigh, “This winter is so long. Seems like it is taking forever.” In fact, we are in that phase right now… And, around mid-to-end of July, she says in a panic: “I can’t believe how fast the summer has passed by. I wish I could slow down time!”

I have noticed that on the day before the weekend or a vacation when I feel like “I must get everything done in order to have the peace of mind during my time off”, I seem to be much more productive and I have much more time to spare too.

If you Google “People are most productive when they are happy in their lives” you’ll find a host of articles and surveys that provide more insight into this topic.

Perhaps if you really want to be healthy and fit or have a very intimate relationship at home you should think about how serious you are about your commitment. Be honest about it. Is it something you “must” achieve, or merely a “nice to have”? If it is a ‘nice to have’ you most likely won’t have enough time for it. However, if you honestly declare that being healthy or intimate are critical to you in order to live up to your most precious values, make the commitment and then live by it.

Pick a few commitments that are “must haves” and create the time for them in your calendar. Schedule the activities associated with fulfilling your top priority commitment in your calendar – for example: exercising 3 times a week, date night with your spouse, quality time with kids, etc.

Then, keep your schedule, “religiously” no matter what. Don’t cancel your exercise or time with your kids because of workload.

Say no to others who want to double-book things with you when you have personal activities planned. Be kind, firm and responsible about it and offer alternative times.

I am not saying that it is easy to manage multiple commitments in a busy life with high integrity. However, I can promise you that if this is important to you and you take it on after you get through the initial phase of – doubting, feeling like you are dropping the ball and perhaps anxiety associated with all that – your activities would start adjusting themselves to your new routine. Most importantly, you will start seeing and experiencing the benefits of fulfilling your commitments and that will give you a tremendous amount of added sense of happiness, confidence and self-fulfillment.

Remember, people always find and make time for things that are really important to them.

Complete 2017 in a meaningful way

As we enter the holiday season and end of 2017 it seems appropriate and timely to write something about “completing the year.”

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

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

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

How do you complete things?

If you review the year’s events without the distinction completion in mind, you are likely to focus on the cold facts of what actually happened. You will ask yourself questions such as: “What did I do?” “What didn’t I do?” and “What results did I achieve?” While you may find intellectual satisfaction in taking stock of this year’s events in the most factual, objective and accurate way, this information won’t empower or uplift your spirit and soul.

In contrast, if you look at 2017 through the lens of completion you will be compelled to push your thinking and reflection beyond the cold facts of what happened to a deeper level. You will be compelled to own what happened and what didn’t happen in a more meaningful way.

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

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

Completing the past will enable you to put things into a more powerful perspective. It will help you put the past behind you, and this will leave you feeling freer, stronger and more empowered and excited to focus on the future from a clean slate.

However, if you leave things incomplete, past incompletions could haunt you and cloud your thoughts, plans, and aspirations for the future. Furthermore, you could become more hesitant because of past failures and/or blindly confident because of past successes. In both cases, you would be reacting to your past and that won’t be effective or satisfying.

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

How to complete 2017 in a practical and meaningful way:

As you are ending 2017, reflect on your year. First, make the list of the facts – what happened, what you did and didn’t do and accomplish. It’s useful to start there. But don’t end there.

Ask yourself:

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

Once you declare 2017 complete, you will feel a sense of satisfaction, peace, and fulfillment. In that space, you can powerfully start creating your next year to be your best year ever.

In conclusion, on a personal note  – thank you for following my blogs during 2017. I hope at least some of them were useful to you. I will be taking some time off myself and will post my next blog in the week of January 8th, 2018.

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

 

Make your meetings more effective!

One of the most common complaints I hear in organizations is “too many meetings.”

I believe in most organizations there are too many meetings. However, I also believe that what is causing and augmenting people’s frustrations about meetings is the fact that most meetings are ineffective. They don’t produce enough and they don’t leave people with the experience of time well spent and having produced great accomplishments.

If you make your meetings much more powerful and effective I believe people will feel differently about “too many meetings.”

I want to share two useful and powerful guidelines that if you follow would make your meetings much more effective and productive:

  1. Focus your meetings on achieving outcomes, not discussing topics.

    This guideline may seem simple and common sense. However, it is counter-intuitive for most teams and people. In fact, most teams orient their meetings around filling time slots with discussion points. Most teams plan for their meetings by making a list of important topics that require dialogue or decision, then attributing time to each topic on the list, then slotting them into the agenda that gets distributed to the team.I have been in so many meetings that begin with a slide that shows the agenda – the sequence of topics in their time slots. Further, I can’t tell you how many times when I ask people “How did the meeting go?”, they say “Great, we kept to the agenda”.

    • Instead of falling into the trap of filling time with topics, begin each meeting with creating clarity and alignment around the intended outcomes of the meeting. You can do this prior to the meeting as part of the preparation or in the meeting itself. Always state the intended outcomes in terms of clear end results, not activities.
    • Having clear outcomes in front of you throughout the meeting will help you to navigate the discussion and stay on topic, especially when people react to others’ statements and want to steer the dialogue down unproductive rat holes or in unplanned directions.
    • Also, make sure that when you achieve an outcome acknowledge its fulfillment and completion. Don’t just jump to the next one. This will generate a sense of progress and accomplishment, consistent with your purpose.
  2. Spend as little or much time as is needed to achieve the outcomes.

    As we all know, people will discuss any topic for as long or short as the time allocated for that topic. This is unrelated to what is effective.

    • The less time the better. If you allocate 45 minutes to discussing a topic but achieve the outcome you set in 20 minutes, that is a good thing!
    • I was working with the leadership team of a technology startup. They understood the value of generating total alignment around important decisions and commitments. However, they were asking “How can we gain genuine alignment faster?”.
    • I was participating in one of their meetings as they were making a key decision about a new direction. Two of the senior leaders presented the information and then it was time to align and make a decision. So, the senior leaders asked “How do you all feel about this?” and “Does anyone have anything to say?”. I see this in many meetings – when the time to align comes the leader asks “Does anyone have an opinion to express?” And, surely, every time many people do.
    • Now, this may seem trivial, but it isn’t – if you ask people to share how they feel or if they have anything so share, guess what – they will. How people feel is not a critical topic for alignment. Rather, there are two key questions that would make the conversation more effective: “Does anyone have any questions about our new direction?”. If so, someone should answer the question as rapidly and effectively as needed. Second question: “Are you all willing to align with this direction?”. If everyone says “YES” the topic is complete. If someone says “NO” then you need to continue the dialogue to see what is missing or needed for the unaligned to align.
    • Last note on this – there is no contradiction between “I am aligned” and “I still have concerns, fears etc” As long as everyone has the same understanding of what “Alignment” means – “Owning the decision/commitment as your own” – you should be in great shape.
    • Don’t shortcut topics – On the other hand, if an important topic takes more time than allocated, do not shortcut the discussion and move on without having achieved its outcome. Manage the agenda based on achieving the outcomes, not time allocations.
    • Sometimes topics are large and complex and you may need more information or time in order to align on the decision, beyond the time you have during the current meeting. That’s fine, just make sure that in this situation clear decisions and commitments are made about when you will make the decision by. Don’t leave anything vague or open.
    • It’s also legitimate to say “Let’s agree to not make any decision or commitment here.” That statement is a clear commitment. Just make sure everyone understands and owns the consequence of that commitment.
    • As stated above, some topics require more debate. Don’t lose patience, react or make shortcuts to alignment. It will come to bite you in the future.
    • When people passionately debate topics they often say things like “That’s just semantics”, but then they continue to fight for their point of view with vengeance. Everything is semantics. We live in semantics. How we articulate and say things – especially decisions and commitments – is critical to our future direction and team strength. Remember, another few minutes today could save you many hours and heartaches in the future. Therefore, reach genuine alignment.

In one of my Leadership on a Napkin series I wrote:

If you want your team members to speak and engage in effective conversation that achieves 100% alignment especially around complex issues or decisions, get your people to follow this rule: “Always forward the action when you speak”. If you don’t have something to say that will forward the action – don’t say anything!

There are simple, powerful and practical tips there on how to manage your meetings and conversations in a powerful way. 

Click here for more Leadership on a Napkin lessons

 

 

How to make clear commitments and fulfill them

I was coaching a senior management team of a successful technology company. The management team wasn’t operating or being viewed as a strong leadership team. One of the main complaints managers and employees had was that the senior team didn’t make enough clear decisions in areas that needed change, especially in areas of divide and conflict, where tough and uncomfortable decisions were needed. In addition, when the leadership team did make decisions the leaders often didn’t do a good job following up and executing on what they had agreed to and decided. So, decisions were often ignored, forgotten or pushed aside and deprioritized due to the day-to-day burning topics that constantly came up.

After dealing this dynamic for a few years, leaders, managers, and employees got used to the status quo and many simply adopted a cynical mindset about decisions. In fact, people stopped expecting and/or demanding clear decisions or effective execution of decisions.

There were enough decisions made to continue to drive progress and success. In addition, the company was a leader in its market, so things were tolerated. However, in many critical areas where decisions were needed and not taken, people had to find ways to get things done in alternative ways, for example: relying on personal relationships, improvising or simply working harder rather than smarter.

This organization was a good organization. But the lack of effectiveness in making and keeping decisions was preventing it from going to the next level and becoming the great organization it strived to be.

So, I worked with this senior team and through a series of steps over the course of our engagement together, I helped them drive great improvement in their unproductive predicament.

The process and steps we used were transformational. In fact, you could apply them to any transformation you wish to undertake in your own team or reality. Furthermore, these steps could even be used for your own personal breakthroughs too. So, I am sharing them with you.

If you want to take on a transformation in your own team in any area follow these following steps:

  1. Face reality and tell the truth, especially about what isn’t working.
    Every breakthrough begins with facing reality and telling the truth, especially about what is not working. To that end, I conducted a culture analysis where I interviewed all the leaders, as well as a handful of managers and employees. People were very forthcoming and blunt about the challenges and hardships associated with the leaders’ lack of decision making and follow through. I shared the grim outcome of the interviews with the leaders and had them fully understand and own the reality that they had created, both in terms of organizational effectiveness and productivity, as well as people’s spirit and their own reputation.
  2. Commit to the transformation you want. Once the senior leaders took responsibility for their lack of making and keeping decisions, they committed to transforming their weakness. They committed to a future state, within 12 months in which they are really good at making and keeping decisions and commitment. In fact, as part of their 12 months future stated they specifically promised to be recognized throughout their organization as a role model in this area.
  3. Promise specific actions and practices for turning your future goal into reality.
    The leadership team committed to simple practices. Here are some of them: (1) Every dialogue will lead to a clear decision and promised action, (2) Each commitment will have a deadline assigned to it (a “by when”), (3) Each decision will have a clear owner who is responsible for the fulfillment of the commitment, (4) All decisions and commitments will be written up and sent out to the leaders, and (5) Every other week the team will dedicate 30-60 minutes to review status of all decisions/commitments still in play.
  4. Track and manage your promised actions over time.
    Every other week the team came together and took stock on their progress. They reviewed every decision and commitment they made and whether or not they kept them. They even run a tally of “number of decisions/commitments made,” and “percentage of decisions/commitments kept.” They turned this “soft” area into a “hard” one by assigning metric to it. If there is an art and science to decision/commitment making and keeping, they highlighted the science aspect.
  5. Expand on what is working and correct what isn’t working.
    The leaders took this transformation on like a military initiative. They stayed focused and didn’t let anything slide. If they fell short, stumble or outright failed in a decision or commitment they took responsibility and acknowledged it right away, and made the necessary correction. At first, the leadership team focused on the easier, smaller, shorter-term decisions/commitments. However, as they became better at this they started to make bigger, tougher and more strategic decisions.
  6. Continue until your new behaviors become your new norm and DNA.
    We continued this for many months until the focus and skill of the senior team around making and keeping decisions/commitments became ingrained in the leaders’ awareness and DNA. In addition, one of the by-products of this transformation initiative was that the same new behavior started to trickle down to the managers and employees. At some point, it became clear that the initiative had fulfilled its purpose and it was no longer necessary to track this new area the way we did thus far.

There are many leadership competencies that shape, define and distinguish a powerful and effective team. I believe that one of the biggest ones is the ability to make and keep decisions and commitments. Furthermore, a team that lacks the ability to make and keep decisions and commitments lacks a fundamental integrity; the integrity to think and operate cohesively and generate accomplishments that are larger than the sum of their parts.

So, if you want to create an environment where your intentions and commitments regularly get realized faster, smoother and even bigger than your expectations, make sure your team is really good at making and keeping decisions and commitments.

How committed do you have to be?

Commitment often plays center-stage in our lives. Whether we are trying to lose weight, get in shape, get a promotion, make more money or achieve objectives, we often think in terms of being committed to the cause.

If we want to achieve an objective we know “we have to be committed.” When our friends and colleagues give us advice they often accuse us of not being committed enough, and they tell us to be “more committed.” And, when we fall short in our desired outcomes, we often beat ourselves up and feel guilty about the fact that we are simply “not committed enough”

On the other hand, some of us take commitment to the extreme opposite. We are so obsessed with carrying out our commitment that we often act with extreme intensity and drive ourselves to serious stress. We plan our every action, measure our every milestone or intake, announce our every achievement and fall apart with every setback. Our friends and colleagues often look at us with worry. They regard us as obsessive and fanatics and their advice is often to lighten up, chill or simply “stop taking your commitment so seriously!”

So, the question is: “How committed do we need to be to succeed?”

There are those who believe that in order to succeed you have to be completely and absolutely committed and dedicated to your cause, with extreme discipline and no hesitation or excuses.

I was once listening to a webinar about commitment, by a known performance expert, during the lecture they said something to the effect of “It’s not enough to WANT something or even be COMMITTED to it. In order to succeed, you have to feel like you MUST have it, or MUST achieve it. To succeed you must be prepared to live in the mindset: “Failure is not an option,” and “No alternative”.

Well, that makes complete sense to me. However, it’s probably extremely challenging and stressful for most of us to live this way.

On the other hand, if you become too attached to your commitment or outcome you are likely to fall into the trap of over-identifying with it and as a result determining your self-worth or validity by the degree to which you have achieved your commitments.

That is not a healthy dependency either. If you don’t achieve your goal or milestone you are likely to feel invalidated. It’s the classic “I am a failure” versus “I failed”. How many of us have experienced that tailspin in our life?x

I have seen so many people who feel that only if and when they get the promotion they’ve been seeking… or make the income and buy house…they’ve been hoping for… then they would have made it. I have heard rich and successful people say “only one more big deal…”, but then when they made another million they didn’t even stop to enjoy it. They immediately started chasing the next one and the next one.

So, what do you do – stop caring about your goals, or start treating them casually?

NO!

Commitment is one of those magical areas that requires a balancing act of contradicting forces. You have to remain relentlessly committed, but at the same time don’t get too attached.

Think about it like sport. You play to win – like your life depends on it. However, at the end of the game, no matter who won or lost, you thank your opponent, go have a beer together and remember: it is only a game.

If you focus too much on the “it’s a matter of life and death” part you could easily let things get out of hand. You could easily become one of these athletes or fans who crosses the line of violence, inappropriate conduct and/or unethical behavior, not to mention simply not enjoying the game.

On the other hand, if you focus too much on the “it doesn’t matter because it’s just a game” part, your pursuit would probably become boring, you would become uninspired, and your performance and results would be compromised.

So, if you want to remain focused, energized and sane regarding your ambitions and aspirations, remember to always balance your commitment with equal portions of relentless passion and humble insignificance.

How to make meaningful progress when taking your game to the next level

If you want to be successful at taking your game to the next level, you have to be conscious of how you think and what comes out of your mouth.

I was leading a meeting recently with a telecom management team that had taken on a bold commitment to take their team’s leadership and performance to a higher level.  This was a good team that had been performing well. However, the changes in their markets, customers, and technologies were requiring them to think, innovate, and perform at a different level.

They were about three months into their transformation process and, in this meeting, we were reviewing their progress.

One by one, the leaders shared their views. One of the leaders summarized: “We are making progress, but not enough!” Everyone nodded their heads in agreement. People added: “We need to bring more energy, courage, innovation, collaboration, and change to the game.”

I asked them “Why are you not making enough progress?” “Why are you not bringing the level of energy, courage, innovation, collaboration, and change that you know you need?

Their responses were things to the tune of: “It’s because of the holidays,” “It’s because of the year end,” “It’s because of the wider changes that are taking place in our company,” “We are doing quite well, so there’s not a lot of opportunities for big improvements,” and “It just takes time to make progress.”

So many teams and people, when taking on new levels of game, fall into the same traps of blaming their circumstances for their lack of progress and talking about their transformation in ways that undermine what they are trying to achieve.

If you want to avoid these pitfalls and make significant progress in taking your game to the next level, follow these principles:

  1. Take 100% ownership for your progress or lack thereof. Give up blaming your circumstances for not making enough progress or for not bringing enough energy, courage, innovation and/or collaboration to the game. Always relate to what you have or don’t have as your own doing.
  2. Promise clear results that require you to rise to the occasion. People bring high energy, courage and innovation to the game when they have promised specific results that are important to them, that require high energy, courage, and innovation. For example: one of the leaders stated that the people are not yet seeing any change in this leadership team. So, the team took on a promise that by our next meeting, three months later, their employees would notice a new level of energy, courage, innovation, and collaboration coming from the team. By promising this new state, the leaders now had an obligation to step up their leadership and performance in order to deliver.
  3. Focus on the areas of gap and opportunity, not how great you are. One of the biggest impediments to transformation is when people feel threatened or invalidated by acknowledging deficits and gaps. When discussing progress, I often hear people say things like: “We were already good at this.” If you are already good at something you will not be compelled to improve it. Even the greatest teams and people can find “next level” gaps, deficits and opportunities for improvement. Focusing on these does not invalidate your greatness.
  4. Avoid using phrases like: “We should do X” or “We have to do more of Y.” People simply don’t do what they “should” or “have to.” Either promise that you “Will do X” or don’t expect to see progress in the area you are talking about.
  5. Go out of your way to prove the validity of your commitment. When teams are driving significant change, team members often remain skeptical throughout the process. They adopt the “let’s see if this works” point of view. This mindset is understandable, but not powerful. If you want to be most effective, be clear about the future state you want, be all-in and trust your journey, no matter what ups-and-downs you encounter along the way. Don’t check if it works. Prove that it works.
  6. Collect as much evidence for progress as you can. Transforming a team to the next level is never about perfection. The focus should be driving as much progress as possible. In the realm of progress, everything counts – big, medium and small wins. And, being public about them is key. So identify, acknowledge and celebrate all of them. The more you identify areas of progress, the more it gives you appetite to find more. So, make it your priority to collect as many areas of progress as possible.

At the end of the meeting, the leaders took on a new perspective. They stopped accepting the reality: “We are making progress BUT not enough” and took on a commitment to cause a new genuine state: “We are excited about the progress we are making.”

This seems a simple shift, but it is very powerful. It is also a future worthy of proving right!

Photo by: Richard Potts

Are you taking enough time off?

I took a vacation last week. It was March break in Toronto. Our youngest daughter travelled to our family overseas for the break so my wife and I took advantage of our ‘empty nesters’ status and took off to a resort on one of the Caribbean islands.

I love what I do and I am a passionate type-A, hyperactive workaholic. So, for me to have a successful vacation I need to go to a place where I can leave all devices, my wallet and my watch behind and just focus on resting, slowing down, rejuvenating and having fun.

Nothing fits the bill better for me than an all-inclusive resort on a sandy beach in a warm destination. I spend all days doing only activities that pamper my soul: reading, journaling, listening to music, practicing my yoga, hanging out with my wife and eating and drinking good food and wine.

I work very hard so I make it a point to take as many vacations as possible between gigs throughout the year. Sometimes these are just short getaways and sometimes they are much longer. However, I have made it a practice to take at least two ‘proper’ vacations each year – one mid year, usually when our younger daughter goes to summer camp, and then one during Christmas break. These rejuvenating vacations have become consistent and empowering opportunities to reflect on my personal and professional progress, as well as chance to create my aspirations, dreams and plans for the next six months.

Most professionals work extremely hard and for long hours every day. This is especially the case in companies that are constantly looking to reduce expenses and increase their people’s productivity and results. Many employees and managers find managing their work-life balance to be a constant struggle.

People understand the importance of taking vacations and time off. But, it seems that most people – especially in North America – are not very good at doing it. People say the right things, but many seem to relate to taking time off as a ‘luxury’ that would be ‘nice to have,’ not a mission critical ‘necessity.’ Most people don’t do a good job taking a stand for their own–and their family’s–well-being at the same level they take a stand for their work and career.

I used to think and behave this way. But, over the years as my work, travel and demands increased, and as I have grown older and wiser (with my wife’s and kid’s help, of course) I have evolved my paradigm. In fact, my mantra today is ‘work hard and play hard.’

I believe taking time off is mission critical. It is a necessity. It is something we should be accountable for just like we are for our work commitments. Why?

  1. We spend so much time working in our business but not enough time working on our business. We are so consumed by our day-to-day challenges and opportunities that we don’t get too many opportunities to ‘lift our head above water.’ People often tell me that their work is so intense and fast-paced that they don’t have time to simply stop and ‘think,’ ‘plan,’ ‘innovate’ and ‘create.’ Taking time off gives us these quality opportunities to reflect, think, create, innovate, dream and plan the next steps of taking our self-expression and success to the next level. In fact, there are some Ivy League schools that have incorporated into their curriculum periods during the day where students are instructed to ‘do nothing,’ just think and create. It makes a big difference to productivity and success.
  2. Working as hard as most of us do takes a toll. We need the time off to renew, heal and rejuvenate ourselves. It’s a ‘must’ for our well-being, productivity and longevity. We tend to look out for everything and everyone else but not ourselves. We tend to always be the last priority. We work long hours, sometimes on the weekends too. We go out of our way to take care of our customers, stakeholders, projects and company, as we should… but we often neglect ourselves. Instead of taking a bolder stand for what is important to us, we often tend to say “yes” to all or most work requests, no matter what the personal consequence may be – like missing our kid’s recital or birthday, or other important family engagements – because we fear that saying “no” would be viewed as ‘selfish’ or lack of commitment to the company cause.
  3. Consider the fact that the divorce rates in modern countries are outrageously high. One of the reasons for the appalling statistic is our tendency to get addicted to, and overly consumed by our work and careers. There is nothing wrong with a commitment to our work and career. I am guilty of that my self. However, we would be wise to manage it in great harmony with the other parts of our life that we care about. Time off, especially with our loved ones (wife, husband, significant other and/or kids), is critical for managing these most important relationships. It’s time to reconnect but may be even more important as an opportunity to show those we love that they are still the most important part in our life. I guess that is why we must ask: “Am I working in order to live or living in order to work?” Some say that one of the differences between the North American and European cultures is that the Europeans do a better job “working to live” and in North America we tend to “live to work.”
  4. Taking time off is also a great opportunity to nurture our own soul by doing the things that we love to do and aren’t able to do for most of the year. Things like reading, writing, hiking, skiing and other activities that are important for each of us. It’s also an opportunity to explore new things that we’ve never done before; things that may be on our bucket list. Time off is a critical time to invest in our Self. After all, if we’re not in good mental, spiritual and physical condition, all the rest is irrelevant!

 

Make sure you make taking time off as much of a priority as everything else that is important to you.

Photo by: Moyan Brenn

Do you have the conditions to take your team to the next level?

When an organization or team wants to generate a bolder and more compelling future and strategy, and rapidly and powerfully take its game to the next level it has to address two dimensions: the “content” associated with the future or strategy, and the “context” associated with the future or strategy.

The content means making sure that there is a clear, precise, robust and well-structured game plan, which for most teams is in the form of a strategy or set of objectives. The leaders must ensure that everyone on the team understands the strategy in the same way.

In so many organizations and teams this seemingly simple step is not achieved in a powerful and effective way. Typically the strategy is too high level, vague or conceptual, and different team members have different ideas, interpretations, agendas and priorities about the direction, methodology and destination.

I started working with a new division of well known successful global telecommunication organization. As part of learning about this division I set up interviews with all the senior executives and a hand full of managers that report to them. One of my interview questions was “Do you have a clear vision and strategy that everyone understands, is aligned with, owns and works passionately together toward?

Most people answered “No!” And, many added with frustration or discouragement “It’s really hard to get alignment. We sit in meetings discussing our strategy about specific initiatives. We leave the meeting thinking we have agreement and then everyone goes off to their area and does what they want anyway.”

Some leaders said “Yes!” but when I asked them to elaborate on the vision or strategy, their description was either extremely watered down and high-level or there were significant discrepancies between people’s descriptions on key areas.

I see this dynamic in many successful teams and organizations.

The context means making sure there is a team dynamic – some refer to it as: culture, environment or mindset – in which everyone can truly be open, honest, authentic and courageous, and an environment in which people genuinely feel “in this together”, even if they don’t all report to the same boss, which is the case in any matrix management environment; an environment in which everyone is excited about the game and feels genuine ownership commitment and accountability toward the bigger success.

In most teams, including the most successful ones, most people feel the exact opposite way. They describe the dynamic of team communication as more cautious, calculated, politically correct and held back. Even those who feel that the team can discuss everything in an open and honest manner often add the caveat “discussions are not effective and they frequently don’t lead to concrete decisions that everyone fully own and is aligned behind.” Or “when we do make decisions we don’t track them and follow through.” These symptoms are always lagging indicators of lack of authentic ownership in the first place.

Addressing the content alone will at best produce a dynamic of unenthusiastic compliance. But often it produces frustrations, fear and resignation. This will be insufficient for achieving a new, more powerful game.

I see so many managers who ignore or are blind to the importance of building a strong context in their team. They manage their teams in a command-control style believing that if they oversee all the details rigorously they’ll eliminate the likelihood of shortfalls and ensure all the key milestones are met. This behavior comes from a paradigm of “I don’t trust my people to own the game and do whatever is needed to ensure success” And, these managers are right! Their behavior is self-fulfilling. It causes people to operate in a mode of fear, resentment and compliance. People do the minimum to get the job done but they don’t apply half their passion, commitment or resourcefulness to the game.

Attending to the context alone will also not sustain because un-channeled enthusiasm will not be productive over time. When people will realize that progress and results are not being achieved they’ll quickly become discouraged and cynical.

I worked with a general manager who was a great guy. He had great character, empathy and integrity. When he stood in front of the troops he always motivated everyone. In short, everyone loved him. But, he wasn’t able to translate his vision into action and results. So, he started to lose his credibility. After a while, people started to roll their eyes when he spoke and it wasn’t long before he was let go.

So, if you want to elevate your team to the next level you have to address both the “content” and “context” aspects associated with the new future direction or strategy you want to bring about.

Do less. You’ll be able to achieve more!

In my line of work I attend many business meetings, and many of them look like this: people sit around the table with their laptops or iPads open. There are relatively brief moments where everyone is deeply present, listening, paying attention and engaged in the conversation. Most of the time people are sporadically engaged but mostly working on their computers, iPads or smartphones responding to emails and focusing on other work related things.

Most people who work in organizations seem to feel that they have to attend too many meetings and that many, perhaps most of these meetings are too long and not productive. In fact, many times people say that most meetings are a waste of time.

Why is this the case?

I often ask my clients why their meetings are not productive. Many people attribute this to the fact that “people are not engaged and invested in the conversation because they are too distracted by other multi tasking activities.” Many also say that the reason they continue to do emails and work during the meeting is because “the meeting isn’t that productive or relevant to them.” This sounds like a vicious circle and self-perpetuating predicament.

In many cases people also say that “their manager is the biggest offender of doing emails and other work while in meetings, so this sets the mode and standard for less effective meetings.” When I have further asked why people don’t simply close their computers and devices in meetings in order to fully concentrate on the discussions at hand, many said that the reason is “with all the resource constraints they now have to do the work of two people”.

In today’s economy, the challenge of doing more with less is definitely more prevalent in corporations than ever. However, the strategy of “multi-tasking” as a solution is simply the wrong answer.

All this is true in our personal lives too: Have you ever noticed that when a friend or a family member is concentrating on a mobile device or computer while in a conversation with you, these conversations become intermittent, repetitive, unfocused and unproductive?

Our three kids (14, 21 and 25) act like it is normal to text, tweet, instagram and social network while talking to us, their friends, and others. This is the norm today among kids, teenagers and young adults. But, I recently read an article that indicated that the kids of today retain and remember less information because they rely so heavily on the internet. What is clear is that the more parallel demands we place on our brain and focus, the less productive we are, the more stressed we are, and the longer it takes to do the work.

Even though we’ve learned to accept this reality, at time it still causes inter-generational tension because its simply unacceptable for my wife and I to communicate and connect this way. In fact, on a recent carpool trip, it was amusing to see my youngest daughter with her three girlfriends, sitting side by side and texting each other rather than speaking.

At first we tried to impose clear rules around the use of phones and other devices, to make sure our kids balance their social networking with being present at family time and homework; otherwise they would never take their eyes off their phones. We had partial success. But, we didn’t give up. We all pledged to close our phones in all family dinners and social events. This has already made a difference in the quality of our quality time together as a family.

Please don’t understand me wrong, I have nothing against these marvelous devices– in fact, I own many of them, and love using them. But what today’s kids, teenagers, and business managers often fail to see is the cost of their multitasking on the entire spectrum of things that matter to them, from productivity in school and work, to intimacy with family and friends.

If you want to achieve greater, more complex and extraordinary things with higher quality, slow down and focus: you’ll get there much faster.

And as a bonus, you’ll be a happier, healthier person. That’s something you and your family can enjoy, at your leisure.

Are you counting your blessings or focusing on what’s missing?

In the previous blog I talked about how the rat race to achieve more and meet our life objectives often prevents us from being present and living our life in the moment.  

This is a very common modern life dilemma that many ambitious and successful people face: how to set exciting goals in all areas of our life, work hard to realize them (because that is what it takes), and while doing that fully enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

How do we slow down enough while we are going so fast?  

How to grow as many roses as we want AND also stop and smell them on a regular basis?

This has definitely been one of my life learning curves. I am a visionary and an ambitious person. I have big dreams aspirations in all areas of my life: professionally, in business, financially, staying healthy and fit, having an amazing marriage with my wife of 30 years, and deep closeness with my 3 kids and extended family. I want to ‘have it all’ and I want to be present and enjoy my journey as I go through it, not just when I get there “someday”.

My wife Na’ama has made a huge difference in keeping our focus and awareness on our accomplishments and how blessed we are, in all areas. The conversation of gratitude has become an integrated part of our family life because Na’ama has been a relentless champion for this. She constantly reminds each of us, especially when we face adversity, how lucky and blessed we are in our life. She always helps us shift our focus from what’s missing, wrong, and not working to what IS working and what we feel grateful for.

Several years ago we started a practice of ending each day with ten minutes of writing down (journaling) the answers to the question: “What are four things I accomplished today? and “What are four things I feel blessed and I am grateful for today?” Even if we had a bad day, or felt that we didn’t accomplish anything we still answered these questions.

What I learned from this process was that I had an abundance of things to claim as accomplishments, and an abundance of things that I feel blessed and grateful for. In fact I had many more than 4 each day. And, the more I focused on accomplishments the easier it became to find them and the more fortunate, empowered and energized I felt. Standing in that space enabled me to accomplish even more.

Our writing practice compelled us to have more conversations on a regular basis about what we are accomplishing and what we feel blessed and grateful for. The ‘counting our blessing’ conversation became a daily affair, and as time passed it infected our kids and close friends as well.

As Fr. D’sousa wrote – the events, obstacles and ups-and-downs of our life should not keep us from living our life to its fullest, now. On the contrary – our day-to-day journey, no matter how good or bad, contains in it an abundance of small, medium and large victories, accomplishments and things to feel blessed about.

Living courageously means highlighting these accomplishments, embracing our fortunes and allowing ourselves to be inspired by our own life every minute and day.

If the ideas and practices that I shared in this blog resonate with you I encourage to try them on and share what you learned from that.

If you feel that you are great at living the moment – please share what you do to live in that space.

Are you living your life in the moment?

In my professional experiences as a coach, as well as my own life journey I’ve seen a particular mindset that often dominates our day-to-day lives. As members of a modern, ambitious and demanding society we have the inclination to go through life with the sense that we are “not quite there yet.” We set goals for ourselves and then along the journey we often forget that WE are the ones who set these goals. We fall into the trap of feeling that only when we realize these goals and other achievements “we will really make it, and then be able to truly relax and enjoy life to its fullest”.

Consider this quote from Fr. Alfred D’souza, which I thoroughly love and resonate with:

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

The entire “retirement” concept is predicated on this premise – we work extremely hard throughout our life, often sacrificing and neglecting key areas like family, marriage, health and recreation, in order to achieve financial and professional goals that would allow us to get to that stage in life where we can retire and then “truly start doing what we love to do”

We so often equate our material achievements and success with our self-worth. We get caught in the hamster wheel of jealousy and competitiveness, and even when we do reach certain milestones we don’t take the time to appreciate and celebrate what we have accomplished. Instead we move right into the next goal and the rat race continues.

And, lets be honest, the prevalence of social media doesn’t help at all! In fact, it only makes the pressure worse. Instead of only seeing our neighbor’s new car, we are now connected with thousands of “friends” online and seeing how others live their lives. No wonder we often feel like the grass is greener on the other side.

Throughout our prime years as we are working our butts off, we feel like “when we get the next promotion…. close the next deal…. make the next million…buy the house or car of our dream” or “get our children through college” or “married”…. “THEN life will truly be great”.  But then when we reach old age we often talk about our life as “the good old days”.

So if throughout our life we feel that “someday” we will start living and then at the prime of our life we feel like “the good old days are behind us”–

When is it our time? When do we ever enjoy today… the moment???

In my next blog I will talk about: “How to get out of this vicious circle”, “How to live with a daily experience of appreciation, accomplishment and counting our blessings” and “How to be in the moment and enjoy the NOW”

I will also share some practical things you can do to sustain that mindset and life experience.

How Great are YOU willing to be?

Maybe that seems like an odd question to ask. Who wouldn’t want to be Great?

Perhaps it’s not as straightforward as it seems.

It is my life’s goal to ignite, energize and empower people. In fact, it’s my job, and most of it is in the workplace. My work is about empowering people; reminding them of who they are and how great and able they can be. When people are empowered in the workplace, it spills over into other areas of their life – work, marriage, parenthood, family, and social circles.

But I have noticed that often people are not that eager to become empowered.  Despite what they say they don’t seem to be interested in experiencing themselves as powerful, great, resourceful, and larger than their circumstances.

The logic is clear: if they accept themselves as enabled and unstoppable, they are admitting that they have the capability to create and produce much more than they do today. Unempowered people have less opportunity in front of them, and more excuses for why they can’t do things. They experience themselves as smaller than their problems, so they always have a way out.  They do not challenge themselves to change or think beyond their comfort zone. This is an easier and safer way to live. If they become empowered, if they begin living courageously, they have to bring innovation and resourcefulness to all aspects of their life. This could be scary.

However, the cost of staying unempowered is dear.  Self expression and confidence are eroded. And there is a constant feeling that “maybe I am missing something. Maybe I’m not living to my full potential.”

By simply confronting the benefits and costs of living unempowered, people regain their ability to choose. They begin to see that it is possible to choose courageous living, and to regain their self-expression.

Are you afraid to fully express yourself? Are you willing to choose empowerment?

How great are YOU willing to be?