Are you living in and enjoying the moment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you hear how ludicrous that sounds!?

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

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

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

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

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

It’s now or never… literally!

 

Complete 2019 in a meaningful way

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

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

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

How do you complete things?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to complete 2019 in a practical and meaningful way:

As you end 2019, reflect on your year. First, make the list of the facts – what happened, what you did and didn’t do and accomplish. It’s useful to start there. But don’t end there.

Ask yourself:

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

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

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

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

 

Success through Rigor, Clarity, and Responsibility

Often when managers and employees feel frustrated about other’s lack of accountability, and they describe the reality as: “They promised to do X and didn’t deliver!” there is more to the story than that.

I have seen many times, in situations of conflict or dispute, person A insisting that person B promised to do or deliver something and simply did not do so, while person B denies ever having made the promise in the first place.

Both parties feel frustrated and resentful. Each one believes their version of the story represents the facts and truth. However, in many cases, when both parties step back, look a bit deeper, and try to view the situation more objectively, they realize that it was not bad intent caused their heartache, but rather the lack of rigor and clarity in their initial interaction.

If you want to avoid the common issues that happen when requesting or promising, there are a few things to pay attention to:

  1. Make sure what you are requesting or promising is clear, understood, and agreed to in the same way by both sides. Often, instead of explicitly spelling it out, people assume the other person knows what they are requesting or promising. It probably won’t be an exaggeration to say that, more often than not, people simply do not understand and/or are not aligned about what is being promised or requested. Needless to say, this causes mismatched expectations, that always lead to upset.
  2. Make sure the time frame of the promise or request is clear. For example, if you are asking for additional resources or budget for a strategic project, be specific about the time frame (the ‘by when’). Don’t leave it vague, or hope they’ll understand your urgency or act on it rapidly. And, if the person you are requesting this from promises to make it happen, “As soon as possible,” don’t settle for the lack of clarity… And don’t fall into the trap of assuming you will get what you need in the time you need it. Furthermore, don’t feel disappointed if your expectations were not met.
  3. Make sure the level of sincerity and commitments toward the promise is explicit. When you make a request and someone responses with “I’ll do my best” or “I don’t see any reason why not,” don’t make the mistake of taking that as an affirmation of commitment. A promise is clear, explicit, and unconditional. This doesn’t mean that a promise is a guarantee and, therefore, will always be fulfilled. However, when someone says: “I promise,” “You can count on me,” or “You have my word,” that represents a much stronger, sincerer, and more committed intention to do what they said. People often avoid this level of clarity because it is uncomfortable, and they fear it could lead to the realization that they may not get what they want.
  4. Check-in, follow up, and support the promise while it is being delivered. When someone promises you something, and they are in the process of working on it, your job is not over. You need to stay engaged and involved throughout the duration of the delivery cycle as a committed and vested partner in order to keep the promise alive. This interaction will look different depending on the nature of the promise and person you are dealing with. Sometimes it may mean checking in on a frequent basis. At other times, it may mean looking the person in the eye at the onset to get a sense of confidence that they really mean it, understood it, and will follow through. The main reason for avoiding this conversation is because it is disruptive and uncomfortable. People fear it could lead to the realization that they may not get what they want.
  5. Manage undelivered promises with integrity. No matter how sincere the promise, it is never a guarantee. Things happen, and people who promise sometimes fail to deliver or change their mind. If you understand and accept that simple fact, you will be in a much better mental place to deal with undelivered promises. For the most part, people know ahead of the deadline that they are not going to deliver what they promised. But unfortunately, while people seem to have no problem not doing what they said, they do have a problem being straight up and upfront about it.

The lack of courage to acknowledge and take responsibility for promises that won’t be delivered often goes both ways – to the one promising and the one being ‘promised to.’ Have you ever been in a situation in which someone promised you something, you had a feeling they may not come through, and still you avoided confronting them about it?

Regardless of your position and seniority – if you are not going to deliver on your promise, letting others find out at the last minute and be surprised is not acceptable. It undermines trust, credibility, confidence, and success.

If you can’t deliver what you promised, communicate in a timely and responsible manner. Then the two of you – together – can figure out alternative solutions and routes to rectify the situation or take a different course.

People want to fulfill their commitments and succeed, but they also can handle the truth, even if it is bad news. By interacting with rigor, clarity, courage, and responsibility, you are promoting respect, emphasizing other’s strengths, and enabling success.

 

Are you driving outcomes or activities?

So often, when teams define their strategy, they tend to target activities instead of outcomes.

For example, they promise:

  • ‘Installing a new order shipping tracking system’ instead of ‘80% of our orders are shipped on time’;
  • ‘Create a process that gives visibility to post-sales issues’ versus ‘all post-sales issues are resolved within 24 hours’; and
  • ‘All sales employees have gone through our sales training program’ instead of ‘we have raised the average productivity of the sales team from 2 million per person to 3 million.’

While activities are essential for executing and delivering the results, they should not be the starting point of any strategy.

The job of leaders is to make strategic choices about where they want to take their organization. When it comes to strategic outcomes, there are no right or wrong answers. In fact, no matter how much analysis you do, you never really know if your bet will succeed. We have all seen sure bets fall short, and unexpected bets succeed beyond expectations. In order for a team to create a powerful strategy, the leaders must be 100% aligned on their strategic choices/commitments.

While outcomes are derived from choices, activities should be derived from the outcomes. Outcomes change when leaders feel there is a strategic reason to change them (for example, market change, merger & acquisition, etc.). However, activities should be periodically inspected and adjusted any time they are no longer useful or effective. Needless to say, the focus and direction of activities could change much more frequently than outcomes.

When a team locks into clear outcomes, that higher purpose helps the managers and employees determine their action plans and activities. But when leaders lock into activities, this often creates busyness in the organization.

I can’t tell you how many times I see people being so consumed with busywork that they have lost track of the higher purpose that led to the busyness in the first place.

In addition, the focus on the activities (means) versus outcomes (end) hinders the ability of the team to assess the effectiveness of their activities and make the necessary changes if they are not effective. Most organizations are good at adding activities, but they rarely stop them.

Lastly, the activity-based approach undermines accountability. Real accountability is always for clear outcomes. Accountability for clear results fosters a mindset of overcoming obstacles. The activity-based approach tolerates shortfalls and promotes a circumstantial mindset of blame and excuses.

People often justify the activity-based approach with statements like: “We can’t control/guarantee the results. We can only control/guarantee our activities…

But that is like searching for your lost car keys under the lamp post versus where you actually lost them.

Yes, you may be able to control your activities. But the activities you can control may not get you to your desired outcomes.

When it comes to strategy, there seem to be two schools of thought:

Promise your desired outcomes and then put the activities in place to fulfill them.”

Promise the activities that you assume will get you to your desired outcomes and hope they will be enough.”

Leaders who believe in the first seem to have a more powerful paradigm and approach towards outcomes.

They seem to believe that they do have control over achieving their outcomes. They seem to believe that:

  1. If achieving their outcomes requires enrolling others who are not part of their team to the task, they have the ability to do so.
  2. If achieving their outcomes requires coming up with new ways of doing things, they have the ability to figure that out.
  3. If achieving their outcomes requires investment in resources and budgets, they have the ability to make the business case for that.
  4. And, if achieving their outcomes requires some “magic” and “luck” if they stay optimistic, positive, and determined in their attitude, conversations, interactions, and energy, they have a higher chance to succeed.

The last paragraph may seem not tangible or real to you… However, ask any Olympic athlete or championship sports team about the importance of positive, high-energy mindset to winning and the amount of focus and time they spend on this topic, and you will be surprised by how tangible and real this dimension is for winning.

In today’s world, where opportunities are abundant, resources are scarce, competition is fierce, and everyone is looking for ways to scale and do more with less; you can’t afford to waste time and cycles on busyness and activities that may not deliver the results you want. You have to be much more deliberate and powerful than that.

The job of a leader is not to track and report on activities. It is to cause outcomes.

So, if you are not going to promise to cause specific outcomes, don’t promise anything at all!

Can you tolerate brutal honesty?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As we all know:

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

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

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

Nothing can beat that!

 

Can you commit to change and stay the course?

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

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

Creation, Execution, and Breakthrough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is the same with any change initiative!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s up with that?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you spend more time explaining or committing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you just complain or actually do something about it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Don’t underestimate the power of intention

I know too many people who don’t have the reality they want personally and/or professionally and they constantly complain about it, blame others or the circumstances for it and overall give excuses for it.

In fact, when I asked one of them the question “How are you doing?” their response was: “Same shit different day!” I have heard different variations on that theme from others…

Contrast that with a real-life story (no names) with two chapters:

Chapter One:

A sales team that was struggling with making their sales targeted numbers for a long time wanted a break. They had enough of wallowing in their sorrows. They wanted a breakthrough; they wanted to start winning and move from a survival mode to a thriving and abundant mode. So, to make a long story short, they had a “come to Jesus” meeting in which they all committed to a future (with specific details) that included making or exceeding their goals every quarter with more and bigger deals. They acknowledged that they had fallen into a “victim mentality” and they committed to stop complaining, blaming and justifying. This commitment was a big deal for them! The first quarter they came close, the second they made it and by the third quarter, they exceeded their results.

Needless to say, everyone was elated. However, with their new success came a lot more work and the new work was much more intense and demanding then they had been used to.

Chapter Two:

After two very successful quarters of record sales results, people were feeling the strains of the long hours and hard work. They had to hire many more people to accommodate their growth, but that was taking longer than everyone had hoped so the brunt of the hard work fell on fewer people.

Everyone felt the stress of over the lack of work/life balance. Even the people who were around before the success had forgotten where they came from.

When you walked the halls of this team you started to hear disgruntled team members engaging in negative conversations again – complaining, blaming and justifying their frustrations. Unfortunately, with time the negativity only increased and with it ownership, dedication and quality deteriorated.

When the team lost its first customer everyone brushed it off and attributed it to the circumstances. However, when their downward trend repeated itself and they had multiple issues with other deals and customers, which lead to them missing their sales results again, it was too late to turn things around.

Commitment and Intention are so powerful. You can understand this phrase, but if you don’t “get it”, trust it, apply it and live it this won’t make a difference.

The punch line is:

If you are dealing with a bad situation or reality and you complain about it you will most likely continue to have that bad reality. I am sure you would agree…

If you are dealing with a bad situation or reality and you commit to changing it, and then you start speaking and acting consistent with your new commitment, it will only be a matter of time – “when”, not “if” – you will turn your predicament around.

However, if you succeed in turning your bad predicament around and you go back to complaining about what you got, or what is not working, it will only be a matter of time – “when”, not “if”- you will lose what you created and return to your old state…

Even if you don’t understand how intention works or if you don’t believe that intention works – it still does!

You can either embrace the concept and figure out how to use it to your advantage, or you can reject and dismiss it and then you will lose the competitive advantage and power that this powerful principle could give you.

Are you dealing with successes and setbacks effectively?

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

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

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

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

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

One of them went on to say:

Our relationship with corporate finance is still not working!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stop stating the obvious and start stating your stand!

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was a lot of:

Well, the problem is that each of us has strong exposure and contact with our key customers…” or,

The problem is that we all do this today, and we all are good at this…” or,

We need to figure out a way to take the good things from the existing structure without the bad things…”  etc.

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

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

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

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

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

Real leadership requires courage to take a stand.

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

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

The phrase ‘Career limiting move’ comes to mind…

But, if you want things to move faster, your meetings to be briefer and more productive and your experience of day-to-day business interaction to be much more powerful and satisfying, then be more courageous, clear and assertive about the future you want and stand for.

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

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