Posts

Taking a stand ALWAYS requires courage

No matter how committed we are to living courageously, and how experienced we are at taking a stand for the future and living accordingly, it doesn’t seem to get easier or less scary with time.

I have been a student and teacher of these concepts and conversations for more than 30 years. I practice them in my own personal and professional life, and I teach and coach others to do the same. Still, with all my experience, every time I need to take a stand in my life, I find myself confronting my own fears, doubts and skepticisms.

It takes openness, faith, trust and courage to live consistently with your stand and commitment.

Openness to the idea that our internal mindset and commitment really do affect, impact and shape our external world and circumstances.

Most people don’t reach this level of enlightenment. They are too skeptical, pragmatic or close-minded to even consider or accept the notion that there is more to life than what they can physically see. Whether it is Religion, Astrology, or the Law of Attraction, I often hear smart and successful people reject these by saying things like, “I don’t believe in that Voodoo, BS or Nonsense stuff…”

Faith and trust in your own ability to take your life to a new level, starting with a bold stand. Also, have faith and trust that the universe will reciprocate consistently with your commitment and energy.

Even when people believe in the Law of Attraction notion, many don’t believe that it could work for them – that their life could ever be as blissful as they truly desire. So, they maintain a conceptual, theoretical and academic mindset about these transformational topics. I often hear people give others ‘taking the next level’ advice when they themselves avoid doing the same, even though they desperately want and need to.

Courage to take a stand for what you want and bet your future on that stand – even when your current circumstances are quite different from your desired state, and people around you may judge you for being naïve and unrealistic.

Most people, despite what they may say to the contrary, are too comfortable in their personal and professional status quo. They may talk about change, but most don’t get up and do something about it, even when their circumstances are challenging, unfulfilling and dissatisfying. They are too afraid to take a stand and ‘go for it’ for risk of failing, disappointing themselves or others, or simply appearing naive or not credible in the eyes of people around them who they respect and like.

There is a big difference between “wanting to change” and actually “changing.” Most of us are much better at the first.

We are creatures of habit. We like continuity, stability, familiarity, and predictability. We need it to feel confident and safe. We fear change and the unknown.

Taking a stand for a better future brings about change, unknown and unpredictable directions, and dynamics. This is counter-intuitive to our ‘keep things the same’ orientation. It disrupts our order and fundamentally scares us.

That is why taking a stand will ALWAYS require courage.

Photo by: The U.S. Army

 

Why is Leadership so important NOW?

In today’s market environment, thriving and struggling businesses alike seem to be experiencing increasing challenges in competitive, economic and market conditions.

In these times when the business opportunities and challenges are bountiful and the tangible material and physical resources such as budgets, expenses, resources and travel are scarce, most leaders I speak to seem to feel a growing need to unleash and promote the intangible assets. They seek to boost the mental and leadership energy, creativity, ownership and resourcefulness of individuals and the team as a whole.

Leaders often talk about the fact that in today’s environment “the only constant is change.” In this environment, any team weaknesses or dysfunctionalities that could have been avoided or overlooked in stable times can’t be ignored. Obstacles to success must be addressed and fixed in challenging times in order for the team to work at its full potential.

Unfortunately, most individuals and teams in organizations are quite reactive to circumstances, so when things are going well, they feel strong, empowered and focused. But when there is a lot of change and/or circumstances make a turn for the worst – they often lose their cool confidence and inner balance and get into an individual and collective funk.

The longer circumstances stay challenging, the worse morale and confidence usually get. This eventually affects performance and results in a negative way. I am seeing this happen in many companies.

It gets worse when people listen to the media and hear stations like CNN constantly bombarding the screen with gloom and doom. And, the more people hear about companies who are laying off people, the worse this morale and confidence downward spiral gets.

This vicious circle is avoidable when people and teams have the right leadership mindset and competency to self-generate their own attitudes and mindsets, no matter what the circumstances are.

In my last blog I quoted Alan Kay who said “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Can you imagine the possibilities any team could generate when its entire workforce genuinely believes that “no matter what the circumstances are – we can invent our future and control our own destiny?”

Thinking and behaving in this way allows people to own their thoughts, behaviors and actions. It equips and empowers everyone to catch and stop the negative, disempowering and fear-based or stress-based feelings and conversations before they take over. People then can turn a negative dynamic and atmosphere into a more positive, productive and energizing one.

The notion of inventing the future allows people to stay centered and focused when things are turbulent around them.

When people understand the power associated with inventing the future rather than merely reacting to it, they start creating exciting objectives, projects, milestones and events to work on in the present. This creates even greater possibilities to look forward to in the future.

Unfortunately, I still see many team environments in which circumstances are challenging and victim-mentality becomes accepted and rampant. In these situations, people excuse and justify poor performance and low morale.

However, when the entire team is in that same positive, proactive and self-generative mindset, people go out of their way to support, empower and encourage each other to go beyond and behave in an un-circumstantial, un-stoppable way. I have actually seen teams that have used these phrases as mantra’s to become a high performance team.

You can promise the uncertain

You can promise the uncertain

Can you promise an outcome that you don’t know how to fulfill or that you don’t own and control all the aspects that are needed in order to fulfill it?

My answer is yes! In fact, I think in many cases, these type of promises are the ones most worth making because they often reflect our aspirational dreams and game changers.

When Kennedy promised that the USA would put a man on the moon and get him back safely by the end of the century, NASA didn’t exist. In fact, all of the key technologies and materials needed to achieve Kennedy’s lofty vision didn’t exist. But, by making the promise, Kennedy ushered in a new era of dialogue and collaboration among the different space related agencies to achieve this “impossible” goal. Kennedy’s declaration stimulated a new level of innovation, which eventually positioned the USA as the leader in space exploration. This endeavor also contributed to numerous technological advancements in other fields.

Kennedy’s declaration is a very famous example of making a promise without knowing exactly how to fulfill it. But, if you think about it, we all do this all the time.

For example: every time a man and woman say “I do” and commit to spending the rest of their lives together in love and harmony, they are in essence promising something they don’t fully know how to fulfill.

In organizations when clients request or expect higher quality, lower cost and faster delivery, people rise to the occasion and go out of their way to figure out how to provide this out of the ordinary outcome.

We all make ambitious and uncertain promises that we don’t know how to keep all the time, so why are we so afraid and reluctant to proactively do so?

It is because as human beings we are fundamentally rooted in the past. We behave as if the past is the only indicator of what is possible or impossible in the future. I find that most of us live this way for the majority of the time.

That’s why people often say things like “this project is going to be really hard,” “It’s going to take me a long time to gain their trust,” and “we can’t double the numbers in one year.”

We have all witnessed that the things that seem most certain often don’t turn out that way. And, what seems most unlikely often does happen. Rationally, this means that what we may consider possible/likely or impossible/unlikely are not facts at all.

Nevertheless, even though our reality has been shaken by themany times, the past seems to still have a firm grip on our view. This is what makes us uncomfortable to make promises about what we don’t know how to fulfill.

There is a different paradigm of thinking available to us that is rooted in the future. There are many variations on this way of thinking, but all of them represent the idea that our actions and behaviors are more driven by the future we are anticipating, than by our past.

If we commit to an aspirational future state that is desirable and believable, even if we don’t know how to achieve it just yet, we will invest our hearts and souls in pursuing it and figuring out how to fulfill it.

I am reminded of something I learned early on in my career from one of my mentors that has repeatedly proven to be true: “if you do the right thing for long enough, you will always get the outcome you desire.” Unfortunately, I see too many people failing to achieve their dreams more because of lack of trying (or giving up too quickly) then because of giving it their all and falling short.

The distinction believable is very important here. It’s the bridge between the past and the future. If what we promise is not believable, it will live as a pipedream and we won’t pursue it. If it is too believable – i.e., predictable—it won’t be inspiring even if we do pursue it. Believable, predicable and pipedream are not facts. They are paradigms that we can choose to adopt in order to transform our minds.

And, of course courage is a key component.

As per one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

So, if you want to take your personal or professional life to the next level, promise something bold and inspiring that is desirable and believable and go for it. It may not go the way you think it should. But, if you stay with it you may be surprised by what you accomplish.

And, as I always tell people at the end “Even when you are doing all the right things leave a bit of room for miracles and luck.”

Does retirement still make sense?

I recently read an intriguing statistic about retirement: “people who retire at 55 are 60% more likely to pass away within 10 years of retiring than people who retire at 65.”

Intuitively, this makes sense. Many people work hard for years, looking forward to a distant future when they will retire and finally begin to live their real lives. And yet, when they get there, they are ill-equipped for this sudden, dramatic change in their daily routine. When confronted with all the time in the world to play golf, they feel as if they have fallen off a cliff.

All the sacrifices people make throughout their working lives do not seem to guarantee happiness and prosperity – often because a person’s identity has been so closely wrapped up with what they do, rather than who they are. When they reach the “promised land” of retirement, it doesn’t take long before they start reminiscing about “the good old days.”

This is a real shame. When do we take the time to savor, to enjoy, and to be passionate about what we are doing? If anything needs to retire, it’s the legacy mindset that drives this behavior! Look around: when people love what they do, the idea of stopping solely because they have reached some arbitrary age is not only unwise, it is unhealthy.

Retirement stems from a time when work was by definition physical and hard. The body reached a point where it was no longer capable of continuing – and there was an imperative to make way for younger people. But work in knowledge economies is increasingly based on what people know, and what they can produce using their imagination, heart, and commitment.

Times have changed: age doesn’t matter for most knowledge activities. In fact, the experience, wisdom, and networks that come with age are considerable assets. As a result a person’s ability to continue doing something that excites and motivates them is virtually unlimited, even for those who have not been accustomed to this type of thinking. And, the fact that people are living longer is only making this point of view more relevant.

Think about it: if you are doing what you love, if you love what you’re doing, you never need to retire. Instead of looking forward to retirement as a time to “get off the train,” you could look to it as time to change gears and explore new exciting directions. Instead of running away from something you could run toward something.

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were? No matter where you are, or who you are, you have the ability to think differently. It takes courage but it’s our birthright and an innate ability. Instead of retiring from something, you could choose to create something new that excites you. A wise friend once told me that in order to stay young longer, you have to be up to something and stay engaged with people. The traditional idea of retirement seems to contradict that.

Consider what your future would look like without the word “retirement” in it at all. This would be a very different relationship to aging.

Become attached to your future, not your past

In 1899 Charles H. Duel, then Director of the U.S. Patent office said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

In 1895, Lord Kelvin who was President of the Royal Society said, “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.”

In 1905, Grover Cleveland, then President of the United States said, “Sensible and responsible women do not wan to vote.”

In 1943, Thomas Watson, then Chairman of IBM said, “There is a world market for about five computers.”

We all say and think things everyday that we sincerely believe to be true, even though they are not true at all.

When we think or say positive things it could be motivating. Even though sometime it could cause us to underestimate what it takes to get something done. However, when we think or say negative things it often limits our view of what is possible and therefore it disempowers us and makes us less powerful.

Our thoughts are not objective. We see things and form views based on our pre-conceived notions. We don’t believe or disbelieve what we see. We actually see what we believe or disbelieve.

We seem to already know how good or bad the future is going to be even though the future hasn’t happened yet.

For example, when people start a new project they often say things like “this is going to be hard” or “it’s going to take a long time.” When they are searching for employment they often say “its really hard to find a job in this field or these days.” And when people are looking for a romantic relationship they often say “there aren’t many potential women or men out there given my age.” I hear these types of comments in my coaching work all the time.

These are all valid perspectives, but they are not facts or truths. And, if we get too attached to them, they often become self-fulfilling prophesies.

It’s as if we are driving toward our future, but without realizing it, we are looking into our rearview mirror. So, everything we see that seems to be in front of us is actually behind us. We think we are objectively working on our future, but we are actually stuck in our past. And, when we keep bumping into objects and/or having recurring accidents and issues we think: “this is just the way life is” or “this is as good as it gets.”

If we were actually driving our car on the highway and we realized we were looking at our rearview mirror, rather than the road in front of us we would immediately shift our view.

Could we do the same in our real life?

If we focused on our future without being distracted by our past we could strategize, plan and navigate more freely and effectively toward our objectives and commitments. We would probably also be able to avoid many of the hurdles and obstacles that impede our progress.

I often hear people say things like “forget the past, discard it, pretend like it didn’t happen…” when giving advice to others who are dealing with a challenging situation. I find that advice both silly and unnecessary. First, it is impossible to forget our past, especially when we have traumatic or memorable events in it. Second, it isn’t necessary to forget it in order to move forward with freedom and confidence.

We all have the ability to become attached to our future while having our past. Unfortunately, most people tend to live in the opposite way – they stay attached to their past and have their future.

When people who are attached to their past face new possibilities they tend to focus on the obstacles and reasons why things can’t be done or why things won’t work. When you try and enroll them in new ideas and possibilities they often respond with “Yes but…we can’t do this because… And, they often refer to the people who are initiating new possibilities as naïve and/or unrealistic.

People who stand in the future tend to be more optimistic and confident. I was coaching a group of managers from two functions in a known technology company who were working on improving their role definition and collaboration.  The dialogue quickly became extremely lively and flowing with ideas. People constantly built on each others’ thoughts and ideas by saying “Yes and…we could also do this and that.” This is a typical dynamic when people stand in the future.

We don’t have to forget or discard our past in order to become our future. In fact, we should always honor, respect and learn from past lessons. But, we shouldn’t cross the line and become too attached to our past. It will limit our ability to create and fulfill great things in our future.