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Empower yourself to have more courageous conversations

In last week’s blog I stated that most people in most organizations avoid having the courageous conversations. They want things to change, they want more empowerment, responsibility, involvement and authority, but when push-comes-to-shove they often have diplomatic, watered-down or politically correct conversations.

In private conversations with leaders, managers, and employees in many organizations, most acknowledge that they are not as courageous as they need or want to be.

So, in this post I want to suggest some steps that could empower people and teams to go to the next level in this area:

First step – Fess up – In order to change their behavior, people need to first own up to their current behaviors and dynamics – in this case to their avoidance of courageous conversations. In so many cases, change doesn’t happen because people are either blind to their shortcomings or they are in denial and don’t admit them.

Second step – Embrace your alternate options – Have you heard the saying: “The truth will set you free?” When most people fess up to their shortcomings, gaps or lack of ownership, authenticity and/or courage, they feel relieved. And from that space, they can start thinking about, “So now what?”How else COULD I act and/or behave?” and “What else COULD I do?” For many people, this new space of possibilities is energizing. However, some people prefer to avoid responsibility; they can’t seem to get beyond blaming others and being victims of their circumstances. One very effective way to take ownership is to consider the “benefits” and “cost” of avoiding responsibility for having the courageous conversations. I have elaborated on this several times in previous blogs.

Third step – Make a choice and take a stand – When people own up to their alternate options, they can make real choices – choices about how they will think and behave differently, and what they will, in fact, do differently. Steps one and two are about completing the past. Step three is about creating the future. Making a choice is, in essence, taking a stand; promising a new course of action, launching a new beginning, and propelling oneself to a new trajectory.

Fourth step – Act and behave in accordance with your stand – Authentic choices lead to new actions and behaviors. People can reinvent themselves by following steps one through three and then beginning to act and behave consistent with their stand. In many cases, when the new actions are radically different from the past ones, people feel somewhat awkward, inadequate, and out of their comfort zone. I often refer to this as being “beginners.” They may even need to “fake it till they make it,” at first. However, if they are willing to stay the course and correct themselves when they stumble, fall or screw up, sooner than later the new actions and behaviors will start to become part of their new DNA.

The technology leaders from last week’s blog managed to generate meaningful breakthroughs in elevating the quality and effectiveness of their teamwork and communication by using these steps and increasing their authentic and courageous conversations. They did it together as a team so this made it easier for each of them to step up.

Today, they look forward to their meetings because at least 90% of their time is focused on the essential topics. People feel they can truly affect change. They had that mandate before, but now they feel they have “each other’s permission” and the environment to effectively do so. As a result, the team members feel much more comfortable to engage in whatever conversations that are necessary to reach alignment and make decisions fast. They also started to hold each other to account for commitments and deliverables much more courageously.

 

Three Empowering Quotes About COURAGE

W.H. Murray, the leader of the Scottish Himalayan Expedition that pioneered the path to the top of Mt. Everest knew something about COURAGE; what it takes, what it produces and what the consequences are of not ‘bringing it.’  He shared his experience:

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

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

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

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

My work is about Encouraging, Empowering, Enabling and Energizing people to generate a high level of success and fulfillment at work and in their lives. And as far as I can tell, courage is THE single most critical ingredient for achieving that.

Courage comes in many forms, expressions and styles. Some times standing for what we believe and fully expressing ourselves with a loud voice is an act of courage. But, sometime remaining thoughtful and peaceful in the face of turmoil, or being vulnerable, or listening to other’s views with openness and generosity requires courage too.

Being Courageous is very different than Being Fearless. It does not mean we are without fear. In fact, courage is most opportune when we are most afraid. It is not the absence of fear but rather embracing our fears, no matter how daunting, and behaving in a way that is true to our values and commitments anyways.

The good news is that we all have the innate ability to be courageous. We have the ability to generate courage and live by it every moment and day of our life, no matter what our circumstances are. What we sometime seem to forget, however, is just how powerful, magical and full of genius courage really is, so we don’t fully bet on it.

I think M.H. Murray describes this very eloquently in the third paragraph of his quote, especially “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.”

Early in my career when I was struggling with achieving my sales goals, my mentor at the time told me something that impacted my life. He said, “If you do the right thing for long enough eventually you will get the outcome you want.” I believed him, and, it worked. I became the most productive and successful sales leader in the company. I have experienced this time and time again in multiple areas of my own life and I have seen it in the lives of others, including with my clients.

If we are willing to be courageous, take a stand for what we want and then start living, acting and behaving consistently sooner or later the universe lines up with our stand. It enables us to achieve it, or close thereby. Yes, we need to believe what M.H. Murray says otherwise it won’t work to our advantage. See more about this in my blog “Be Careful What You Wish For,” on March 27.

Where we avoid taking a stand we often feel lost, ineffective and uncertain about what direction to pursue, what to work on and how to proceed. We fall into a waiting mode, hoping that someone else or something external will make things clear for us. We sometime ask ourselves “what should we do?” as if there is a right answer. Or we compare ourselves to others, looking to emulate or surpass them. This often leaves us chasing “should” dreams that we don’t genuinely feel passionate about.

People often ask me “How do we know what is right for us?” “How do we determine what to take on?” and “How do we know what the future will bring?”

Alan Kay, ex-Apple fellow said it most clearly and powerfully. He said:

 “The only way to predict the future is to invent it!”

He meant, we just need to take a stand. Even if we only have a sense of what we are committed to, take a stand. Even if we could go ‘either way,’ take a stand. Taking a stand requires Courage. It seems that most people don’t take a stand because they are scared of the future, not because they have no idea of what they want. They do know what they want, but doubt their ability and fortune to really achieve or obtain it.

If you want to become really good at the courage game, you need to practice on a regular basis. Eleanor Roosevelt gave a very practical and powerful recommendation:

“Do one thing every day that scares you!”

This is a great way to practice being courageous. Try this out and see what you discover.

 

Brutal honesty is not enough.

In my last blog I emphasized the importance and benefits of creating an open, honest, authentic and courageous communication environment in teams and in life. In this blog I want to dig a little deeper.

Living with a courageous and relentless commitment to openness and honesty is a powerful and, in my view, noble virtue. I am not merely saying this because I have personally adopted this commitment in my own life. I am saying it because I have seen the power of openness and honesty triumph over resignation, despair and challenge, as well as nurture opportunity many times. BUT, I have also seen openness, honesty and bluntness deeply hurt and deflate people.

People often think that “having no filter”, “calling it as they see it” and “putting it all out there” are virtues and an asset to their group or relationship. In fact, some cultures – the Dutch for example – pride themselves on their bluntness. When brutal honesty is delivered in a productive manner, it can definitely be a huge asset. But brutal honesty can also be a disaster and an impediment. It can hurt people deeply and leave casualties.

A sales manager at a global telecom company shared with me a story that I have heard in other places before: his boss asked him to represent his country in the weekly regional sales forecast call with the upper level managers. The economic times were challenging and deals were hard to come by, so everyone on the call was somewhat tense and apprehensive, especially his boss’s boss, who was under tremendous pressure from his superiors to perform. When it was time for the sales manager to present he didn’t have good news to share, so not before long he found himself being questioned, grilled and criticized by those who attended the meeting. Needless to say, he left the call feeling devastated and publically attacked, humiliated and demeaned. His boss’s boss had a different depiction of the incident. His take was: “The sales manager came to the call unprepared so I gave him some feedback and tried to help him steer his presentation the right way”.

If openness, honesty and bluntness don’t make a difference and empower people, they are not worth the dignity they stand for and represent.

I have also heard many people equate open, honest and authentic communication to “getting it all off their chest”. In fact, in a recent coaching conversation an executive expressed pride in the fact that he finally mustered the courage to tell his team-mate how he really felt about him, after a long period in which he accumulated pent up frustrations and resentments about his colleague. I empathized with his initial feeling of personal triumph. But when I asked him if the conversation made a difference to address, resolve or change things he wasn’t sure at all. In fact, upon reflection he admitted that the trust and partnership with his colleague didn’t get stronger, and they didn’t come out of that conversation with any tangible productive actions or directions. He left the conversation feeling relief, but his colleague seemed quite upset and disheartened.

Putting it all out there, or getting if all off your chest is the wrong focus. Making a difference should always be the purpose and focus of any communication. It should guide the approach, angle, style and intensity of all our conversations. If making a difference requires being completely open, honest and blunt, then so be it. But, if being completely open, honest and blunt would hurt, insult, demean or deflate the other person, it may be better not to say anything at all.

A friend of mine, who is teaching at a post graduate university, shared with me recently that her new boss adopted the “blunt, no filter” approach, which was less than successful in their environment. Her boss, who came from the finance world, did not take into account the less brutal and more “diplomatic” academic world she was now immersed in. My friend confessed to feeling wary and cautious about bringing issues to the front because of her boss’s unorthodox style.

There are always appropriate, effective and productive ways to communicate, give feedback and express criticism and dissatisfaction – no matter how severe – which elevate and empower people.

What good is it for anyone if people around them are torn down and/or afraid to speak their minds?

Blunt honesty is the right approach both in business and at home.

I love working with leaders who are relentless about driving a culture of open, honest and courageous communication around them. These leaders are about high performance and 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: point fingers, adopt a victim mentality, indulge in destructive politics, and “CYA” (cover-your-ass) behaviors that distract from the goals of the organization.

Even if these behaviors are very 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, what company can afford this?

Any manager can do this – break these undermining patterns, reverse past damage and create a high performance team dynamic – if they are willing to be a courageous leader, role model this behavior, and call his or her people to account for it too. They need to stand for a new code of rigorous honesty, refusing to settle for less than the truth in an environment where people are used to only voicing what they think their leaders want to hear.

No matter which method they use, leaders must make their unconditional commitment to honesty known, and they must convince their people that they mean it. It’s not enough to declare it. They need to demonstrate through action that they are genuinely open to feedback, criticism and input, including about themselves. As one of my clients once admitted: “It takes 10 rights to fix 1 wrong, and 1 wrong to undermine 10 rights.”

This leadership philosophy of open, honest, authentic and courageous communication can be messy, lonely and painful at times. However, time and again, I have seen it lead to significant transformations inside organizations. In fact, clients have repeatedly shared with me that creating a new level of communication at work has even made them a better person in their personal life, changing the way they relate to their children and their spouses. One CEO even told me, “It saved my marriage.”

I am not a marriage counselor, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But one thing I do know is that when organizations have the courage to face the truth every day, a powerful platform of authentic team ownership, commitment and accountability emerges. The team is then equipped and energized to focus on any challenge or opportunity that lies ahead, no matter how unfamiliar, complex, or difficult it may be. In short, the team becomes unstoppable.

Fifty-five is a notable age.

This week I turned 55. I don’t know how 55 should feel or look. But, I don’t feel 55 and people tell me that I don’t look or behave it.

I am sure we’ve all heard the saying “the fifties is the new thirties.” Statistics support this view too. In fact, I recently saw a statistic that in modern countries such as the USA and Canada, the average expectancy of a man has increased in the 20th century from 46 to 74 and women from 48 to 80.

But statistics is one thing and how we feel, look and behave is another. Fifty-five is a notable age. It’s the middle of my life, or as my wife says: “at 50 we have earned the right to stop worrying about what other people think about us or what we should do, and only care about what we feel is right for us to be and do.”

So, 55 is a great opportunity to take stock of where I am in my life journey – what I feel great about, what I don’t, and most important what I want the next 10 years and rest of my life to look like.

I will always have ambitions, aspirations and goals. There are more things I still want to accomplish and get done, more wealth to build and more difference to make. Having said that, my biggest wish is to get up every day for the rest of my life feeling fully satisfied, blessed and validated by who I am and what I have accomplished thus far. I want to feel that I am pursuing my aspirations and goals as an expression of success and abundance, rather than scarcity and deficit.

Many years ago a friend caught me by surprise when he asked me the question: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” And that question has stayed with me ever since.

My answer is: I am young enough to fully express myself every day in everything I do, to fully love the people that are dearest to me with all my heart, to pursue my wildest dreams without doubt or compromise, and to live every day of my life with the optimism, hope and excitement that “the best is yet to come.” It is scary at times to live full out, but I can’t imagine any other way to do it.

How old would YOU be if you didn’t know how old YOU are?     

Is your Leadership Team making a positive or negative difference?

Any organization is a reflection of its leaders and leadership team (LT). If the leaders build a strong and genuine team dynamic of trust, unity, communication and ownership among themselves, these characteristics will be cascaded through the veins of the organization and internalized in its culture and DNA. If the leaders operate as individual silos, not a team, their people will follow suit. And, if they have trust issues among themselves, harbor resentments or are the source of negativity or victim behaviors, the same issues, sentiments and behaviors will be inculcated throughout their organization.

And, it doesn’t matter what leaders say in public. Even if it’s all the politically correct things, their people will watch their behaviors, pick up on subtle remarks and body language, and line up accordingly.

The LT is always an amplifier of sentiments, conversations and energy in the organization. Leaders’ behavior either amplifies the constructive, productive conversations that make a difference, or it amplifies and fuels the negative ones, which undermine and weaken; they are either the source of the solution or a big part of the problem.

Unfortunately, in so many cases the senior leaders amplify the negative sentiments and conversations. They initiate, express and participate in negative conversations, and they pass down negative and divisive messages to their people. I have heard managers and employees complain about this so many times, and I have seen this dynamic with my own eyes.

For example, I was working inside a large telecom company who acquired a smaller, more entrepreneurial, startup type company. As with most mergers and acquisitions the integration was done on paper but not in the hearts and minds of the people who had to implement it, especially not the people who joined the larger telecom firm from the smaller acquired company. As I walked the halls of the acquired company’s offices and sat in their meetings I could hear the resentments and negative and toxic feelings about the acquirer voiced in almost every conversation. Many of the complaints were legitimate and correct. However, given the negative environment, no one was collaborating to figure out how to fix the issues. And, even the senior leaders from the acquired company who agreed to, and gained from the acquisition, and now sat on the LT of the acquirer were expressing, engaging in, and fueling the negative and unproductive sentiments, behind the scenes.

Even when the LT members are not the originators of negative sentiments and conversations, they have the power to transform these into constructive conversations that address the issues, change things and make a difference. But, in many cases they avoid their responsibility and opportunity to do so. I guess cynicism is easier and more familiar, even if it is undermining and dysfunctional.

It seems that leaders often just don’t realize the positive or negative impact of their behaviors and conversations on their environment. They don’t focus on this topic hence they don’t see it, or take responsibility for its consequences.

If LT members periodically answered the question “Are we making a positive, neutral or negative impact through our behavior?” and perhaps also asked people around them for honest feedback on this, they would be more inclined to adjust their behaviors and conversations, especially if they realized that the cost associated with negative or neutral is dear.

It takes courage to say NO to cynicism, resignation and suffering!

I was speaking to one of my clients a while back and in our conversation as he was talking about his work he described it as: “My job is my 8 hour inconvenience”.

At first I laughed because I wasn’t sure if he meant it seriously or as a joke. It seemed a bit blunt, harsh and sarcastic.

But, then as I reflected more on his sentiment, as well as my thirty-plus years experience working with people in organizations all around the world, I could think of so many examples of people who, even though may never say a statement like that, share similar sentiments.

So many people seem to feel powerless in their job on a daily basis. They feel they can’t really make the difference they can and want to make. And, they feel that the internal silos, bureaucracy and politics hinder their ability to do the right thing for their organization and change or affect the things that are not working around them.

When people stop believing that things can change or they can make the difference they tend to get discouraged and resigned. And, more critical, they stop pursuing certain opportunities and challenges. Instead, they resign themselves to the status quo, and as a result they stop bringing their passion, heart, innovation and ideas to the game. They start going through the motions in many things they do. When they encounter broken or dysfunctional dynamics they stay away from these; they ‘pick their battles’ and overall they orient themselves more around surviving then thriving. “Unfortunately,” most professionals are professional and competent enough in their job to be able to do a good enough job even in this state. So, over time this becomes the norm in most organizations, including the most successful ones.

However, keeping up with this “normal” level of existence comes with a price – it requires a certain degree of “numbness”, apathy and resignation. It’s like living with a physical pain and constantly taking painkillers to tolerate it. As we all know painkillers have side effects. And, in our case the pain is feeling I can’t make a difference, the painkillers are becoming resigned and numb, and the side effects are selling out, sometimes giving up and almost always not fully expressing our selves. For the organization the biggest side effect is not getting the best out of its people.

But, the moral of this story is not all bad. Even though I do see too many people at all levels of so many organizations that fit the bill I have described above, I also meet many really brave, committed and powerful leaders, managers and employees in all organizations. People who have taken a bold stand and not buying into the cynicism, resignation, negativism and suffering that surround them. People who have made a decision to always fully express themselves and communicate authentically and effectively at all times. People who will never become victims and always stay true to themselves by making a difference in everything they do.

For me these people are the true heroes of organizations, because it takes a lot of courage to say NO to cynicism, resignation and suffering, and ALWAYS stand for optimism, possibilities and our ability to make a difference.

Photo by: sboneham

Be Careful What You Wish For

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

Every point of view or paradigm is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Have you ever noticed that when we have a point of view that something isn’t possible we always gather evidence and proof in our circumstances and environment to support and prove that point of view? And, if we happen to change our mind, even 180 degrees, and adopt a different point of view, we instantly can find new evidence and proof in the exact same environment and circumstances for our new point of view?

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

In our work and life we are always invested in proving right one point of view or another. Sometime we do it consciously, but more often we do it unconsciously. It’s the nature of being human.

I often interact with people who have a negative or cynical point of view about areas that are important to them in their work or personal life.  They seem to strongly believe that “they can’t have it all” or “they will never fully get what they want” or “things won’t simply workout smoothly and great for them.” And, unintentionally they constantly prove that point of view right. I can see it in their attitude and hear it in their conversations: every time things don’t work out great for them they say or imply “you see, I knew it.” or “you see I told you so.” And, every time something great does happen to them they view it as a “one off” and they are “cautiously optimistic” at best about their fortune.

Most people, including very successful and accomplished people, tend to be more skeptical and even cynical about “having it all.” They often explain their point of view as “being realistic”.

However, there are people who stand for a drastically different point of view. Their genuine life view is that “I can have it all,” “I can have my work and life be extraordinary with no compromise.” And, their life is about validating and proving that point of view right. Every time something significant or insignificant happens to them that is consistent with their point of view they “high five” it and think or say “See, life works.” And every time they don’t get what they want they view it as “temporary” or a “one off,” and they try to learn something worthwhile from it to strengthen their point of view.

One of my clients is the recently appointed CEO of a known brokerage company. He took on a significant change initiative to elevate his company from seventh to one of the top four companies in his market place. In a recent bid for a mega deal his team lost the bid after making it to the final short list of two contestants out of eight. While many of his team members seemed discouraged by the loss, he felt extremely proud and encouraged by the fact that his team made it that far. For him the fact that his team made it to the top two only signified proof that they were in fact on track to achieve their goal.

If you accept the premise that we are constantly proving right our points of view, and therefore our points of view are always self fulfilling prophecies, you have a choice about what point of view you will prove right in your work and life. Contrary to what many people may think there are no “right,” “true,” or “correct” points of view. There are only “empowering” or “disempowering” ones; points of view or paradigms that enable more possibilities, ideas and dreams, and ones that shut down possibilities, ideas and dreams, and explain and justify why these can’t and won’t come true.

I stand for the point of view that everyone deserves and can build a life that reflects the point of view of “having it all” and “fulfilling all our most precious commitments and dreams.”  So, my own professional and personal life is about proving that point of view right.

What point of view are YOU proving right in YOUR life? 

Photo by: John Liu

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.

Agreeing to disagree is always a cop-out!

How many times have you seen the following scenario?

A team meets to discuss issues that are critical to the organization’s future. The conversation goes on and on without resolution, as different people have divergent opinions about the best course of action. When the leader tries to bring it to a conclusion, they are no closer to alignment. They leave the meeting “agreeing to disagree.”

Such meetings are worse than a waste of time: they actually damage the organization, which is then no closer to making the necessary decisions and assuming responsibility for them. People have stayed within their comfort zones at the expense of moving the organization forward in new and dynamic ways.

This happens because leaders lack one or more of the following attributes: courage, an understanding of their role as leader, and the ability to powerfully manage conversations.

True leaders know how important it is to have an open debate with honest, respectful listening because there is rarely a single right answer to any dilemma or question. They are able to elevate their people to set aside their personal egos, agendas, and preferences to align with the collective wisdom of the group. They instill in their teams a real commitment to the type of conversation that leads to making choices, aligning behind those choices, and taking responsibility together. This requires courage.

There is never a justification to leave a conversation agreeing to disagree. It is always a cop-out. Of course, some topics are complex and may need a number of meetings to gather the necessary input and to digest it as a group. But paralysis by analysis is always an excuse to avoid taking a stand. And, the cost of lack of decisiveness, accountability, and follow-through is cynicism, resignation and stagnation.

Achieving extraordinary results requires the ability to align on goals. Agreeing to disagree precludes that. Organizations that achieve 100 per cent alignment behind a goal that is 80 per cent right have a much greater chance of success than those where people are divided behind a perfect goal. Compromise too often means that some of the people are 100 per cent behind one point of view and others are zero. How motivated are those zero per cent people to work towards the success of a goal they have not endorsed? They are the ones watching and waiting to say: “I told you so.”

Obviously, it is scary to step up to the plate and take full responsibility for a goal or direction that is uncertain, controversial, difficult to achieve, or politically incorrect. Making choices means eliminating alternatives. But when team members do find the courage to make tough choices, they are immediately more powerful. They are able to apply their energy towards proving their choices right rather than wasting energy on proving that others are wrong.

If an entire team is behind one direction – even if it is only 80 per cent correct – if they truly align, commit to a direction, and backstop each other, it is astounding what can happen. Individuals are then free to stake out a much more powerful future – and in my experience, they almost always do.

What has been your experience? 

Are you expecting what you haven’t been promised?

Having hopes, dreams, and expectations is a good thing, for the most part. Sometimes, however, having expectations can be a source of disappointment and frustration.

We have expectations in most areas of our life. At work, we expect our boss and colleagues to treat us a certain way. And we expect that things that are not working well in the work environment will get addressed and fixed in a timely manner.

In our personal relationships, we expect our partners to treat us lovingly, and with respect and generosity. And, we have clear images and standards about what all that should look like. In fact, if you self reflect on this you’ll see that we have a view about how things should be in most areas, most of the time. Sometime we state our expectations, but often they stay unspoken. When our expectations aren’t met, we tend to get upset, disappointed, frustrated and often discouraged. Sometime even resentful, and angry.

But, when we get disappointed or upset about unfulfilled expectations – what percent of the time were these expectations explicitly promised to us by someone?

I have found in my own life and in my work with others that more often than not we get disappointed and upset about things based on expectations that we have, which in reality no one ever explicitly promised us. We often complain about things that we have no legitimate claim to; no one promised us those things. If someone did promise something and they didn’t live up to their promise or deliver, we have the right to complain and there are effective and empowering ways to do it.

Recently, I was coaching two senior executives in one of the leading brokerage firms. They had very different personalities and they were assigned to a lucrative project together, but were not performing as well as they needed to because they had significant trust and communication issues. They had many complaints about each other – about lack of honesty, courtesy, respect, transparency and collaboration. And, most of these were never effectively communicated or addressed.

One of the executives kept complaining about the fact that his colleague was not including him in the project in a transparent way. But, the other swore he was doing his best to do so. When I asked if they have created clear expectations about how to work together, and made specific promises to each other on what they could be counted on for, the frustrated executive said “No” and added “this is basic stuff. My colleague should know how to communicate and how to include me”. As if there is some universal truth about how to work together effectively. Once the executives learned to make specific requests for what they needed from each other, rather than merely expect the other to behave consistent with their standards, things started to work much better.

We will be so much more powerful and happier in our lives if:

1)     Every time we are frustrated, disappointed or upset about unfulfilled expectations in any area we would ask our selves: “Are these my expectations OR did someone actually promise these to me?”

2)     If we wanted an expectation to be fulfilled in a certain area, we looked for someone who can promise these and explicitly request what we want.

3)     We stopped complaining, being disappointed or upset about unfulfilled expectations that nobody explicitly promised us.

It can be very energizing to have dreams, hopes and desires as long as we don’t get trapped in the vicious cycle of unfulfilled expectations.

Where in your work and life have you been frustrated, disappointed and upset about unfulfilled expectations that no one ever promised you to fulfill?

Are you expressing love and appreciation to the people that matter most to you?

Last Friday was Valentine’s Day. I love Valentine’s Day because it’s all about expressing love, appreciation and gratitude to the important people in my life. After spending a great evening with my wife and kids, in which we all had the chance to express our love, appreciation and gratitude to each other, I thought to myself ‘how much more happy and empowered we all would be if we practiced this level of expression regularly’.

We run so fast, our lives are so hectic and driven, that without meaning to we often take for granted how others feel about us and what they do for us. We just don’t stop and say “Thank you” enough.

We wouldn’t dream of driving our cars with no oil in the engine. Friction would build up, the pistons would seize, and the car would grind to a halt. Expressing love, appreciation and gratitude is the oil of relationships. When we express our love, appreciation and gratitude we touch others and this motivates them to give even more. People can endure, even thrive, during extensive difficult times when they feel appreciated and loved.

I travel a lot in my line of work, and in the past it often took my wife and I some time to reconnect when I would return home. It’s not that we don’t love each other. In fact, we are madly in love. But, when I was away and my wife was at home, we had different routines. And it often took some conscious effort to reconnect and realign our routines when I came back. There always seemed to be a period of heightened sensitivity when we came back together. If I would criticize my wife, even for small and insignificant things like ‘the kitchen is not clean’ or ‘the kids are not in bed on time,’ it would often turn into an argument beyond proportion.

So, a few years ago we started a new practice – we agreed that in the first hours of my return home we would only express positive, supportive, and appreciative things to each other. There are always things to criticize each other for, and some of these seem more pronounced when you’ve been a part for a few days. Even though we’ve been practicing this routine for a few years now, I still find, even today, that it takes a conscious effort to avoid the negative comments and only focus on things to appreciate and recognize in my wife and kids. It’s not always easy, but it works and it is very rewarding for all of us.

People seem to be lazy and even stingy about expressing love, appreciation and gratitude. The lazy say, “well they already know how I feel. I thanked them last week or last month.” They don’t understand that expressing love, appreciation and gratitude is not about the information. The stingy say, “they could have done it better, it wasn’t that great.” They focus on what’s not good enough instead of generously highlighting others’ efforts and care. Both are letting the oil run out of the engine.

Wouldn’t it be great if we lived every day like it was Valentine’s day?