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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Richard Potts

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?

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.

Space of Possibility

Over the last few weeks, I have written much about the differences between Warriors and Worriers, positioning them as distinct opposites. But the truth is that Warriors do occasionally worry. And Worriers sometimes act courageously. From time to time, we step over that line to the other side, but we all live mostly on one side or the other.

The difference between the space where Warriors live and the space where Worriers is possibility.

Worriers are bound by past limitations. They tend to believe that their future prospects are constrained by past events and predicaments. They often allow themselves to remain stuck in the past, because it’s more familiar and safer that way. Doing what they’ve always done requires no vulnerability, no courage, and little to no exposure or risk. Worriers live in the space of “limited or no possibility.”

Warriors, however, live in a place of possibility. They honor the past and learn from it, but they continue to look towards the future and think about what could be, what they want, and what they are committed to achieving. And they take ownership for making it happen. This is a much more empowering, free, and courageous way of thinking.

People always vacillate between these two spaces. We choose the side where we’ll live, but we occasionally blip into the other side. When Worriers blip into the space of possibility, they often respond with sarcasm, defensiveness, and cynicism. I often see this in organizations. When change initiatives are launched, Worriers are typically the first to criticize, find the flaws, and say “This, too, shall pass.”

When Warriors blip to the other side, they typically experience mental and even physical pain. They feel like they have not been true to themselves, so they get back to their rightful side as quickly as possible.

Here’s an example: One of my clients, who typically is a very bold and courageous leader, recently called me because he was quite upset about the way he conducted himself in an important meeting the day before. Apparently, he promised to backup one of his colleagues in a critical presentation to the board for a new idea. Their department was seeking to get investment for its implementation. The meeting didn’t go well, and when it was his opportunity to speak up he held back and didn’t live up to his promise. He was devastated with his own behavior. In fact he shared with me that he couldn’t sleep that entire night. After our brief conversation he picked up the phone and called his colleague. He took responsibility for his lack of courage and support, apologized to his colleague and received forgiveness. He called me again later that day feeling completely restored, freed up and energized.

When Warriors screw up, act harshly, offend someone or act in any way that is inconsistent with they commitment, they are much more inclined to pick up the phone to that person, apologize and patch things up. This is the way they return back to their rightful side when they blip for the Warrior into the Worrier space.

We all vacillate from one side to the other. The question is: Where do you live? Where’s home? And if home is in the Worrier space, are you perhaps ready to move?

Develop Your Warrior Muscle (Part 2)

In last week’s blog, I wrote about how Warriors either “love” (or own) what they do or they “leave” it. This doesn’t mean they give up easily. In fact, Warriors stay true to their vision. They may change their course of action, but they seldom quit.

Warriors are very resourceful. While Worriers often see others as obstacles, pains in the you-know-what, or necessary evils they must deal with, Warriors typically view others as potential resources, allies, or partners. Warriors are not shy about admitting when they don’t know something or when they need help. They acknowledge others’ superior skills, experiences, and track records, and they ask these people for coaching and guidance. This is because Warriors are more concerned with fulfilling their visions than pretending to have it all together and looking good.

One thing that repeatedly surprises me in my work with organizations is how much time and energy many people spend on covering their behinds. Time and time again I see people spending more time and energy making sure everyone knows issues are not their fault than they do figuring out how to fix these issues. That’s why, in most organizations, people CC everyone on their e-mails.

Warriors and Worriers also deal with success differently. Worriers don’t let successes in. They don’t embrace and own their accomplishments and greatness. Why? Because if they did, they might have to admit they are capable of being Warriors, which would require them to start living with greater courage, passion, and sense of possibility. And that’s a scary prospect for many people.

Worriers rarely acknowledge or recognize other people’s accomplishments, success, and greatness. They often view life as a competition in which the more they elevate others by highlighting their greatness, the smaller they become in comparison. So, they refrain from generously and courageously recognizing others.

Warriors, on the other hand, acknowledge and celebrate their own success, as well as that of others, whenever they can. Understanding that success invites success, they always look for opportunities to highlight progress and accomplishments. Yet, they strive to remain humble and centered in their vision, rather than arrogant about their achievements. And they don’t expect to be perfect. In fact, their mantra is to constantly drive progress, not perfection.

Warriors also tend to be more generous when acknowledging and recognizing other people’s accomplishments. They view the world as abundant with opportunities and the people around them as allies, so they don’t feel threatened by the success of others. In fact, they believe that being in the presence of great people only enhances their own greatness.

As I stated in one of my earlier blogs, being a Warrior is like any other skill. To develop a Warrior mindset, you must commit to this way of being and regularly exercise those muscles.

People often think that they believe what they see. However, the truth is that we see what we believe. Our attitudes and expectations often become self-fulfilling prophecies, and we are usually able to gather evidence to support our points of view. So, if we are going to prove something right, why not prove right stuff that empowers us?

The Untapped Goldmine Of Gratitude

The research is in, and when it comes to employee engagement, recognition is a key factor. During strong economies or when companies are experiencing great success, most leaders feel that they have the wherewithal, resources and ability to invest in recognizing and rewarding the work their people do. This includes pay increases, bonuses and other merit-based incentives. It also includes indirect compensation – such as training programs, events, offsite meetings, and career development.

When times are tough, however, companies tend to cut back in all these areas, and employees become frustrated because they (and their work) are not being recognized.

However, in both tough and successful times, there is a goldmine of appreciation that most companies leave untapped. It’s the practice of deliberately and explicitly recognizing, appreciating and thanking the people around you. This doesn’t cost a penny, and it creates a very nurturing, productive and exciting environment for our teams.

Gratitude is a particularly powerful tool when used by managers, as well as between peers. But it’s of no use when you keep your appreciation to yourself. Instead, we must acknowledge our appreciation and have a conversation that highlights the other person’s greatness, values and achievements.

Acknowledgement requires courage and generosity on the part of the person providing it. Unfortunately, most work environments are rife with politics, silos and people trying to survive – which typically creates a challenging “us-or-them” environment. People fear that highlighting other people’s greatness will somehow take away from their own achievements. I have seen this play out again and again – especially in high-achieving, competitive environments.

However, if leaders create an organizational culture where the paradigm is “We’re in this together; we have each other’s backs and stand as one,” then the logic changes. People understand that the more giants they have around them, the bigger they are, and the more powerful their teams can be.

You can always find reasons to appreciate and acknowledge the people around you. Don’t assume they already know how you feel. There’s no reason to be stingy or lazy with your praise. You can acknowledge people for:

  • Their spirit, heart, attitude or energy.
  • Their actions or efforts towards going beyond the call of duty.
  • What they have done or created (i.e., their accomplishments and achievements).

To make gratitude viral in your organization, start practicing it yourself on a daily basis. Simply make it a point to acknowledge one or two people around you every day. You could also open team meetings by saying: “Hey, we’ve all been working so hard the last 30 days. Who would like to acknowledge someone on the team for his or her contribution?” Then spend 10 minutes or so letting your team praise each other. With enough repetition, gratitude will become a part of your culture.

We’re Halfway Through 2013—But Did You Ever Really Complete 2012?

There’s a distinct difference between ending something and completing it. Events in the physical world have a beginning, middle and end to them – whether we like it or not. We get older. Another year passes. And our lives keep moving forward, towards an eventual ending point.

Similarly, there is a physical rhythm to our professional year that is beyond our control. In a way, we’re passengers in time. The year ends, a new year begins, and the sand in the hourglass keeps trickling down.

Completion is different. Completion is a mindset, a paradigm, and a way of viewing our efforts, achievements, successes and failures in the most empowering way.

We have no control over the fact that 2012 is now over and that we’re already halfway through 2013, but we do have full say about our relationship to what happened in the previous year, including what we delivered and what was accomplished We also have control over the conclusions and lessons we will take with us from the previous year into the next.

So here we are in June of 2013. But many of us have never really taken the time to complete 2012.

To bring closure to last year and fully prepare yourself and your team for the rest of 2013, consider the following questions–starting with some basic facts. In 2012:

  1. What results did you promise or want to deliver?
  2. What results did you actually achieve?
  3. What objectives did you deliver, and what promises did you keep?
  4. What objectives and promises did you not deliver/keep? Where did you and/or your team fall short?

Once you have embraced the hard facts, take a look at some of the bigger-picture aspects of 2012:

  1. What did you accomplish in 2012 beyond your targeted results? It’s important to honor and even celebrate what got accomplished, even if it seems small or “not enough.”
  2. How did you forward your bigger vision and purpose (whether you made all your numbers or not)?
  3. In what areas and in what ways did you get stronger? What “muscles” If you post the piece about building your warrior muscle before this blog, then you could link to it here.and new competencies did you develop? What did you learn to do – by choice or by necessity – that will make you stronger and better in the future?
  4. What valuable lessons did you learn from your successes and/or failures? This is particularly relevant and important in tough years – which can make us stronger and better prepared for future chapters.
  5. How did your successes and/or failures in 2012 better prepare you for greater success in 2013?
  6. What can you commit to in 2013 and beyond, given all that occurred and all that you learned in 2012?

The beauty of completion is that it enables and empowers us to draw out the opportunities, learning and gold from everything that happened in the past. By viewing our past deeds and achievements through the lens of “completion,” we can foster a continuous path of personal development, growth and fulfillment.

When we end a year without completion, we often feel somewhat “stuck” and not quite ready and excited to move forward. However, when we take the time to complete each year, we experience a powerful sense of harmony, confidence and calmness. We feel empowered, ready and excited about moving on to the next chapter.

So go ahead and complete 2012, and keep what you have learned in mind, because 2014 will be here before you know it.

Six Steps To Make Your Meetings More Effective

In this week’s post, I offer six approaches you should consider in making your meetings more commitment driven.

1. Before planning an agenda, ask yourself the key questions that will allow you to make your meeting meaningful.

  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • Who should attend the meeting in order to accomplish what we intend?
  • What do we want people to leave the meeting with?
  • What could we do during the meeting to achieve the desired objectives?
  • How much time do we need in order to achieve the objectives?

2. If appropriate, include a cross-section of individuals who will be attending the meeting in the agenda-planning phase. Getting these folks involved from the start will ensure important input up front and gain buy-in for outcomes ahead of time.

3. At the beginning of the meeting, review the intended outcomes and ensure people are there to achieve those objectives. If appropriate — and only if there is flexibility in the schedule and the willingness to do so — ask people whether there are other objectives that would make a difference, and include those if possible.

4. Once the meeting starts, manage toward outcomes, not time allocations. If 30 minutes is allocated to come to agreement for how the team members are going to implement Project X, and the members are agreed in 20 minutes, move on to the next topic. If the conversation is not complete in 30 minutes, but good progress is being made, allocate another few minutes and get closure. Completing the topic will create energy and momentum to address the next item on the agenda.

5. Keep the discussion focused. If the conversation wanders to another topic, and that topic is not part of the intended outcome of the meeting, ask people whether the objective this topic addresses should preempt one of the topics agreed upon at the outset of the meeting. If not, park it. If yes, move forward and pursue the new conversation.

6. At the end of the meeting, review the commitments made — who will do what, and by when? These commitments should be what the minutes of the meeting capture, rather than detailing all the topics discussed.