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Leadership Thought #467 – Leaders Should Listen More Than They Talk

Over the years I’ve noticed that it is inexperienced or mediocre leaders who feel like they have to dominate all conversations.  It’s almost as if what anyone else has to say has limited or no value and it is only their opinion that counts.  We’ve all been in meetings where there is that one person who simply will not be quiet and yield the floor to others.  They are also often prone to interrupting their colleagues before they can finish their thoughts and using obvious body language when the center of attention isn’t focused on them. This is bad enough when it is a peer but even worse when it is the actual leader of the group.  Nobody likes a “know it all.”

I have a colleague who is fond of saying that “most people are preparing to talk rather than listening.”  I must admit to catching myself in this mode more often than I would like.  You start to block out or only partially listen to what others are saying and wait for your chance to interject and share your thoughts on the topic at hand.  As a result you often miss important information, repeat what someone else has already said and de-motivate the other party to the conversation to continue engaging.  It is a vicious cycle and ultimately you end up providing a monologue to a disinterested audience.   When people check out on what you are saying as a leader, you are in trouble.

Leaders have the responsibility to foster rigorous debate and dialogue not inhibit it.  Your goal is to make the right decisions and come up with the best solutions.  The more people who participate in this process the better.  The only real way to do this is to ask good questions and listen intentionally to what other are saying.  You need to facilitate the conversation rather than just lead it.  No one person has the market cornered on good ideas.  The loudest person in the room is rarely the most intelligent; they just crave attention.  In my experience, a major reason why businesses don’t grow is because the leader feels he/she has to have all the answers rather than building a team of competent professionals and leveraging the skills/experience of those around them.

When I was a kid my mom used to often say, “Less is more.”  It took me way too long to figure out what she meant.  It’s not about how much you say, but what you are actually saying.  And, if you want people to listen to you, you need to listen to them.   The best leaders I now pick their spots.  They do their best to take it all in and only contribute when they feel they can add value or need to move things along.  If you are thoughtful about when you speak, people tend to pay attention.  If your ego pushes you to dominate conversations, then don’t be surprised if you find leadership to be a lonely place and continued success a hard nut to crack.

Leadership Thought #464 – Embrace What Makes You Special

There is nothing more frustrating than trying to be what you are not.  There are a lot of books out there that tell you that you can be anything you want to be, but this simply is not true.  No matter how hard I try, there are certain things I just can’t do or won’t be able to do well.  It has saddened me to watch so many people regularly set themselves up for failure with unrealistic expectations about what is possible for them and others.  Instead of trying to force yourself into a role/career/opportunity that isn’t right for you, why not embrace who you are and what makes you special and tap into that?

I firmly believe that each one of us is born with gifts and unique talents we can share with others and excel at. Unfortunately, at an early age we are thrust into an educational/social system that pushes us to conform and defines what success within this system should look like.  And like most ingrained systems, the model is outdated and serving the purpose of prior generations. Very early on life we are taught that there are winners and losers and that winning requires certain characteristics and attributes that only a select few possess.  Moreover, the path towards achievement is narrowly defined and more often than not materialistic in nature.  I believe this partially explains our dysfunctional societal obsession with celebrity and wealth.  Don’t buy into it!

One of things I marvel at in life is how different we all are from one another.  Sure, there are obvious physical similarities, but in the course of any given day I meet people who blow me away with their individuality.  Some people can fix anything with little guidance; others can solve complex mathematical problems in their head, while others are quick on their feet and handle any social situation.  I’ve witnessed creative minds that operate on a level I can’t even fathom.  Some people thrive under stress while others fall apart.  Science is fun for some people and a bore for others.  There are people who are so physically gifted they make any athletic activity look smooth and easy while others stumble attempting the most basic physical task.  There are people who look for the spotlight and others who run from it.  Some people like to lead while many more want nothing to do with it.  Our differences are vast and wonderful. None of the above is good or bad; it just makes you who you are.  And, the more we try and put ourselves in situations where we are pre-programmed to thrive, the happier we will be.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written extensively about a state of being called “flow” where you feel perfectly aligned with what you are doing.  Time seems to stand still, you feel an innate sense of joy and your efforts feel almost effortless.  At this moment you are one with nature and your own being.  We’ve all experienced these moments, but sadly they are usually few and far between.  Reality quickly returns and we are back on the treadmill of life, trying to survive our own existence by doing what we feel we should be doing.  I’ve never like the word “should.”  Of course there are family and civic responsibilities we must attend to, however, this is only part of who we are, not all of it.  I’ve been privileged to experience a number of people who have followed what Joseph Campbell termed their “bliss” and lived wonderful lives doing unique things that an objective outside person couldn’t imagine would lead to any level of success, but it did. Never forget that true success is an individual definition.   Happy people make better spouses, parents, siblings, friends and bosses.

Shakespeare stated it perfectly centuries ago, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”  To be of maximum service and value to others we must first be true to ourselves.  Please don’t spend a lifetime trying to be someone you are not.  Instead, celebrate and tap into what is great about you already.  Pay attention to the positive signals the world is giving you.  Look for and be open to the “flow” of life and it will find you…

Leadership Thought #461 – Success Must Be Earned

I’ve witnessed a disturbing trend lately amongst many entrepreneurs.  They want to work the hours of a successful person without yet attaining actual business success.  I think all this talk of work-life balance has people a bit confused.  It you want to run a business that supports a flexible lifestyle, you can certainly choose working for yourself as an option, but financial success usually requires very hard work especially at the beginning.  You can’t enjoy the experience of having climbed the mountain without having done the hard work to climb it in the first place. You can’t be all things to all people including yourself; you must make some tough choices about how you spend your time.

You can’t have a business fraught with cash flow and sales problems and leave work early to coach soccer practice. You can’t volunteer for multiple boards if your own company is lacking direction itself.  You can’t give yourself a raise or distribution to cover increased living expenses if you can already barely make payroll.  You can’t have a policy of not working weekends or being home for dinner every night when you can barely keep the doors open.  You can’t regularly show up to work late when your customers typically arrive early.   You can’t limit your client geography because of commuting headaches if your clients exist beyond your travel comfort boundaries. You can’t take long vacations if your business requires you to have an active daily presence.  You have to be honest with your spouse about networking responsibilities and pressing deadlines rather than attempting to meet unrealistic family expectations during the work week.

There is a big difference between starting a lifestyle business and running real business.  The former is more of a personal job program where you prioritize quality of life over economic benefits.   Many people do this and are happy, but they know their economic limitations and do their best to live with in them.    Most of these businesses at best only employ a handful of people.  The latter has the potential for great economic benefit but more often than not requires significant personal sacrifice, significant risk taking and delayed gratification.  You are building something over time and as with most construction projects there is a lot of design and build work at the front end.  Delays and problems will inevitably happen, but if you stay focused, follow the plan and work hard, the rewards can be great at the back-end.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but they are few are far between, this is why we call them exceptions. I am very worried that our society is becoming addicted to short cuts, personal convenience and unrealistic expectations. We want what we want and we want it now with minimal sacrifice on our end.  America was not built on this mindset. We got to where we are by hard work and personal sacrifice.  We outworked our competition and did our best to consistently grow our capabilities and network of contacts.  We pushed economic boundaries and raised the bar on what was possible through sheer determination and effort.  We prioritized progress and success over personal self-exploration and leisure time.  We did what was necessary to get the job done and didn’t complain about how hard this was to accomplish.  You can’t have it all despite what some supposed experts try to tell you – no one can, but you can always prioritize what’s most important at a given point and time and then live with the consequences.  Success must be earned and you can never take for granted what it takes to get there.

Leadership Thought #459 – 7 Tips You Ensure You Hit Your Goals/Resolutions for 2014

goal

goal (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Most of us will start the New Year with a list of goals we would like to achieve over the course of the next year.  Making New Years‘ Resolutions has become an American pastime.  Unfortunately, a majority of us will end up falling far below our initial expectations.  For some reason we either lose interest, become distracted by other things, or find the goals end up requiring more than we are willing to give to get there.   Over the years I’ve observed a much smaller number of people who actually achieve what they set out to do each and every year.  From this experience, I’ve developed the following tips to help you become one of these lucky few:

1) First and foremost, pick a goal you genuinely want to achieve not something you think you should be focused on or feel pressured by others to get done.  When our will is tested our real level of commitment typically becomes apparent.  People who aren’t committed to stopping smoking won’t do it; however, they may start eating healthier and/or start doing exercises that increase their lung capacity;

2) Be very specific about what you want to achieve.  Saying I want to lose weight or save more money is too vague.  Making it something more concrete like I want to lose 15 pounds by Memorial Day Weekend or have my resting heartbeat drop to 60 beats per minute by softball season or I will finish the first draft of my book by Halloween;

3) Push yourself but be somewhat realistic.  If you make $75K a year, saving $25K probably isn’t doable, but $7,500 may be.  If you want to still aim high, create a stretch goal above and beyond your desired outcome, but make sure there is some level of success that is initially achievable and worth celebrating;

4) Be transparent about your goals with close friends/and or loved ones and make your progress highly visible.  Put this information on your refrigerator, bathroom mirror, as your screen saver, tape it to your desk, etc. – the more places the better. In addition, start and end each day by reading them out loud;

5) Break your goal down into smaller increments so that you build up positive momentum throughout the course of the year.  Reducing personal debt by 25% sounds great, but how will this happen, e.g., increasing monthly payments by 5% each successive month, paying off highest interest credit cards  first (1 at a time), etc.;

6) Have a goal buddy who has a similar mindset that you check in with on a regular basis, at least once per quarter, but preferably every month. You’d be surprised how just talking with someone regularly increases individual accountability.  You’ll also both get goal fatigue at some point in the year and the other person will help you stay focused;

7) Establish an additional attractive payoff once you have achieved the goal like buying new summer clothes if you lose weight, or going on a more active fun vacation if you get more fit, or starting a regular fun/entertainment budget once you are out of debt.  We tend to stay focused on not just what we measure but also what we reward.

I have been fortunate to have a pretty good track record of achieving my own goals on an annual basis although I do plan on pushing myself a bit more this year.  I honestly believe that most of our limitations in life are self-imposed and we are all capable of achieving whatever we want when we put our minds to it.   I sincerely hope that 2014 is a banner year for you and that you use the following seven tips to help get you there.  Happy New Year!

Excerpts From The Road Less Traveled

Cover of "The Road Less Traveled"

Cover of The Road Less Traveled

A while back a colleague’s comments encouraged me to revisit the book, The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck.  I am very glad this happened because it resonated much differently with me twenty years later.  I’ve decided to end the year sharing some excerpts from the book which I have found especially enlightening and helpful:

“Life is difficult…This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.  It is a great truth because once we truly see the truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult.  Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

“What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one…Yet it is in the whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning…It is through the pain of confronting and resolving our problems that we learn.”

“…when children know they are valued, when they truly feel valued in the deepest parts of themselves, then they feel valuable…the feeling of being valuable is essential to mental health and is the cornerstone of self-discipline…when one considers oneself valuable one will take care of oneself in all ways that are necessary. Self discipline is self-caring.”

“We must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. We cannot solve a problem by saying, “It is not my problem.” We cannot solve a problem by hoping that someone else will solve it for us. I can solve a problem only when I say “This is my problem and it’s up to me to solve it.  But many, so many, seek to avoid the pain of their problems by saying to themselves: “This problem was caused me by other people, or by social circumstances beyond my control, and therefore it is up to other people or society to solve the problems for me.”

“…the problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence; for the entirety of our lives we must continually assess and reassess where our responsibilities lie in the ever-changing course of events.”

“Frequently our choices lie between the lesser of two evils, but it is still within our power to make these choices…there are indeed oppressive forces at work within the world.  We have, however, the freedom to choose every step of the manner in which we are going to respond to and deal with these forces.”

“What happens when one has striven long and hard to develop a working view of the world, a seemingly useful workable map, and then is confronted with new information suggesting that view is wrong and the map needs to be largely redrawn?  The painful effort required seems frightening almost overwhelming. What we do more often than not, and usually unconsciously, is to ignore new information…Rather than try and change the map, an individual may try to destroy the new reality.  Sadly, such a person may expend much more energy ultimately in defending an outmoded view of the world than would have been required to revise and correct it in the first place.”

“The life of wisdom must be a life of contemplation combined with action.”

“The only way that we can be certain that our map of reality is valid is to expose it to the criticism and challenge of other map makers.”

“The more honest one is, the easier it is to continue being honest, just as the more lies one had told, the more necessary it is to lie again. By their openness, people dedicated to the truth live in the open, and through the exercise of their courage to live in the open, they become free from fear.”

“Mature mental health demands, an extraordinary capacity to flexibly strike and continually restrike a delicate balance between conflicting needs, goals, duties, responsibilities, directions, etc.  The essence of this discipline of balancing is giving up… the giving up of personality traits, well established patterns of behavior, ideologies, and even whole life systems.”

“It is in the giving up of self that human beings can find the most ecstatic and lasting, solid, durable joy of life.  And it is death that provides life with all of its meaning.  This is the “secret” wisdom of all religion.”

“It is also clear that the farther one travels on the journey of life, the more births and deaths one will experience, and therefore the more deaths – the more joy and more pain.”

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”

“…we are incapable of loving another unless we love ourselves, just as we are incapable of teaching our children self-discipline unless we ourselves are self-disciplined. It is actually impossible to forsake our own spiritual development in favor of someone else’s.”

“Love is not effortless.  To the contrary, love is effortful.”

“Ego boundaries must be hardened before they can be softened. An identity must be established before it can be transcended. One must find one’s self before one can lose it…”

“Whenever we think of ourselves as doing something for someone else, we are in some way denying our own responsibility.  Whatever we do is done because we choose to do it, and we make that choice because it is the one that satisfies us the most.  Whatever we do for someone else we do because it fulfills a need we have.” 

“The principal form that the work of love takes is attention. When we love another we give him or her our attention; we attend to that person’s growth…By far the most common and important way in which we can exercise our attention is by listening.”

Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the making of action in spite of fear, the moving out against the resistance engendered by fear into the unknown and into the future.  On some level spiritual growth, and therefore love, always requires courage and involves risk.”

“Commitment is inherent in any genuinely loving relationship.  Anyone who is truly concerned for the spiritual growth of another knows, consciously or instinctively, that he or she can significantly foster that growth only through relationship of constancy.”

“Genuine love is self-replenishing.  The more I nurture the spiritual growth of others, the more my own spiritual growth is nurtured.”

“Great marriages cannot be constructed by individuals who are terrified by their basic aloneness, as so commonly is the case, and seek a merging in marriage.  Genuine love not only respects the individuality of the other  but actually seeks to cultivate it, even at the risk of separation or loss…”sacrifices” on behalf of the other result in equal or greater growth of the self.”

“.. all human interactions are opportunities either to learn or to teach (to give or receive therapy), and when they neither learn nor teach in an interaction they are passing up an opportunity.”

“To develop a religion or world view that is realistic – that is, conforms to the reality of the cosmos and our role in it, as best we can know that reality – we must constantly revise and extend our understanding to include new knowledge of the larger world.  We must constantly enlarge our frame of reference…”

“The path to holiness lies through questioning everything…”

“Many scientists simply do not look at the evidence of the reality of God.  They suffer from a kind of tunnel vision, a psychologically self-imposed psychological set of blinders which prevents them from turning their attention to the realm of the spirit.”

“A major and essential task in the process of one’s spiritual development is the continuous work of bringing one’s conscious self-concept into progressively greater congruence with reality…”

“…one of the reasons we fail to take full advantage of grace is that we are not fully aware of its presence – that is, we don’t find valuable things not sought for, because we fail to appreciate the value of the gift when it is given us…we consider such events unremarkable, and consequently we fail to take full advantage of them.”

“An individual’s body may undergo changes of the life cycle, but it does not evolve.  New physical patterns are not forged.  Decline of physical competence in old age is an inevitability.  Within an individual lifetime, however, the human spirit may evolve dramatically.  New patterns may be forged. Spiritual competence may increase (although it usually does not) until the moment of death in advanced old age.  Our lifetime offers unlimited opportunities for spiritual growth until the end.”

“When we grow, it is because we are working at it, and we are working at it because we love ourselves.  And it is through love that we elevate ourselves.  And it is through our love for others that we assist others to elevate themselves.  Love, the extension of the self, is the very rare act of evolution.  It is an evolution in progress.  The evolutionary force, present in all life, manifests itself in humankind as human love.  Among humanity love is the miraculous force that defies the natural law of entropy.”

“If we overcome laziness, all other impediments will be overcome.  If we don’t overcome laziness, none of the others will be hurdled.”

“A major form of laziness is fear…Much of our fear is fear of change in the status quo, a fear that we might lose what we have if we venture forth from where we are now.”

“Evil people hate the light because it reveals themselves to themselves.  They hate goodness because it reveals their badness; they hate love because it reveals their laziness.  They will destroy the light, the goodness, the love in order to avoid the pain of such self-awareness…evil is laziness carried to its ultimate, extraordinary extreme.”

“Most people most of the time make decisions with little awareness of what they are doing.  They take action with little understanding of their own motives and without beginning to know the ramifications of their choices…”

“Is it any better to do the right thing for the wrong reasons than the wrong thing for the right reasons?  We are often most in the dark when we are the most certain, and the most enlightened when we are the most confused.”

“We attempt to defend our consciousness, our awareness, against reality.  We do this by a variety of means which psychiatrists call defense mechanisms.  All of us employ such defenses, thereby limiting our awareness.  If in our laziness and fear of suffering we massively defend our awareness, then it will come to pass that our understanding of the world will bear little or no relation to reality.”

“The call to grace is a call to a life of effortful caring, to a life of service and whatever sacrifice seems required.  It is a call out of spiritual childhood into adulthood, a call to be a parent to mankind…”

“…the human race is in the midst of making an evolutionary leap. Whether or not we succeed in that leap is your personal responsibility.  And mine.  The universe, this stepping stone, has been laid down to prepare the way for us.  But we ourselves must step across it, one by one.  Through grace we are helped not to stumble and through grace we know that we are being welcomed.  What more can we ask?”

A Few Thoughts on Thanksgiving…

"Landing of the Pilgrims"

“Landing of the Pilgrims” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you sit back and reflect on Thanksgiving there is much to learn from the events that led to its creation.  It is quite a testament to the power of the human spirit and our individual and collective capacity to accomplish great things especially when we work together.  When life is stripped down to its bare necessities you learn alot about your fellow human beings. While sadly, some people use survival as a rationale for poor behavior, history seems to vindicate that most of us try to do the right things even under the most adverse circumstances.  I’d like to offer a few observations about the genesis of the holiday:

First, the Pilgrims had to have considerable faith and courage to leave the relative comforts of their European homeland to take the long difficult journey across the ocean to an unknown world that would require considerable effort and great sacrifice just to make it inhabitable.  They were literally starting from nothing.  More than likely they knew that some of them wouldn’t survive the journey and that others wouldn’t last long upon their arrival.  Thank goodness for their pioneering spirit and willingness to risk everything in the hope of creating a better life for their families.  The spark of their pioneering efforts led to the creation of our great nation.

Second, instead of going their separate ways once they left the ships, they decided to form communities.  The basic premise being that working together towards a common goal everyone had a better chance of surviving.  When you combine and leverage the strengths of a group of individuals with a wide variety of skills and talents, everyone benefits.  I am sure there were a few who decided to go it alone (and probably suffered unnecessarily as a result), but for the most part they stuck together and forged a collective identity.  It’s amazing what can be accomplished when everyone is on the same page, working together with a win-win mindset.

Third, unlike later sad stories in our nation’s history, they were able to co-exist with the Native Indian population.  I imagine it must have been a bit disconcerting at first to meet people who looked, talked and acted so differently.  It would have been easy to fear them and take aggressive defensive action.  Moreover, the natives had every reason to fear the strange new people who showed up on their land and started forming a new different type of community.  However, somehow these two diverse populations managed to interact and help one another out.  Arguably, without the wisdom gleaned from the native population, the Pilgrims may not have made it through the first winter. Unfortunately, with time, this relationship eventually degraded for all too human reasons, but for a brief period it was a model of how to peacefully coexist.

Finally, the Pilgrims were people of devout faith who fled religious persecution in their homeland to pursue a life concordant with their spiritual values.  It would have been much easier to disavow their beliefs and go along with the status quo and stay home, but they weren’t wired that way.   Their faith was strong enough to embolden them to overcome any obstacle to ensure they were living in what they perceived to be the right way.  They pursued a higher ideal and were rewarded for their efforts. Our nation was built by people of strong faith who had the courage of their convictions. We should never forget this!

As we sit in our warm comfortable homes, eating too much food, watching football and planning Black Friday shopping excursions, we should pause and reflect on how the courageous actions of a relatively small group of people working together towards a common goal, driven by strong spiritual values, who risked everything to form a new and better life for their families while peacefully coexisting with people much different from them, helped form the foundation of our country.  History is full of examples of people who overcame great odds at significant personal expense to carve out a better future for those who followed behind them.  We should certainly count our many blessing this holiday season, however, we should also be grateful to this brave group of people who made it possible for us to be here in the first place.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Leadership Thought #456 – Life Goes On

A fascinating aspect of our human existence is that despite what happens to us, in most cases, life simply goes on.  The world stops for no one regardless of the challenge or tragedy they are confronting.  Others may pause and offer support for a brief period, but they have their own journeys to tend to.  Of course, we all know how the journey ultimately ends but until that point we are forced to be resilient and navigate whatever twists and turns come our way.  No matter how far you climb the ladder of life there will always be some things beyond your capacity to control.  Sometimes all we can do is accept our circumstances and react in the best way we can.

There are always lessons to be learned.  Hopefully we are open and willing to embrace these moments for personal growth (although it may take some time).  Resisting what the universe is trying to teach you is a pointless endeavor.  I’ve grown to believe that one of the many benefits of aging is that it offers us an ever sharpening perspective on what is most important.  You begin adulthood in a very egocentric mindset and realize, with time, that how your actions affect others is much more important than getting what you think you want.  Your definitions of success will also change as you are humbled by life and watch others struggle with their own journeys.

One day we will be here and the next we will be gone.  We can guess when that will be but we will probably be off in our calculations.  If we are fortunate, we will be truly missed and appreciated by those we did our best to care about and love.  What’s left behind is the legacy we leave in and through them and others.  Life goes on and it always will.  Our opportunity for personal contribution will always be relatively short in the wide scheme of things.  The fact that we know this should embolden us to live the best life we can regardless of the circumstances.  Every day is a gift and opportunity and should be seen that way…

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