Blog

3 Foolproof Steps to Banish Stress

Jun 06
2017

You’re juggling an endless series of escalating demands, struggling to keep up—and blaming everyone and everything for your stress. But blame is an energy-wasting trap: you can’t purge these tasks and people from your life. Where does your stress really come from?

The answer is, you. Consciously or not, you’re choosing to get overwhelmed by conflicting emotions as you grapple with competing demands, deadlines, and pressure to deliver.

Stress is a choice, and that’s powerful knowledge. It means that stress is not inevitable. Defuse the building blocks of stress — worry, agonizing, and ruminating – to gain perspective and make room for optimism.

Stop Chewing Things Over

Instead, list the tasks that are weighing you down and brainstorm outrageous ways to resolve them. Try the “Fairy Godmother” approach: if I had a magic wand, how would I wish away this problem?  Write your “wishes” down, no matter how impossible. Once you have some ideas, focus on one or two of the most practical and ponder how to make them work. Free your imagination to open the door for ingenious new strategies.

Exchange Certainty (It’s a Myth) for Curiosity

“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy,” as Helmuth von Moltke astutely noted. Replace your need for certainty with a sense of curiosity. This requires acceptance of three basic truths: a) absolute certainty can’t ever happen b) setbacks are only temporary c) your curious mind gives you the tools to emerge from your stressed-out rut. Use your natural sense of curiosity to flex your mental maps, and you won’t feel destined to experience disaster if things don’t go as planned.

Test Feared Outcomes and Potential Solutions

Design experiments to confront your concerns. Test for the veracity of the feared outcome and try out a possible solution simultaneously in a low-risk situation. You’ll learn what you need to know without risking much if things go dramatically wrong.

When the inevitable failure happens, and we know it will (after all, no plan survives the enemy), avoid suspecting yourself as the culprit. Self-blame is a counterproductive thought that only stresses you out. Instead, examine all the plausible alternatives that may have taken you off course. Seek out objective evidence to guide your next steps. Put the brakes on negative thoughts by writing them down as they happen. Set a time to deal with them later, or even the next day. At that later point, they won’t carry the emotions of the moment with them, and you can more easily discern whether they remain relevant.

Take An Artist’s Approach And Redraw Your Life With Passion

May 16
2017

My very first and only work of art, loosely speaking, was created in Mrs. Levine’s 5th grade class: a vase filled with springs flowers. I clearly remember sitting down at my desk, with the art book opened to the page with the picture, sharpened pencil in my hand, drawing what I saw in the book. I had no idea what I was doing, nor what I was supposed to do — after all, I was only 10 years old. I just looked at the vase filled with flowers and tried my best to draw what I saw in the book on the paper. If a line went astray I didn’t panic. I just made it into something that worked — a leaf maybe, or I just erased and started again. I just kept going, and when I was done no one was more shocked than I to see a vase and flowers on the page. Perhaps the flowers weren’t perfect bluebells or roses, and I wasn’t going to be the next Monet, but I was thrilled with what I’d done, and for the next few days that picture infused me with a passion to draw things and be an artist — at least until something new caught my eye.

As kids, we find passion and inspiration in so many things, and we don’t tie ourselves down to believing there is one and only one plan for how things are supposed to work out in our lives. Yet I watch so many adults struggle each day to discover passion in a life that doesn’t look like the one they planned. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone get ensnared in the world of “what should have been,” “could have,” and “was supposed to have been.” Gloomily, for many people, that struggle is something that dominates their adult life.

Why is it that as adults we find it so difficult to infuse our lives with passion when it doesn’t look like the life we originally planned?

For a lot of us it’s because as adults we believe that we know precisely how best to execute the strategy that will assure our happiness, success, and aspirations. In the end, it’s a simple exchange: we swap experimentation and learning for comfort and control. We falsely believe that if we don’t deviate from the strategy, then the conclusion is a certainty. And that all we have to do is play it safe, follow the strategy, and problem solve our way back to certainty when something goes awry and therein lies the trap.

Playing it safe is really like throwing an adult version of a temper tantrum, and trying to problem solve your way back to what you want by blaming outside forces — for not attaining what you wanted, other people for screwing it up, or even forces beyond your control for interceding — does no good for anyone. Whatever the justification, it keeps you trapped in guilt and uncertainty, never being able to let go of the past to see your way to the future. Playing the superhero and riding the adrenaline high of being the expert-problem-solver only leaves you temporarily feeling like you’re making forward progress. Problem solving and looking at what should have and could have been and what went wide of the mark will exhaust you and leave you chasing a false reality — that you can have what that strategy was supposed to deliver. The hard truth is that it doesn’t matter, it won’t ever matter again, and maybe it really never mattered at all in the first place.

Our plans were never meant to be a pledge of a certain ending — only the artist’s first drawing or a first pass at what we thought the picture might be. Infusing your life with zeal and passion, especially when it doesn’t look like the life you planned starts when you embrace the deviations and follow the lines that go awry with a sense of improvisation and openness. Seeing where the future takes you opens doors to prospects and passions that you never contemplated before. There is power and freedom in knowing you can always erase the sketch and dream grander. Or a sense of newfound excitement when what you see on the page inspires you to explore something, which at first might seem a bit abstract but ultimately ignites a new passion in you. As you do this, you should only care what could be because it is the only thing you have, and perhaps is what was intended for you all along.

Are you ready to take out your sketchbook and begin drawing a new plan for what comes next? You might be wondering what happened to the picture I drew. It still hangs framed in my home as a reminder that sometimes not knowing what you’re “supposed” to do in life may surprise you.

Happy Drawing!

An Ambitious Plan To Be A Leader Others Want To Follow

May 02
2017

You’re an outstanding solo contributor and your reward, a promotion that makes you the new rising star leader guiding a team of passionate former colleagues. It’s going to take more than solo talent and enthusiasm to make the shift from colleague to a leader others want to follow.  It’s going to take an ambitious plan to get you there but you’ve got no other choice.

Being the leader others want to follow starts with throwing out the playbook that got you where you are today, and swapping that for a new one – one that is going to take nothing less than your letting go of seeing everything through the prism of  “what’s in it for me”.

Navigating the new organizational obstacle course means learning how to overcome competing interests, uncertainty, and coalescing a diverse group of individual contributors around a common purpose.  It means shifting from the “me” mindset of a solo contributor to a “we” mindset of a leader who inspires those around him or her to reach their highest potential.

Here are the strategies that will shake up your current mindset and get you moving on an altogether different level::

Believe In The Leader Within

New leaders can sometimes feel a bit like imposters — believing that everyone expects them to know everything, and yet they feel as if they know nothing at all about what it takes to lead others. Believing in your ability to transcend being a solo contributor and start becoming a transcendent leader begins when you make the commitment to connect with who you are rather than what you think others want you to be. Finding your stride starts when you remember that you earned the right to be where you are, you have the capacity to master everything you need to know to succeed, and you have the humility to know that you can’t do that without the help of those you now lead. Living up to your new role isn’t about being a superhero on day one—it’s about stepping up your game each and every day by challenging yourself to risk, be clear in your intentions, and learn as you go. You can start connecting with the leader within by emulating other leaders you think highly of and avoiding the behavior of those you don’t. As you become more comfortable in your own skin, your confidence will grow. The time of doing what they did will be replaced with a period of trial and error as you search for that unique mix and leadership formula that works for you. Over time, you’ll find out what reflects who you are through your own experiences and unique perspective, and the leader within will emerge.

Actions Matter And So Do Your Words

Being intentional about everything as a leader is critical, and so much about leadership is tied to your central values and core beliefs. We signal what they are to those we lead in both word and action by telling them what matters, where we won’t waver, and what we’re passionate about. Something as simple as using the word “we” instead of “I” can communicate that all of our interests are intrinsically linked. Clarity in word and action is what enables those you lead to understand how you’ll make decisions and determine what is important. It helps them know where they stand and what is expected of them.

Believe In People Whose Subject Matter Expertise Exceeds Yours

Your secret formula for success has shifted from being weighted toward your technical skills toward your new secret formula for success — the brilliance and creativity of the people on your team. It isn’t about you making a difference on your own anymore, so knowing everything isn’t even a possibility. Your wins come with building trust and making possible relationships among team members that get everyone working toward a common purpose with a respect for each other’s diverse talents and abilities. Trading in the title of “subject matter expert” for “exceptional leader” opens the door to stepping back and seeing what drives each person to excel and deciding how best to both challenge and reward them. Retaining the brilliant folks on your team is only part of the task — truly remarkable leaders are judged by how many generations of leaders follow in their footsteps.

Clear The Roadblocks Instead Of Becoming One

As a high-performing individual contributor, resisting the urge to intervene is overwhelming — after all, what got you to where you are is your propensity to get things done. Yet the fastest way to de-motivate the creative and capable people that work for you, and get bogged down and off track from your own leadership journey is to intervene when you’re not really needed. Developing the wisdom to know when to clear roadblocks and not become one is a necessary mind shift you have to make early on.  Empowering the enthusiastic and high-performing individual contributors on your team comes from engaging them in ways that support their approach, tempo, and need for independence. Share lessons when invited, but always emphasize your confidence in their ability to decide how best to resolve the situation. Underscore learning, experimentation, and collaboration. Draw upon what you know about everyone to design the overall structure, and then give them license to cross boundaries and specialties when needed to achieve what none could do on their own.

Embrace The Unknown

Leadership, in essence, changes who you are and where your focus lies. It alters your relationship with those around you and with yourself. Your chief obligation and charge is to set the vision and make sense of this for everyone along the way: to be the first to challenge your own predisposed ways of thinking, what you or others should know — or what you think you know — and assumptions about what is and how it should be resolved. Creating the space for new ways of thinking and doing things can only come from your modeling humility and embracing the unknown. Improvisation, questioning, and experimentation will help you and others gain insight from not knowing rather than fearing the unknown.

Turning out to be a leader as outstanding as you were a solo contributor encompasses figuring out how you fit into the bigger picture in an organization, team, and societal level, and then ambitiously pursuing the goals needed to get you there.

Let me know what you’re planning on doing to become that leader others want to follow.

These Habits Can Help You Squeeze The Most From Your Day

Apr 18
2017

Even the most industrious among us have only 24 hours in each day, and only 10 or so hours available to us to do everything we want to get done. If you’re like most people, you start each day with the best intentions and a long, prioritized list of things that you want to get done. Having a list is a noble and a solid first step, but as with most things in life, it isn’t in the planning stage where things go awry—it’s in the execution.

Life’s distractions can easily derail even the most skilled task achiever and leave them feeling drained, frustrated, and with an even longer list tomorrow. Squeezing the most out of every day doesn’t mean burning the midnight oil or burning the candle at both ends. It means figuring out the habits that work best for you and developing a ritual around it.

Creating habits and rituals is exceptionally powerful because it helps our brains create the neurological cravings that lead us to anticipate a reward for engaging in a certain routine or set of behaviors. The habits and rituals that eventually become the plan to make the most of the time you have each day are based on what you’ve learned that make the most sense and work best for your lifestyle and the reward you give yourself for getting things done. This is critical to your being able to follow through on your plan without fail and deliberately—no matter what comes your way to distract you.

Ritualizing some of the routine things you do each day is what helps your brain to go on autopilot so that things that you do habitually become automatic and don’t require your focus, energy, and advanced decision making skills. Reacting automatically to routine tasks can help you really squeeze the most out of your day.

Here’s an example of a simple habit that you can experiment with and perhaps turn into a ritual that works for you.

Multi-Task In Bursts And Only With Certain Tasks

Choose tasks that can be done with little thought and work well together. For example, perhaps experiment with your morning routine and give something like this a try: while you make coffee and your breakfast, scan your emails and prioritize them, leaving only the most important ones, those requiring immediate action when you sit down at your desk, in the inbox. Move others to folders and delete the junk. While driving to work, listen to a book that you’ve been dying to read or even record key notes for a meeting and play them back so that you’re listening to them while you commute. Don’t forget to reward yourself with something for doing this each and every day: perhaps getting in a quick exercise session before you start work at the office, or spending a few minutes chatting with a friend before starting your day.

The key is to figure out what routines, tasks, and rituals work best for you, and then practice them until they become automatic and you can do them with speed and dexterity. Once you have your routines in place, you’ll also want to keep the following strategies in mind so that when your actively thinking about what comes next, you can continue to make wise decisions:

  • Focus is key: make sure that you keep it throughout the day and have in your bag of tricks some ways that you can bring it back if you lose it.
  • Learn the power of “No” and “I’ll get back to you,” and use them often.
  • Only get involved at the solutions level: don’t waste time focused on rehashing the problem.
  • Spend part of each day pausing and reflecting on what you’ve accomplished so far, and decide what is most significant remaining on the list to do with the time you have. Remember that what is most significant isn’t always the highest priority item in an objective sense – it is the highest priority item given the time you have remaining to accomplish something in your day.
  • Know that nothing that happens is really the end of the world.
  • Make sure that whatever you do is worthwhile and will make a positive difference.

Our habits and rituals guide how we live our lives and shape our priorities. If we create powerful habits that act as the underpinnings for what we set out to do each day, over time they will become the starting point for how we shape our lives. What habits and rituals will you put in place to squeeze the most from your day?

Let me know in the comments field below.

 

Simple Strategies To Fine-Tune Your Pitch And Change People’s Minds

Apr 04
2017

Whether you’re pitching your new business idea to the CEO or pitching buying a new car to your spouse, crafting a winning argument, once you’ve passed the feasibility hurdle, is highly dependent on the tactics and strategies you use to sway the decision maker. We’ve all been on both sides of the equation—delivering and receiving successful and unsuccessful pitches. I’d be willing to bet that when you’ve been the person on the receiving end of an awful pitch you know exactly why the pitch failed. Awful pitches are horrible for many different reasons: sometimes the person is unprepared, sometimes they’re condescending, and sometimes the person believes that all it takes to win the day is including all the relevant information in the pitch, and letting the collective weight of the data convince the person to decide in his or her favor.

However, I’d also be willing to bet that when you’re on the delivery end of an awful or unsuccessful pitch you rarely know the exact reason why the pitch didn’t sway or persuade. And the truth is, we’re rarely given the opportunity to query the decision maker once we’ve pitched and failed to zero in on why exactly they weren’t convinced to decide in our favor. Often this leads people to go down a rabbit hole of wrong explanations, wondering if they weren’t specific enough or left out a critical piece of information, when in truth the answer is far more clear-cut. Setting aside being unprepared or condescending as reasons for a pitch not succeeding, most pitches fail simply because the person making the pitch shares everything they know about the matter at hand, rather than everything the decision maker needs to know to make their decision.

It’s no wonder the pitch was an epic failure—it was crafted from the perspective of the pitcher and not from the vantage point of the decision maker. An exceptionally subtle yet influential distinction that spells the difference between winning over a decision maker and a failing pitch. Avoiding your next disastrous pitch starts with making some smart and meaningful changes in the process that you use to craft your pitch that make a meaningful difference in how the pitch will be perceived by the person you need to make the decision.

These simple yet powerful tweaks will help pare down your pitch, focus it on the decision maker, and therefore substantially increase your ability to successfully win over any decision maker you face.

Be Sure That You’re Presenting To The Ultimate Decision Maker

It might seem a bit simplistic to say this, but be sure that when you’re pitching someone on an idea that you’ve targeted the presentation to the decision maker with the authority to ultimately make the choice. This is critical especially when pitching to a group where multiple players may hear the pitch but not have the authority to make the decision, or be the person you want to work with on a deal. Failing to target the pitch to your audience, even if it is only to one person in the room, can sometimes alienate the true decision maker you want to sway. Persuasion, no matter how effectively done, directed to a person who has no authority to make the decision is never going to yield the desired effect.

Know Your Decision Maker

Learn as much as you possibly can in advance about the person making the decision. The most important information to understand concerns their patterns around what motivates them to make decisions and draw conclusions. How are they motivated to do something or not do something? Is it to avoid problems or achieve goals? Are they convinced to take action when they know within themselves that something is right? Or do they use facts and figures to help them decide? And lastly, are they proactive or reactive: do they like to initiate change or wait until a situation is right to act?

The best place to get answers to these questions is directly from this person. Observe how this person has made decisions in the past, note how they present information, listen to their words, and notice their body language in certain situations. You could even sit in when someone else is pitching them and watch what happens, what they ask, and what works and what doesn’t. Look for little peculiarities that you might want to take advantage of: think “royalty deal” and Shark Tank’s Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary.

Know The Question And Know The Recommended Action You Want Them To Take

Have you ever tried making a decision when you didn’t really have a clear idea about what you were really being asked to decide and/or the person doing the asking didn’t know a hill of beans about what they were asking you for? You can’t expect someone to give you a decision when they can’t clearly identify the question they’re being asked to decide, or the action they’re being asked to take. Your first and foremost responsibility is to know the question that needs to be answered and to define what action you think would best works to solve/answer it. Without this level of clarity, you can’t ever hope to make a successful pitch. At this stage you’re really working to figure out your best guesstimate of what would work best and why the decision maker would want to take the action you’re proposing. Write both your question and answer down, keep clarifying it to make sure that there is no ambiguity and that your recommended action is the only action that will bring about the desired resolution to the question, and perhaps most importantly, that you can state why convincingly.

Carefully Lay Out And Select Your Best Points: Concentrate Your Ideas

Your very next step is to begin laying out the facts, information, and arguments that are central to your pitch and form the basis for your core action/recommendation. Laying out and structuring the information and arguments in a logical manner will help you spot gaps in your knowledge of the facts, understand where challenges to your recommendation might come from, and help you counter potential objections with real counter points. Pay careful attention as you go through this process to keep the information tight and concise, making sure to only include only the most compelling and salient points in your outline so that your ideas are concentrated and therefore have the most influence and impact on the decision maker. Select your best and strongest reasons why this action should take place—preferably no more than 3 or 4—and develop them fully. This is not to say that each of the 3 or 4 cannot have a few smaller points within them. However, loading up a pitch with everything but the kitchen sink and taking a scattershot approach is ineffective. It gives the impression that you don’t come from a position of strength and that you don’t have strong points that can stand on their own. Your criteria for including a point should be:

  • That it is essential to the core of your pitch
  • It is scrupulously accurate
  • It is presented from the vantage point of the decision maker

If it doesn’t fit these criteria, it isn’t going to help, and will most likely become a straw man that can sidetrack your pitch.

Create A Story

Now that you’ve worked long and hard on your outline and you believe that you’ve created a compelling pitch for the recommended action you want the decision maker to take, you’re ready to translate your outline into the story that will take the person(s) step by step through your pitch to its conclusion. Make sure that the story proceeds methodically through the information, starting with a statement of the question you want answered or solved so that the decision maker knows from the start the very decision they are being asked to make. Once the decision maker knows what they’ll be deciding, they’ll be more attune to the evidence needed to support the decision you want them to make, as you spotlight the most important merits for your core action or recommendation being adopted. This step guarantees that they’ll be better able to tie the facts back to the core action or recommendation and understand how the facts either support or disprove the course of action being sought. Make sure that part of your appeal is to the person’s common sense and not only the facts and evidence. Sometimes decision makers will make decisions on what their gut sense tells them and then look for facts to support it, so it is wise to appeal to both in your story. Avoid hyperbole and phrases that contain absolute negatives like “There will never be another…” or “No one has ever seen…” since these can result in a loss of credibility in your presentation, as negatives are always difficult to prove. Always make sure to begin the story with your strongest points because as they say: first impressions are enduring. Make sure that the story starts out in a positive vein, and if you have to address or refute something that you do it in the middle and not at the beginning or end. Close powerfully and explicitly tell the decision maker what it is you need them to do. Your closing should move the decider to action with a recap of the principal reasons they should take the action and why your recommendation is the only response.

Give Your Story A Test Drive

Practice makes perfect, and sharing your story with others before the actual pitch can help you hone your pitch and give you the needed practice so that you’re comfortable with giving the pitch seamlessly. Choose a group of people to practice your pitch with and ask to track your story against your outline and to give you feedback on areas that you might have missed or might be overkill. Then incorporate their suggestions and refine the pitch until you think you have it in its final form. Choose one person whose decision-making style mirrors that of the person you’re pitching and pitch for them as if you were doing it for the intended decision maker. Debrief them on what worked and what didn’t, and if they’d have made the decision in your favor. Hone your presentation again until you’ve got it where you think it needs to be. You might even want to video this session so that you can watch not only your presentation but also their reactions to what you were saying at certain points in the pitch.

Decide What Final Form The Presentation Will Take

At this point you already know a lot about the person you’re pitching and you’ve spent a great deal of time honing your pitch to match their style. You’re at the point where all that’s left to do is help them understand what you need them to do, and the key to doing that effectively is selecting the right format the final presentation will take. Deciding what the final form is may not always be under your control and that could go either way. It might be that the decision maker has preset the format to be what he/she prefers, and so understanding the best way to utilize the features of that format to showcase your pitch means making sure that you know and understand how best to showcase your information in a variety of ways. If you get to select the final form, be sure to choose one that you know makes it easiest for the decision maker to best understand and be presented with the information. Knowing in advance if they prefer reports, executive summaries, slides, or even an email with key decision and data points, followed by a face-to-face meeting or an in-person pitch, will go a long way to helping you showcase your idea in the most favorable light. No matter the presentation method—or if you’ve chosen it or not—as long as you’ve structured and crafted the pitch with the strategies above and ensure that you’ve placed what they are being asked to decide on early in the presentation, the presentation is pared down to include only the most salient points, your closing moves them to action, and you’ve told them everything that they need to know to make a decision, then you’ll be better positioned to be successful.

Remember that no matter what, you have to know your stuff, stand your ground, and do so as equals. When you step before the audience next time you pitch, have this clearly in your mind and know that you are there to help the decision maker understand what the circumstances demand of them, what they need to know to make the decision, and in doing this effectively, you’ll show them that you knew what you needed to know about the matter at hand too.

Let me know how your next pitch goes in the comments below.

 

Out With The Old And In With The New: Getting Unstuck

Mar 14
2017

You’ve invested a great deal of time and determination in pursuing the plan you, or perhaps someone else, wrote for your life. Though you don’t totally despise what you’ve been doing, you wake up each morning with the nagging feeling that you’re not moving in the right direction either. As the days tick by, the nagging turns to unease, and unease into discontent. The pressure mounts, and you’re unable to find the connection between who you are, what you’re certain of, and what you’re doing with your life. Simply said: you’re stuck.

You probably took a stab at trying to get unstuck by doing what most people in that circumstance do—you decried that you weren’t stuck, and to prove it you began taking action. You set out to either add things to the plan or subtract things from the plan: trying everything and anything to make it work. But the more you focused on making it work, the more the sense of discontent grew. Today turned into tomorrow, and tomorrow into next month, and you still didn’t know what would work and what wouldn’t. You were more disheartened and even more stuck.

But getting unstuck isn’t about continuing to do what you’ve always done plus or minus a few things. After all, where’s it written that you have to stay on the path you’re currently on? And yes, I know it isn’t easy to think about giving up on a plan that you’ve dedicated years to pursuing—yet you have to accept that being stuck is your first and best signal that you’re ready for an important realignment in your life.

Being stuck is a great puzzle to solve, and it isn’t as difficult as you think once you accept that being stuck can lead to that start of something new. Digging out of the hole starts when stuck becomes the springboard for understanding what might be within your grasp. Knowing what we want starts with knowing what we might want and then figuring out what we what we need to pull it off.

There are many paths to living an incredible life, and many chances in our lifetime to reinvent ourselves—you won’t be stuck for long if you accept where you are, get over being stuck quickly, and start getting about the business of discovering what you might want to do next.

Expanding your possibilities gets simpler when you follow these four steps:

1. Realign Your Compass

Feeling stuck often leaves you questioning everything: your past, your present, and your future. Before you can even begin to find out where you want to go, you have to take a moment and figure out where you are in relation to your true north. Spend the time you need getting back in touch with the things that honor your values, interests, and core beliefs. Take the time to really ask yourself questions that shed light on what you really want to do with the work you do each day, and then ask yourself questions about what you want your life to be about. There are many great tools and exercises to help you do this (shameless plug: many of them you can find posts about on the Leadership Compound blog—check some out and give them a try). Find and ask the questions that most resonate with you, or the tools that work best for you, and if you don’t see any you can create your own. There really are no rules other than to write things down—it really does help you bring them into reality. The key is to begin.

2. You Have To Generate Ideas And Quantity Is King

Once you’ve realigned your compass and know your true north, you can begin to explore new ideas, preferences, and capabilities. In certain things quality does matter more than quantity, except when you’re trying to dig yourself out of the roadblock known as being stuck. Getting on with your life starts when you consciously engage in activities that spike your creativity and idea generation to the levels where ideas, options, and possibilities begin to flow freely and without judgment. The key is to begin free-associating, imagining, and coming up with lots of outrageous, enticing, and electrifying probable and improbable ideas that spark your interest or intrigue you. Zeroing in too quickly and/or attempting to think up a handful of high quality ideas in the early stages of idea formation is totally counterproductive to becoming unstuck. It only serves to intensify the pressure and indecision, stymie your creativity, and block any forward progress. Options—and lots of them—are what eventually lead to better quality ideas. They magnify our thinking, and energize and help us give thought to things we might have previously dismissed as impractical or outlandish. Quantity then leads to more choices, which result in better options and eventually a few quality ideas, which are optimal to implement. Some of my favorite tips for doing this are creating mind maps, journaling, word association, vision boards, and writing ideas on post it notes—find something that is creative and works best for you.

3. Choose What Fits—And First Isn’t Always Best

Despite our best intentions, our biases can often work against our best interests, especially when we lose sight that they exist. Failing to recognize and take into account their impact on our decision-making can prove disastrous. In highly charged emotional situations, like overcoming being stuck, we can sometimes forget that biology outmaneuvers rationality. The high and rush that we get from generating new ideas and seeing possibilities again can cause us to view more favorably our first idea and consider it “the one,” even though we’ve given it little scrutiny. Our desire to do this is more related to the chemical response of the brain’s positive hormones than a rational validation of the solution. Getting moored to a solution just because it seems good enough might right the ship, but it also closes down the exploration of many other really good and often beneficial options. Many times, what we first come up with is the safe or familiar choice. In the long term, choosing what is safe or comfortable could lead to being anchored in another sandbar: stuck again with some familiar issues. Learning how to keep working beyond the first quality idea and coming up with several other options helps us overcome the natural inclination to settle for the first thing we arrive at. Once we’ve uncovered, walked around in, and reviewed in depth several really solid options, we have the information we need to begin to draw the contrasts and weigh the advantages of each choice. The process of learning in depth about several high quality choices by asking questions and getting additional data and facts reduces the fear of uncertainty and increases our clarity about our choice and the outcome.

4. Don’t Critique, Sabotage, Or Stifle Your Forward Progress

The more ideas we have, the more choices that are open to us. If we are to imagine things in ways that we haven’t before, and think about things more broadly than ever before, we can’t sabotage ourselves along the way. Our brains are designed to be critical, find problems to solve, and make spur-of-the-moment judgments—nothing could be more detrimental to free-associating for creativity and inside-out thinking. Knowing this is how our minds work is the first step toward quieting the inner voice that, if left unattended, can impede our ability to do the two steps outlined above. You have to be mindful as you embark on this journey. Prepare yourself by first spending some time becoming aware of your own destructive self-talk: the messages you give yourself that say you can’t do something. Keep a journal as you start this process and make note of every time you think, “You can’t do that,” or “This idea is too crazy.” Put a plan in place to stop yourself from making that judgment and reward yourself for banishing the inner voice that says no and choosing to do things differently. Enjoy the benefits and the stress relief from knowing that this isn’t about getting it right the first time—it is about experimenting, learning, and small steps. With practice, you’ll see the fog will lift and you’ll be less stuck and more willing to push the door open to consider what once seemed unimaginable.

If you’re feeling stuck today, I encourage you to embrace it, accept it as the great puzzle it is to solve, and figure out what path will lead you back to your true north. If you’ve solved the puzzle before, I’d love to hear about your journey and what worked best for you.

 

Don’t Settle For Mediocrity, Instead, Stay Hungry

Mar 01
2017

Don’t Settle For Mediocrity Instead Stay HungryThrough an incredible feat of will and an ability to stay hungry, you’ve kept your edge, kept the naysayers at bay, overcome the competition, and attained all you’ve ever imagined possible. You’re now sitting where you always wanted to be: revered and sought after for your knowledge and expertise, getting all you’ve driven yourself so hard for, and sitting atop the pinnacle of your career. Fulfillment is certainly worthy of celebration and reflection, but it can also be a perilous time if you linger too long while riding the wave of success.

Living on your pedigree, reputation, adulation, and preserving the status quo only gets you so far, and it certainly won’t keep you atop the field forever. Riding the wave of your success is a surefire formula for being lulled into a sense of complacency that dulls your edge, makes you risk averse, and means you’re playing a prevent defense strategy. You stop pushing the envelope, fail to shake up the status quo, and won’t risk doing anything that might reflect poorly on your standing, image, or advance in the game if it means you might not triumph.

Preventing your fall from grace isn’t an effective strategy to keep those hungry up-and-comers from nipping at your heels. In fact, it’s just the opposite—it means that you’ve positioned yourself to be quickly overtaken. You have only one choice to keep your edge and stay atop the crowd: don’t settle for mediocrity – you have got to stay hungry!

Reigniting your hunger and staying that way is within your control. All it takes is watching for opportunities to learn more, do more, and step beyond what you know that’s safe and expected. You have to behave as if you have everything to gain and nothing to lose, stay persistent, not slack off, and without a doubt, not settle for the success you’ve already attained.

Here are some surefire ideas to keep you hungry and set yourself apart from your competition.

Embrace Hunger By Always Challenging The Status Quo

Never think or behave as if you have something to lose. You need to embody the idea of going above and beyond no matter how much success you have already realized. Have enough conviction in yourself that you don’t let the fear of losing your status or others silence your inner voice. Have the same willingness that you did before you were successful, revered and sought after to push the boundaries of what was comfortable, ask why with humility, and use your people smarts to uncover previously unaddressed concerns. Embrace the idea of experimenting and learning through unpredictable failures. Seek to learn from those who are nipping at your heels, and challenge yourself to put yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable or force you to learn something that you wouldn’t ordinarily have done before. Remember that you’re always a work in progress, and you have to change with the world and those around you.

Find New Ways To Connect What You’re Fanatical About To New Tasks

As you introduce new tasks, technologies, and ideas, you need to find ways to connect them to the things that you’re fanatical about or your motivation for doing what you do. Solicit different perspectives on what you’re doing and what might be outdated. Seek out a mentor who is younger and has a skill set that you don’t have—be open to learning from people who don’t share your frame of reference or experiences. Review the things your passionate about—notice if they still inspire you to go above and beyond to pursue them, and if not, let them go. Try new things and see what resonates with you. Do something that you’ve always aspired to try but were afraid to do or thought others might think wasn’t in line with your character.

Set Straightforward Expectations

Commit to taking a balanced approach to looking around corners and pushing forward to achieve what you want by balancing doing a job well with not plowing over others to accomplish something. Make sure your goals are straightforward and clearly articulated. Make them easy to measure with points along the way that you can measure, while noting your progress. Hold yourself accountable and ask others to do that as well by sharing your objectives. Reward yourself for your diligence, keeping focus on what is just around the corner, and keeping your eye on the future. Act with clarity when choosing where to focus your attention, whether it is on near-term or longer-term goals.

Our past success doesn’t entitle nor guarantee future success. We advance based on what we do moment by moment, opportunity by opportunity, and based on how we deliver and how hungry we stay. The key to separating ourselves from the crowd over the long term and keeping our edge means being intentional about taking risks, being bold, and staying hungry.

Are you willing to stay hungry? If so, let me know what you do to keep yourself striving for the things that give you the edge.

 

Is “Why?” Really Just A Crooked Letter?

Feb 14
2017

It was a chilly fall day and a familiar scene was playing at the town soccer fields. A dad and his young son were walking back to the car after the match. The son was peppering his dad with question after question. Every well-crafted answer the dad gave was met with a single question: Why? At one point it was clear that the dad reached the limit of his patience, and in one last attempt to end the series of why questions he said, “Because ‘Y’ is a crooked letter.”

With a puzzled look on his face, his son smiled and replied: “Why?”

The point in sharing this story is to emphasize that as adults we’ve become so jaded, self-focused, and frustrated with those who ask us “Why?”— even when it comes from our children.

When did inquisitiveness, curiosity, and asking Why become defiance, or a challenge to our thinking, ideas, and who we are?

Is it that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing the Why as extraneous — a waste of time when just doing seems more imperative and expedient? Is it that as adults we don’t believe that why leads to something better and only serves to drag us down a rabbit hole of excuses?

I don’t think our world is not a better place because we don’t ask “Why?”. A life without knowing why keeps us focused in the moment and doing things by rote. It disconnects us from our own sense of purpose and that of those around us. Without knowing why, we fail to see context, solve problems, and fall prey to our natural biases and assumptions. As each day passes, we lose the capacity to dream, to sway others to act without bias and to ask, “Why not?”.

But it isn’t too late for us all to reconnect to our personal Why? — that wonder and curiosity that leads us to better understand the context of the world around us, the potential of what could be and why we are an integral part of all of it. Embodying curiosity in action generates the energy, enthusiasm, and connection to our internal guidance systems that infuses our passion with a purpose, spurs novel thinking, disruption of what is, and sends us in new directions. Isn’t it time to start bringing asking “Why?” back into favor?

Here’s what you need to know to discover your Why and start asking others about theirs:

Embrace A New Paradigm: Knowing Your Why Is A Requisite

We all have a personal brand—that spider’s web of beliefs, principles, values, and knowledge that is the glue that makes us uniquely us. Knowing your Why starts with focusing on a few key things:

Writing A Statement Of Your Why – A phrase that captures the crux of the commitment, principles, values, and set of beliefs that lead you to do what you do.

  • Start by writing the story of how you arrived where you are and how you plan to get where you’re going.
  • Look for the common values, themes, and strengths in the story of your life: why you were empowered to take action, why they influenced your thoughts and behaviors, which experiences did you impact and which experiences impacted you, and how are you different and unique? What created your map of the world? How did your beliefs translate into the action that came to be the way of your life? Ask yourself “Why?” if you didn’t do something you know wanted to.
  • Identify the core values that you want others to connect with you, and write a personal credo that expresses that in a clear and concise way.
  • Be inquisitive and reach out to key stakeholders—those who know you best and are impacted by your actions. Ask them to define what they think your Why is? This is a good check to see if you need to do more alignment.

Focus On Living Your Why – Let your Why infuse everything you do. It should become the source of your purpose and passion—after all, it is the authentic you. Rely on it as a powerbase to spur thinking, cut through extraneous details, and rouse you to action. The Why of your life forms the internal guidance system that supports your decision-making and goal attainment.

Share Your Why, Ask Others Why, Answer Why Questions At Every Opening

Make it your unwritten rule to share your Why, ask others theirs, and ask and answer Why questions at every opening. Here’s how this fosters the transparency that others need to have so they can know you on an authentic level:

Sharing Your Why – Gives others the information that they need to understand and gives witness to your consistent adherence to your core values and principles. This dovetails with their ability to trust and find you to be authentic. Sharing your Why at every opening is at the heart of the loyalty people bestow on you. It is through that loyalty and trust that you can influence, lead, and align varied Whys to impact the larger world.

Ask Others Why – Asking someone else their Why is the first step in knowing the crux of what lies at the heart of their personal brand. Understanding the purpose, principles, values, and set of beliefs that lead them to do what they do helps you tap into what stirs their passions, rouses them to act, and helps you sway them to act with you. Asking someone about their why supports you as you test what you believe about them to be true, discard assumptions, take the emotional temperature of the other person, and build genuine rapport and trust.

Answer Why Questions – A willingness to answer why questions shows your innate sense of curiosity, that you embrace listening, that you don’t respond reflexively, that there is no judgment, and you’re open to testing your thoughts and assumptions. Being open to explaining why means that you are willing to share the Why you believe the way you do, and encourages others to do likewise. Why in action spurs the creative thinking that leads to novel ideas, new directions, and keeps things rooted and connected to more than just what serves the immediate need.

Why is the crux of what guides our lives, and it delineates who we are from each other. It shapes the clarity of our mindset and is the powerbase from which we build the impact and inspiration needed to call others to action and live to the utmost of their potential. Why may just be three letters, but its power to unite people on a common journey or to do the unimaginable for the mutual benefit of all is not to be underestimated.

My Why is to help others (including myself) make a difference, no matter how minor it might seem, and to fill their heart and mind with a sense of gratitude and their life with an enduring purpose.

I’d love to know your Why. Please share it with me in the comments below.

 

Give It To Me Straight: Getting People To Tell You The Truth

Feb 01
2017

As a leader, each and every day you’re besieged with irreconcilable demands from those you work with and for. And although you have sway over the direction of your business, you rarely have access to the much-needed objective and ongoing feedback about your ideas, plans, and performance. Perhaps you’re not that worried about it, but here is why you should be.

Failing to seek out and encourage those you lead to share the unvarnished truth and actionable feedback about how best you can boost your performance and lead better can have dire consequences for you and your long-term success.

The longer you delay asking, the less likely it will be that you’ll get the type of candid perspective and opinion you need to keep you from making critical errors in judgment. You can’t become an effective leader by trial and error, but conversely, you certainly can become a terrible one.

So why are so many leaders afraid to ask those they lead to give it to them straight?

The answer is really two‐fold. As a leader they haven’t learned how to or don’t want to open themselves up to being vulnerable in this way with their team. They haven’t invested in building the trust that encourages people around them to tell them the truth without fearing negative repercussions—especially when what is being said will contradict them or be negative about their performance as a leader.  Realizing your success as a leader goes through and depends on those who work for you is the first step in getting those you lead to tell you what you might not want to hear.

Here’s How You Make Give It To Me Straight The Rule Of The Day

Make sure you’re the one who shakes up the status quo and takes the active role in asking for feedback about how you’re doing on a recurring basis. Follow these simple guidelines:

  • Call Out The Fear – Recognize there is a degree of fear and risk when someone is willing to be candid with you. As the leader, it is your obligation to take the first step toward making the situation a relaxed one for the other person. Enable them to speak openly by calling out the fear and acknowledging it. Let them know that you appreciate and understand that it is difficult to share feedback with a boss—especially if it is negative in nature. Tell them you want to know no matter what because if you don’t have a realistic picture of what you’re doing well and not doing well, then you don’t improve as a leader.
  • Make It A No Repercussion Zone – Make it clear there are never any repercussions for sharing feedback that helps learning or growth, even if it is different than what you think or believe. Be consistent and apply this beyond these feedback conversations to meetings and all matters.
  • Have A Go-To Question – Have a go-to question that you can easily call upon to break the ice and start the conversation flowing like, “What is it that I can do to become a more effective leader for our team?”
  • Speak To More Than One Person – Make sure you ask more than one person the same question separately and outside of a formal conversation. Reiterate that you want them to give it to you straight. You don’t have to ask everyone every time—just make sure that you reach out to everyone over the course of a few months.
  • Read Between The Lines – Listen for what is being said and perhaps not being said. Follow up and get clear by asking for specifics and asking for examples and use open ended questions to solicit more input.
  • Get A Concrete Step You Can Take And Implement – Ask them for one future-focused suggestion that if you implemented today would improve your performance.
  • Share What You’re Going To Do – Look for areas in which to agree, and say so when you find them. Let them know what you’ve chosen from what they said to implement.
  • Reward The Sharing – With “thank you”—as a leader, remember that any time someone shares his or her insight with you it is a gift.
  • Make Asking For Feedback Your MO – Ask for their input often and in all things that impact the work and performance of the team. Especially follow up on how you’re doing with the suggestions you implemented from your conversation with them. It doesn’t just have to be in formal ways. Ask for quick feedback on ideas also. The key here is consistency.

The people who work for us shouldn’t be the only ones desperately seeking more frequent and actionable feedback—as their leader, you should shake up the dynamic and be the first one to ask for future-focused suggestions, opinions, and perspectives on everything ranging from business matters to how you can boost your performance as their leader.

Let me know how you’re planning to ask those you lead how you’re doing.

 

The Choice Is Yours, And It’s Simple: You Need Great People Skills

Jan 17
2017

A take-no-prisoners brashness with respect to people when it comes to leadership doesn’t go as far as it used to—you know this as a leader as well as I do, and if you don’t then you really need to read this post.

As a leader, you’ve focused on unabashedly pursuing the technical skills that sustain the setting of a vision, creating the strategy, and driving bottom-line results. However, you know that a myopic focus on the technical aspects of leadership and being high maintenance isn’t going to be enough to keep from being replaced, let alone excel, in today’s highly competitive and ever-shifting business world.

As a leader, you have to be unswerving in your pursuit of what distinguishes you from the rest of the pack.

Distinguishing yourself from the pack isn’t something that you can do on your own as a leader—success goes through the people that you’re interdependent with and work for. And the next part is what is really scary for you—you know that working with people can be really difficult and challenging. Sadly, many talented and industrious leaders have learned the hard way that they are expendable when they become high maintenance and toxic. No longer does high performing results producing leadership overshadow and excuse a gap in your people skills.

Leaders need to heed the wake up call, and—don’t shoot me for saying this—learn what they resent having to learn. But without learning it they won’t succeed – the people skills that will make possible their ability to excel as a leader.

As the founder of an executive coaching firm, I’m often asked, “Why is it that some of the most intelligent, creative, and trailblazing leaders never add acquiring mind-blowing people skills to their leadership development itinerary?”

The answer is straightforward: they’re far more adept at leveraging all the tangible aspects of running their businesses and have developed a shortsightedness when it comes to doing something they’re less skilled at: the difficult and challenging work of having to learn great people skills. And if you don’t believe me, just ask their families.

I’d like to share with you some surefire steps that will help you know if you’re ready to change, and then how to go about it.

Go From Thinking You Might To Knowing You Will

Having standout people skills seems like something leaders should have had on their leadership itinerary to develop early on, but unfortunately many don’t. Being aware of the need to make a change and actually being ready for change are two completely different things. Taking this journey begins when you first start contemplating doing so, and it ends when you discover what you’ll lose if you don’t make the change. If you have any question about your people skills and where they need to be, start asking yourself some hard questions like these: What’s at risk if you don’t get better? What has not being better already cost you, and what has been standing in your way? Ask the people around you what you can do better with respect to how you interact with them. I’m sure your colleagues, employees, and your family will appreciate having the opportunity to share their thoughts with you.

Know What It Will Take To Close The Gap

Now that you’ve gotten some insight into the skills you need to work on, you have to grab the bull by the horns and make a candid appraisal of where your people skills (EQ) stand today. There are various self-assessments, tools, and books that can support and guide you through the process of taking stock of your EQ skills. As the gaps emerge, you’ll learn exactly what you need to do and how much work it is going to take to get you where you need to be. Understanding what you value, how you’re wired, and how you apply what you know is vital to figuring out how to integrate your people skills and technical skills into your leadership operating system. When you have all the information you need, it’s time to turn thought into action. You can create checklists with specific behaviors based on the skills you need to acquire and invite trusted friends, mentors, colleagues, and employees into the process first by sharing the skills that you want to acquire and then by asking them for suggestions on how to go about doing it. These people will be able to further support you if you ask them to share in-the-moment feedback about how you’re doing against what you said you wanted to do, and offer actionable suggestions for improving that will make possible your taking a step closer and closing the gap.

If You Want To Fast-Track The Process, Hire An Executive Coach

Starting this process on your own isn’t out of the question. However, letting go of and replacing the behaviors that are holding you back, figuring out what works best for you, and getting exceptional results can be challenging to accomplish alone. Having someone in your corner—a strategic partner and sounding board—makes it easier and faster. Choosing to work with an executive coach gives you someone working side by side with you whose sole focus is you and what you need to do to improve your skills. Be mindful, however, that coaching isn’t a magic bullet or a short cut. It won’t absolve you of doing the difficult stuff that it takes to get better with your people skills. But it will certainly help fast-track the process as you work with someone whose expertise and guidance you can leverage so that you stop spinning your wheels and get really focused on what behaviors you need to target, learn, and stop that will have the most impact and bring about your success.

As you can see, it doesn’t require drastic measures to affect a change—all it takes are readiness, commitment, self-control, and following through on your part. Are you willing to add getting better at your people skills to your leadership development itinerary? I can assure you that making this type of investment in yourself will pay dividends well beyond the office.