Today’s audio is 19:04 minutes long.
True confession. Some years ago I was tempted to attend (perhaps to join regularly) an improv MeetUp. It’s one of those “you’d better do it now” kind of things. But I didn’t. And the moment passed.
No, I wasn’t interested in being a comedian. I was interested in it from a public speaking and a communication perspective. Who knows? One of these days…
At the time I remember reading about how improv skills focus on a “Yes…and” instead of what most people do (and say), “No…but.” That struck me and stuck with me.
The whole improv process hinges on one actor saying something in response to a prior comment. The objective is to keep the dialogue going as long as possible. “Yes, and…” is a phrase that keeps it going. “No, but…” slows it down or brings it to a stop.
Suddenly, it seemed everywhere I turned I could hear people say, “No…but…” It’s like when you buy a new car and only then do you notice how many other people are driving a car identical to yours. I was aware of these phrases now and I could hear them everywhere I went.
Scarcity vs. Abundance
I’m aware of this whole abundance versus scarcity argument. Lots of folks who make their living exclusively online preach the gospel of abundance because it sells, and it has big appeal in social media. It’s ironic to me that these same people will also use scarcity in their marketing though. “Buy my stuff in the next 12 hours and beat the price increase.” Or, “I’m only selling 200 at this price.”
Scarcity is what drives many people. Arguably, most people. We compete and battle each other because of it. It’s that emotion of jealousy and not feeling good for somebody because they’ve got something we want. It’s that drive to best the next guy. It compels us to hit the BUY button when we really want something and we think we might miss out.
I’m not too sure about it myself because after all, most everything is scarce. When we’re talking about business and customers, there’s not an endless supply necessarily. I never bought into the notion that when competition came to town it would be “good for everybody.” Then there’s that famous saying, “All boats rise with the tide.” Well, I personally know that some boats hit the rocks no matter what the tide is doing.
Abundance is the belief that there are no limits or limitations. Admittedly, the abundance mindset is more attractive. We all enjoy thinking that anything is possible and that everything is available to everybody.
Honestly, I’m stuck somewhere in between. I’m not hardcore one way or the other even though I would consider myself extremely competitive. I don’t think everything is possible. And I don’t think anybody can be anything they want to be. Sue me. I just don’t buy it. I agree with Dirty Harry who said, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” The truth is, we all have limitations. I know I do.
But this isn’t about me. It’s about you. I’m going to ask you to embrace the notion of more abundance, but let’s focus that abundant thinking in a specific area of your life – making professional improvements that can impact your career and your personal life. I call it “possibility thinking.” I’m asking you to consider what’s possible. I’m asking you to say, “Yes, and…” instead of “No, but…”
Today, it’s about getting what you want. Maybe more importantly, to get what you need. For improvement. It’s not about being anything you want to be, but it is about being the BEST version of you that you can be. I think that’s a tall enough order myself without us chasing some fanciful fictitious ideal that will never happen.
Once again, I want to provoke thought because I know your actions are going to be driven by what you think about – and how you think. Today’s session is no different.
You may think it’s odd to be diving into this kind of subject just now, but I’ll tell you why I waited ’til now to hit you with this. We’ve spent some time together. We’re a few months into the process. Topics like this demand a bit of a deeper connection I think. A connection that takes a bit of time. These aren’t ideally the first topics worth diving into early on.
“I’m So Miserable…”
Do you say that? If only to yourself?
Sadly, some people live their lives feeling miserable.
It’s one thing to be unhappy every now and again, but misery? Well, that’s a depth of unhappiness that I wouldn’t wish on anybody, especially you!
That improv stuff is relevant because at the heart of the misery that I encounter is the phrase, “No, but…”
Too many leaders can’t see past the current problems to improved solutions. You need to see past the present distress (however heavy or light it may be). There is light at the end of most every business or organizational tunnel. Part of my work is to concentrate on that light and direct you toward it. [Insert your favorite “go into the light” joke here!]
The truth is, if you’re constantly miserable then something is wrong. It could be one thing or it could be any combination of things.
- You’re doing the wrong thing
- You’re doing it in the wrong place
- You’re doing it at the wrong time
- You’re doing it with or for the wrong people
- You’re doing it with or for people who expect the wrong thing
These can tough things, especially for leaders. Leaders have experienced success. That’s why they’re leaders.
Success can ruin people.
It can ruin people who are stuck in a place they’d rather not be.
It can ruin people who are feeling more important than all the rest of us.
Success can be a rut just as easily as failure.
How can a leader be stuck in success? It’s easy and you may be feeling it yourself. It happens when a leader is stuck doing work they hate, for people they don’t enjoy…but the money is too good. Or the prestige is too high. Nothing enslaves us quite like success.
Consider a fictional story – a story that is a composite of some situations I’ve encountered through the years.
The CEO has a $15 million a year business. His personal income hasn’t been south of $1.5M in more than a decade. He drives the latest 7 series BMW, never hanging onto a car for more than a year. He’s got an imported AMG that he’s kept for a few years, but all other cars come and go. A couple of Harleys are in his four car garage, too. By all outward appearances, he’s in hog heaven (Harley pun intended).
He hates his business and his employees. He’s constantly frustrated by people who let him down. Nothing ever suits him. His micro-manages everything. EVERYTHING.
His ego has told him he’s all that and then some because the business has experienced wild growth since he started it. It’s all his doing. He never credits anybody with contributing anything to his enterprise.
He can’t figure out why he’s so miserable. If only people would live up to his expectations, his world would be vastly improved. It’s just never happened and he’s confident it never will.
He’s right. It won’t. Because his expectations are grossly out of whack. His self-worth is grossly inflated. He’s an autocrat who is the center of this universe where he’s the king and we’re all servants.
He’s doing the wrong things. He’s expecting the wrong things.
He’s miserable even though he’s rich. The financial rewards didn’t outweigh his need to have everything in his life exactly how he expected, when he expected it. But his success has him trapped. And his hard head has him stuck refusing to change. So the money keeps rolling along with his frustrations and misery.
As Dr. Phil would say, “It’s working for him or he’d change.” If his income took a hit he’d be open to change, but until then it’s unlikely.
How do you get out of your own way?
How can you become a convert to “Yes, and…” and leave “No, but…” in the dust?
It starts in your head. It starts with how you think and what you think. Let me give you just a few quick things to dwell on and consider as you make up your own mind about how this all applies to you.
1. “No, but” is the voice of the contrarian. Leaders are prone to disagree with others because of their authority and leadership position. Success spoils people. Don’t fall into the trap of believing you’re the smartest person in every room you enter. If that’s the case, then you’re walking into way too many stupid rooms.
2. “Yes, and” is the voice of a person open to accept new information, new ideas and embrace growth. Leaders who can incorporate this more and more into their thinking can find new levels of personal and professional accomplishment. They can also enjoy a much higher level of fulfillment and contentment.
3. It’s not just about making more money (or fill in the blank of your organization’s goal). The mission must be bigger. As the leader, you can’t rally the troops around making you more money, or making your company more money. My fictional owner couldn’t get the troops excited about helping him buy a new car every year while they continued to drive cars that were 6 years old and falling apart. You need a bigger mission! What is yours?
4. What makes a sustainable business or organization? A big part of my work in for-profit businesses is to help build a business that is sustainable and highly relevant. That means they’ve got to be profitable and important to the market. It’s true of every organization, for-profit or not. You’ve got to be able to continue to get the resources you need and you must be vital to the people you serve. Lose either one of those and you’re out of business. You need 3 ingredients to be and remain sustainable and highly relevant: values, culture and mission. Values are your principles and core beliefs. Culture is how you manifest those. Mission answers the biggest question of them all, “Why?”
5. Force yourself. None of us want to be forced into things we don’t want to do, but sometimes what’s best for us is the very thing we resist. When my children were small, they didn’t enjoy going to the doctor. They certainly didn’t enjoy distasteful medicine or a shot, but they needed it. As adults, we can impose our will on our small children and do what’s best for them. Now that we’re adults who can force you do something? The police, the IRS, the courts…we don’t associate the word “nice” with those things. But there’s a force that’s important to your growth. It’s the force you impose on yourself. If you want to improve, you’ve got to force yourself to think in new ways and you have to force yourself to do things differently. Force yourself to be open to the possibility that things don’t have to remain as they always have. Force yourself to embrace the notion that misery doesn’t have to be your lot in life.
6. Say “Yes, and” when it comes to those impulses you have to do things that historically have been uncomfortable. I’ll give you a good illustration – because it speaks to something I’ve already talked with you about. Celebrating wins and bragging on people is a universally hard thing for too many leaders. I constantly hear leaders confess that it crossed their mind to do it, but the moment passed without them acting on it. Apply that to all the things in your life that you would do, but you talk yourself out of it. Or you delay just long enough that the moment passes. I remember being a young teenager sitting around with a buddy and thinking, “Let’s call (insert name of some pretty girl).” We could talk ourselves out of it in no time! What if we would actually make the call? Well, one day I did make the call…and it went great (much to the chagrin of my buddy who sat there in my bedroom astonished that I had actually dialed her number). Don’t ignore those moments – those impulses you have to do the right thing.
By now you may have encountered “the wall.” It’s that place we all hit when we come face-to-face with some hard truths. We’ve all been there.
We either react by shutting down, refusing to accept what we’re facing – OR we embrace it, even if we’re unhappy about it, and we distill it until we find a way to take advantage of it somehow. Either way, we make a choice.
The leaders who excel find a way to push past their personal reservations, or long held delusions. They go head on into new territory to see if they can find new levels of performance. It’s called growth and improvement. It’s called adapting and only the extraordinary leaders are able to face change by making changes in their own lives so they can be better suited for the present…and the future.
I want you to be extraordinary. I want you to be remarkable. All I ask is that you consider what’s possible.