When a business owner tells me, “Sometimes, I speak from my heart,” then my radar sounds a warning. Well, not a warning as much as an alert. It gets my attention.
You can’t separate your head from your heart so stop all this foolishness of something either being head or heart. It’s not an either/or proposition. It’s always an AND deal. What are you, a Vulcan? Nope. You’re human.
In spite of her resources she needed to find her way back to life without her beloved husband. She not only needed to speak from her heart, but she needed to hear from her heart. Facebook isn’t such a small business, but my work focuses on small business (it’s what I love). Proof I suppose that the heart isn’t just the engine behind small business owner success, but ALL business owner success.
Today’s video is just 10 minutes long and I hope it inspires you to find your way through whatever challenges and opportunities you’ve got. Live long and proper!
When I read Dustin McKissen’s article on Inc. I was already filled with a fistful of stories of top executives and business owners. Dustin’s article, entitled “3 Things I Did to Come Back from Career Failure” resonated with me because I knew how true it was. Not because I know Dustin personally, although he’s totally the kind of person I’d love to get to know. No, it was because there’s just so much fraud among business people, especially leaders. Even this morning I noticed a friend, Marcus “The Sales Lion” Sheridan posted a short video about comparison-itis and trying to find balance.
Conversely, it seems easier to find content online that extols the virtues of hustle, outworking others and making choices to fuel your career or business. Success evangelists like Gary Vaynerchuk, Grant Cardone and others (whose work I respect) preach loudly sermons of 16-18 hour workdays, hitting the ground at 5am, putting in the work, giving up things so you can devote more time to the hustle of your business. Gary at least is very clear that it’s how he’s choosing to live. Sure, his sermons insinuate that it’s the way to go, but he says you should make your own choices. I know it’s hard for some of his disciples to make their own choices though because they so desperately believe and follow his advice. I don’t blame him for that. It’s just these two fundamental differences in how people approach life. Nobody doubts where Gary is placing his bet. All his chips are in the middle of the table toward buying the New York Jets one day by accumulating as much wealth as possible because that’s what it’s going to take to buy the Jets. Entry into the NFL ain’t cheap. Just this week Gary announced the start of VaynerSports, a new sports agency collaboration.
I’m not here telling you what to do. Nor am I going to judge whichever side of this debate you embrace. Roll the way you want to roll. There are prices to be paid for either choice. The work/life balance crowd perhaps could find greater financial success and business accomplishment if they spent additional hours at work. The spend-all-my-time-working crowd perhaps would find greater family/relationship success if they spent less time at work. Trade off’s abound.
CEO’s and business owners aren’t robots. Yet.
They’re people with a past. And with hopes of a better future. Sounds a lot like everybody else, right? That’s because they’re not different. Not really.
They had parents who may have failed miserably, or who may have succeeded wildly. They did well in school. Or they failed. They have advanced degrees. Or no degrees. They’re extroverted. Or terribly introverted. They drive fancy foreign exotic cars. Or they don’t even own a car. They wear $3000 custom made suits. Or they wear jeans and t-shirts. They’re articulate, able to easily express their thoughts and feelings. Or they stumble, battling to express one easily understood idea. Some are engineers. Others are artists. Some show off the money they make. Others appear to be penniless.
Welcome to the world of absolutes. This much is absolutely true – 100% of the time. There are no absolutes. For every CEO or business owner who did it one way, there are dozens of others who didn’t do it that way at all. Time and chance happens to all of us. For good. Or bad.
There’s another absolute — everybody hurts, sometimes. Cue the REM hit song. Pain is universal. Money won’t cure it. Business success won’t remedy it. Not in terms of getting rid of pain completely or preventing it. Life is a grind no matter if you’re failing or succeeding. And sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Some months ago I remarked to a friend that success can sometimes feel like failing. I’m sure the reverse is also true sometimes.
Many things aren’t universal – like how you choose to approach business. But pain is very universal. We do all hurt. Sometimes.
During a regularly scheduled business meeting with the leaders of the organization, the CEO notices one of the VP’s isn’t himself. It’s Thursday afternoon. Just after lunch. The group is normally very business-like, but fun loving. That’s how the owner (who is also the CEO) operates. He takes business seriously. Himself, less so. It’s a culture he fosters, especially among his inner circle – these 3 people seated at the table with him.
Rick, the VP of Technology, joined the team 3 years ago because it more ideally suited his personality. He often jokes with people that he’s a “geek with a personality.” Rick is the kind of perceptive technology guy most CEO’s would love to have. He’s not so in love with the technology as he is the positive impact it can have on the company. The CEO hired him largely because during the interview process Rick impressed him with a practical approach to incorporating and integrating technology…coupled with his ability to relate to and understand the perspective of non-technical people. Rick has been a perfect fit for the role here.
All week the CEO has noticed Rick is quieter than normal. Much more so. He wrote it off as a pre-occupation with a new project management software integration that’s scheduled to go live late next week. The project is going well, but the CEO knows Rick is fanatical about details and obsesses about having all his ducks in a row. It’s just another reason why the organization loves having Rick.
The meeting opens up with the CEO going around the room asking everybody to say one thing they’re thankful for. Lots of leaders begin meetings with some sort of “check in.” This leader hopes to focus his small group of leaders on something he values – gratitude. He begins with his own story. “I’m thankful for the contract we got yesterday. I know you’ve all worked hard to land that deal and it’s going to really open up some opportunities we’ve been looking for.” He turns toward the VP of Sales who talks about being thankful for his wife of 8 years. Friday night (tomorrow night), they’ll be celebrating by attending a concert of one of her favorite bands, Coldplay. The group teases him kindly about going to a Coldplay concert. Up next? Rick.
Rick’s expression quickly grows serious after the chuckles subside. He looks as though he’s about to cry. The room grows tense and anxious. Rick mutters, “I’m sorry.”
The CEO takes the reins. These guys have been together as a group for at least 3 years. Rick is the newest member. The others have been together almost twice that long. The door to this meeting is closed. This is a private setting of four men who’ve been leading this company in strong double-digit growth since things started. Fifty percent annual growth is more common than not. These are exciting times, driven by some pretty exciting people. The CEO isn’t about to let this tension get the best of them.
“Rick, you’re among friends. We’re here for you,” says the CEO.
Rick is struggling to gain his composure. Speech isn’t easy. Not right now. “Take your time,” encourages the CEO.
“I’m sorry, guys,” replies Rick.
The CEO, sensing something major is happening with Rick, decides to disrupt the meeting’s set agenda. “Gentlemen, we’re in this together. Today’s meeting agenda is now changed. We’re going to conduct this meeting for ourselves. There’s nothing on our agenda that can’t be pushed off for another day. But this – this right here – this pain deserves our best efforts. Let me tell you something else I’m thankful for — each of you. Rick, tell us whatever you feel comfortable telling us. We’re here to help.”
Rick swallows, tears are now coming more freely. “My wife left me,” confesses Rick. The VP of Sales slumps his shoulders almost immediately, as if to be guilty for celebrating his 8th wedding anniversary. Rick has been married longer – 14 years, or close to it. That’s all Rick can say before almost falling to pieces.
The CEO is a toucher. I can relate because so am I. He touches people on the shoulder at appropriate times. He’ll even hug somebody if the occasion calls for it. Sensing this is one of those times, he gets up, walks over to Rick, leans down and puts his arm around him. In a scene you just won’t see in normal business scenarios, the CEO tells Rick that he loves him.
Wait a minute, what?
“Rick, I love you man. We all love you,” says the CEO.
It takes a few minutes, but Rick begins to grow comfortable and he tells them of his wife’s decision. The details don’t matter as much as their net impact. It had happened Sunday night. Here we are on a Thursday, early afternoon. Rick has lived with this for almost 4 days, suffering in silence. And now, it’s all coming out. Rick is feeling horrible, he says, for bringing this problem to work.
That sparks the discussion of pain having no respect for where you are, or what your role is. Or how much money you make. Or what corporate title you wear, if you wear one at all. Or the make/model of car you drive. Or the square footage of your house. No, pain doesn’t care about any of those things. Pain just is.
Nobody on this management team would dare argue that personal pain impacts the workplace. Or that workplace pain often travels home. Some are pompous enough – and dishonest enough – to claim perfect skills in compartmentalizing pain. Sorry, I don’t buy it.
Pain hurts and it doesn’t care where you are what else you’ve got going on. Have you ever had a headache? I get them every now and again. When your head hurts it’s impossible to set it aside. It permeates everything you do. Or everything you attempt to do. Reading isn’t going to happen. Concentration is impossible, unless you include concentrating on how badly your head hurts. You don’t feel like doing much of anything…and unless you’ve got good meds to help you get over it, laying down to sleep it off is also impossible. It’s the biggest elephant in the room no matter what you’ve got planned. No matter what deadlines are staring you down. Your headache doesn’t care about any of that.
CEO’s and business owners can experience levels of pain unique to their role. They have the authority to make decisions that have the biggest impact on their companies. Risks are higher. Consequences potentially more powerful. Rewards are also higher. Well, their potential is. The higher up the ladder you go, the more powerful the impact of the decisions made at that level. Up goes the pain potential, too.
What do you do with your pain?
Rick was trying hard to deal with it alone. He held it together pretty well – albeit quietly – until the staff meeting, where a co-worker unsuspectedly mentioned his own wedding anniversary. That’s all she wrote. Rick lost it. All the guys understood why, too. Maybe it needed to happen as it did. Maybe it couldn’t have happened any other way. A person’s personality and company culture have quite a role to play.
Thinking about the CEO though and how often I’ve encountered a top level leader who was enduring something painful – whether personal or work related – I was made to realize how valuable it is to have an atmosphere and culture where he or she can shell things down. And feel safe. Secure. Knowing that the tears won’t diminish how others see them. Knowing the only judgments being made are, “How can we help?”
How can Rick quantify the price or the benefit of his team members as they rally to support him during what he admits is the most painful experience of his entire life? He can’t. It’s priceless. It’s value no amount of money can buy. These are relationship with people, in a culture that is extraordinary. Rick knows it.
Almost daily I tell a CEO or business owner that my role is to do for them what nobody else can – to help deal with, and overcome or endure their pain. Yes, it’s about building stronger, more profitable businesses and organizations. However, sometimes our pain has nothing to do with business yet it has the potential to negatively impact our business. Where will YOU go to have those conversations and to get some perspectives to help you manage them better? Who will you turn to, not to complain and moan, but to help you take meaningful actions to fix it and get past it? Who can you lean on and not make it a burden they’ve no business bearing? Where can you go where you’re completely safe and secure knowing that there’ll be no repercussion for you or others by letting your hair down?
You deserve to find a place where you can better manage your own pain. We both know you’ve got plenty of it. It goes with the turf, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Truth is, if you keep doing that it’ll take a heavy toll on your life professionally and personally. The cost is too high. And the remedy is too available.
In a world focused on vitamins, I’m working very hard to be an aspirin.
I don’t have enough time, bandwidth or storage to tell you about all the mistakes I’ve made so I’ll just focus today on a BIG mistake I’ve made. I’m sharing this one because I think it’s probably one you’ve made, too. Maybe you’re still making it. Today’s show has just one objective – to help you learn and think by showing you that you’re not alone, even though many days you feel alone.
First, let me give you some back story. I started selling hi-fi gear when I was just a kid in high school. I loved music and the gear that would play my records. Yep, I’m old. You may not remember vinyl records. Or the family sitting down to supper every evening. Or the TV show Bonanza or The Andy Griffith Show. Or when ZZ Top’s first record came out. Well, I’m old enough to remember all of that.
Little did I know my first job would morph into launching me into a lifelong career in the consumer electronics business. Such is life. Like many of you, I stumbled into a career where I was blessed to be given the helm of a multi-million dollar operation by the time I was in my mid-20’s. I’ve spent most of my adult life leading and building organizations. My education mostly happened in the real world of operating a business, even though I did attend journalism school at LSU. I’m an operator. Proudly.
Part of being an operator was founded in selling because my very first job was in sales. I cared about people. I enjoyed talking with people. Early on, I was mostly interested in finding out what their favorite music was and how I could hook them up with a killer stereo to play their favorite records. That’s how it started and honestly, not much has changed. I still enjoy finding out what people get stoked about — and what problems they’ve got that I may be able to help with.
For the past 7 years I’ve been mostly coaching and consulting with business owners or top executives. I’ve reinvented myself more times than I can count, but that partly goes with the turf of growing older. The hippies of the 60’s were just slightly before my time, but I remember being a grade school kid during that time. “Finding yourself” was a mantra of that era. I’d like to tell you that I found myself very early on, and in a sense I suppose I did. But mostly, it’s been a lifelong journey of finding myself only to discover I’m not who or what I thought I was, or that I want to head in a different direction.
During my formative years of running businesses we didn’t use (and had never heard) the word PIVOT. We grew up learning to fix our problems by learning from our mistakes. When somebody gave it a cool name, PIVOTING, I was rather jealous that we didn’t have that term during the early years of my career. I have to tell you though — the term might let some people off the hook in facing their failure. For example, people often use failure as a badge of honor. It’s as though they’ve mistaken failure being the point of trying. I’m not in favor of putting so much pressure on success that we refuse to try, but nor am I a fan of not putting enough pressure on it to make our effort count.
That brings me to something that we all face and something that in recent months has too often put me in a funk.
You’ve heard the adage that fear stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. That resonates with all of us. Our fear is real.
Google “fear” and you’ll find over 523 million results in less than half a second. Half a billion search results for one of the most fatal four letter words in the English language.
Let me use a word that’s better, at least in describing what I often feel. That’s right, I said OFTEN.
Fear is defined like this.
an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat
Here’s the definition of anxiety.
a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome
In case you were wondering, Google the term “anxiety” and you only get 167 million search results. Not nearly as many as fear.
Do those definitions help you understand the difference between fear and anxiety. Probably not very well. Thanks to the folks over at GoZen.com, an organization dedicated to the relief of childhood anxiety, and a video they produced…we can get a better grip on the difference between the two. It’ll only take 90 seconds for you to learn it.
Fear is from immediate danger. Anxiety is from our thoughts. BIG difference, right?
That’s also my BIG mistake — letting my anxiety completely, and utterly trip me up.
I want you to learn from my BIG mistake, even if you’re one of those special (VERY special) fearless people. Boy, do I envy you.
As a lifelong operator I’m used to problem solving. Years in the luxury retailing business – one of the fastest moving industries on the planet where profits are razor thin and competition is around every corner – there’s little time to strategize and formulate a plan that takes weeks or months to execute. There’s just no time. You have to have a gunfighter’s mentality and a gunfighter’s skill. Pull your weapon faster than the other guy, fire it faster than him and hit the target. If you miss, forget a pivot. Sometimes your miss can be deadly and set you back months, if not years. That margin for error adds to the pressure of making sure your fast action is as on point as it can be. And I loved it.
Even my wife called me a stress junkie – for that kind of stress. The stress of competing and being fast drove me for over 4 decades. There was only one word for it, exhilarating. It was like oxygen for me.
Back in 2009 I stepped away from the C-suite to serve other CEOs and top executives. At first, with consulting. Roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, do the work kind of stuff. I enjoyed the work, but was more often than not frustrated by a business owner or CEO who wanted one or more of the trifectas of business building: get new customers, serve existing customers better and no go crazy in the process. But I had a problem. I was – and always have been – fanatical about customer experience. Making customers happy wasn’t negotiable for me. Ever. I wanted customers to be dazzled. Sometimes I found myself doing work for a CEO or business owner who wasn’t so passionate about it. Few things in my career frustrated me like getting in my car and driving home from a client engagement knowing they had very unhappy customers and they just didn’t much care.
So I walked away from it. Consulting was something I was good at, but I found it too difficult walk away with no ability to affect the outcome. The execution part was missing. That was almost 3 years ago.
Say hello to what most call coaching — I just started by calling it serving because that’s what it is.
Now I was onto something. I wasn’t bringing the answers. Mostly I was bringing the questions, something I was always good at. Since I was in my 20’s organizations I’ve led have heard me preach, “The quality of our questions determines the quality of our business.” I preached it because it was true. It still is.
The better our questions, the better opportunities we have to build a great business. And deliver great experiences to our customers.
So it seemed fitting to take that experience in running businesses and in asking great questions to serve other CEOs, business owners and top executives. I’d connect with one leader who would need and want my help. That would lead to another. I wasn’t a marketing genius by a long shot, but I was focused on the work – the service to help people grow and to help them grow their business. Unlike some people in this field, I wasn’t driven to become a fixture. Repeatedly I told clients that their success was my success. I had a vested interest in helping them achieve more. Sometimes that meant fixing a problem. Sometimes it meant seizing an opportunity. Sometimes it was purely work related. Sometimes it wasn’t – it was very personal. It didn’t matter. I was a resource with a single aim of helping this leader navigate through whatever water they were traveling through at the time. There were times it was merely months. Other times it was years. The connections I forged were real and deep because it’s the only way I know to roll. I knew “coaches” who were perfectly comfortable with the one and done approach, but I wasn’t and I’ve never done it.
I’ve tried a few things – different approaches – to elevate my own performance. It’s rarely comfortable, but I’ve learned that dread and long-lasting fear is no way to roll. So some years ago when I began to morph my practice into a combination of coaching and consulting I wasn’t sure how thing might work out. I had a vision and a goal. The trick was to make it come true.
It started as fear, but that very quickly gave way to anxiety as I realized nothing bad was going to happen to me. There was no threat.
What’s the worst thing that can happen?
I’m a guy who has always asked and answered that question. Just ask my kids. I taught them to ask it, and answer it. I learned as a kid that lots of people ask it, but I never found many people courageous enough to answer it. I was always willing to answer it. So that’s what I did. I began to answer the question. And the answers were laughable. If I were to approach a CEO about the value – which I believe is extraordinarily high – of being coached and possibly joining a small, intimate group, what’s the worst thing that can happen? They could hang up on me. They could kick me out of their office. They could dog cuss me. Okay, truthfully, that first one is likely the WORST and most real one. Oh, man…what kind of a wuss am I? Somebody hangs up on you and it breaks you, I thought.
There it was. The problem behind it all. My thoughts.
I was letting my thoughts race out of control. I was looking into some fictitious future where terrible things would befall me simply because I was attempting to help people see and better understand an opportunity that I was never given when I was running companies. What kind of a demon, villain must I be?
I wasn’t trying to sell anybody anything. Fact is, what I offer isn’t for everybody even though every top leader can benefit from it. Those who don’t see it aren’t worth my time to try to convince them (and I don’t).
I wasn’t trying to convince people of anything. People either want the value, or they don’t.
I wasn’t trying to persuade people to like me. People either resonate with me, or they don’t.
Think about your own anxiety because I want you to learn from my mistake. I sat down the other day and hit record on my iTalk app (it’s by Griffin and it’s a terrific audio recording app on my iPhone). It’s $1.99 and well worth it.
Here’s what I did – and I want this to help you.
I asked myself questions. I decided to do for myself what I do for clients all the time. Sit down with myself and ask questions designed to help me gain clarity and resolve. Questioned aimed at getting to the crux of the matter. If you’ve never experienced that, but you’d like to – I’m going to share with you a kinda, sorta secret page where I sometimes offer people a no cost, no obligation enrollment session. It’s a powerful taste of what it’s like to have somebody help without any agenda other than to help move you forward — click here.
I’m a smart guy. Why it had never dawned on me to ask myself these questions, or interview myself before — I don’t know. It just happened. I got the urge and notion to do it and hit record. The recording went for about 1 hour and 45 minutes. It was interrupted by some phone calls, but I picked back up after each interruption. I’ve listened to that recording at least three times now. It’s fascinating to hear how even the tone in my voice changes as I’m asking the questions to the person who is answering them. It’s all me. Just me.
I did it because over the past few months I’ve learned the power of stepping outside ourselves to examine our thoughts from a more objective place. All those little voices in your head will drive you nuts if you let them. Most of us never really deal with them. The common refrain is, “Be more confident.” Simple advice. Over simplified advice that doesn’t help the person struggling with confidence. Ditto for our head noise. “Don’t listen,” is bad advice. It doesn’t work. The more you try to quieten the voices the louder they begin to shout. I knew that didn’t work so I went looking for better answers.
I found them. First in some YouTube videos by Gary Van Warmerdam. I’d never heard of this guy. But I watched this video.
By the time I hit record to interview myself I had already identified 10 different characters who live inside my head. And I had learned what you may not yet know – that I’m brilliant (and so are you) in that I can hold multiple viewpoints and multiple opinions which often contradict each other, at the same time. For example, I’m so talented I can believe Conrad the Confident (he’s one of my voices) who tells me I’m experienced, capable, empathetic and good at what I do so there’s every reason to know I’ll succeed…and at the same time I can believe Phillip the Prophet who tells me “this will never work; you’re an idiot for even trying.”
How can Conrad and Phillip both be correct? They can’t. But that doesn’t stop me from believing both of them, at the same time. See, I told you I was brilliant?
Well, so are you. You have that same ability. It happens to you all the time just like it does me. You believe contradictory things about yourself all the time. Not because they’re true, but because you’re buying what they’re selling.
Now I’m a Christian. If you’re offended by that, then get over it. I make no apologies for it. And I’m an elder at a small congregation in Ft. Worth, an accomplishment I’m proud of (for myself and my family). It’s not a title. It’s a work. A service.
God is important. God is first. Because that’s the spot He demands.
As I’m interviewing myself I ask myself an important question, “Do you trust God?”
I answer that I do. Then I ask myself, “Then how do you resolve all this anxiety when Luke 12 and other Bible verses command Christians to not be anxious, but to trust in God?”
Right there I was thrown to the floor and put in a choke hold I couldn’t escape. It was a gotcha moment. I had to confess that I wasn’t trusting God as I should.
I saw my big mistake. Letting anxiety rule my life and cripple my efforts in being the Christian I should be, and in helping CEOs learn about an opportunity so valuable that it could change their lives for the better.
That’s it. No hard sell. No soft sell. Just an information exchange. Just two people sitting down face to face to have a conversation to examine whether they mutually want to proceed. Or not. And either way, it’s okay. Either way, God isn’t going to be pleased or displeased. What displeases God is my being anxious and not trusting Him. Shame on me.
After I stopped the recording I went to a quiet, dark spot, knelt down and prayed.
For weeks and months I’ve been riddled with some of the highest anxiety of my life. Putting pressure on myself and letting some others put pressure on me to make so many phone calls, contact so many people, do this, don’t do that, say this, don’t say that — and I’ve come to conclude I’ve made a terrible mistake. One of the BIGGEST mistakes of my life in recent years.
I’ve let myself fall prey to my own anxieties. I’ve forgotten who I was and what I was. I’ve been listening to too many of the wrong voices and ignoring the right ones.
Is that YOU?
Have you got things all worked out in your head…and it doesn’t look very good?
How many characters are talking to you right now, telling you everything from “you can’t” to “yes you can?” I’ve identified 10 of my own and I’m betting there are more if I just look more closely.
How many obstacles are standing in your way to achieve what you most want for your career and your company?
Don’t be ashamed thinking CEOs and top leaders don’t experience these things. I’m 58. I’ve run many companies. I’ve led lots of people over the course of my life. I’ve been capable and successful. But here I am at this ripe old age battling things you’d have thought I might have long ago conquered.
Welcome to the human race.
I’m not sharing this for any reason other than to make you realize you’re not alone. We’re all in this together. Some of us are open and honest. Some of us are more willing than others to put ourselves out there. I’m hoping that through hearing of my struggles and my big mistake you’ll find some courage to help yourself and some willingness to be helped.
I thought many things mattered. Details. Strategies. Tactics. Fears. Anxieties. But I was wrong. They don’t matter.
At the end of my interview with myself I asked myself this question about my anxieties – hearing how wrong-headed and illogical they mostly are:
Can you open both hands and let them go?
I’ll end today’s show by asking you the same question. There you sit in your nice corner office. You’re the founder. The CEO. The top dog. Everybody is looking to you for the answers. Surrounded by smart people who are employees, direct reports, service providers, financial partners and all the rest of the cast who surround you. They’re all terrific and they serve you well. But they’re all beholden to you. Each of them want something from you — need something from you. A paycheck. Their career. A contract. An ongoing client relationship. Something. But deep inside your heart and in your head is the anxiety.
You believe certain things based on those thoughts. Those beliefs often limit you. But who can you talk to? Who can ask you the questions that desperately need to be answered? Who can help you open both your hands and let it go?
I answered out loud on my recording my answer to the question, “Can you open both hands and let them (my anxieties) go?” — “Yes, I can.”
That’s what I’m trying to do. And yes, trying is a good thing because I’m doing it, sometimes more successfully than at other times, but I’m going to succeed. I’m doing the work.
By the way, I’ve got an answer to that question of who can help you do the same thing.
“Good things come to those who wait.” Many of us have heard that phrase all our lives. It extols the value of patience, but it may also send a subliminal message that overvalues sitting still. And hoping something good comes our way.
Millions of people wake up every day hoping something good might happen to them today. Some estimates report that over 150 million Americans play the lottery every year. Millions of people go to Vegas and various other casinos around the country gambling in hopes of some payday. Games of chance provide unrealistic hope for too many Americans. It’s a high risk, low reward behavior…just like waiting for something good to happen.
Read Sir Ken Robinson’s books – The Element and Finding Your Element. What we create for ourselves is our own responsibility, says Sir Ken. He’s right, of course. And we know that even if we do sometimes whine and complain about our circumstances. We’re not born with a resume. We create one.
Thankfully, we can create a life and then we can re-create a different life. The message of the books is to find something you love and something you’re good at. Loving something isn’t enough. You need to be good at it if you’re going to really find your “element.”
Purpose. Meaning. Those are two words you hear quite a lot from Sir Ken Robinson.
Who Cares What You Think? How Do You Feel?
Brain power is great, but it’s not unique. Neither is data. Or information.
Perspective and context is important. So are feelings. Not emotions, necessarily, but feelings. Deep feelings. How do you feel about what you’re doing? Or what you need to do?
Don’t think about it. Not too much anyway. Just tap into your feelings. What you feel is necessary. Come on, you know. Deep down you really know. You don’t need me or anybody else to tell you.
Sunday afternoon my favorite hockey team, The Dallas Stars, played the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa. Jamie Benn is the Captain of the Dallas Stars. He’s a world-class left winger. Sunday his game sucked. He couldn’t do anything right. One the announcers described his game as being like a blind man, in a dark room, looking for a black hat that wasn’t there. That about summed it up. Later, the same announcer said, “He needs to get out of his own head. Too much focus on what’s going wrong. It just makes it worse.”
You’ve done that before. So have I. Welcome to the human race. A premier professional hockey who loves the game he’s played since he was very little finds himself struggling while in his element. Did Benn suddenly lose his skills? Did he forget how to skate well, or handle a puck? We can eliminate injury or sickness. At least this time. Neither of those is hampering him on Sunday. He’s just in a funk. A major league, professional grade mental funk.
Watching the game, none of us know what Benn is thinking during the game, but the look on his face reveals how he’s feeling. Bad. Frustrated. Struggling.
The announcer’s observation is likely accurate proof that even a top-notch professional athlete can suffer periods of self-doubt and too much focus on what’s going wrong. Jamie will get it turned around. He knows it. His fans know it. He has to do what you have to do when you’re in a funk. Start feeling better about himself, love the process and grab momentum. Can that happen in a flash? Sure. But it may take some time. It does for most of us because we’re not robots. We have to quieten down our head noise and that’s super tough. We have to get in better touch with the feelings that drive us. For Benn, that’s his love and joy for playing professional hockey. It’s the culmination of years of preparation, practice and hard work. He’s a Captain in the NHL. He’s got lots to feel good about…a whole lot less to feel badly about.
What do you love? What do you want?
Don’t sweat about how it’ll happen. Just go make it happen. You’ll figure it out as you go.
Sit back and think. Then think some more. Mind map it. Write out a strategy. Think about it some more. Edit it. Share it. Talk with others. Get lots of feedback. Then go back and re-craft it again. Tell me how you feel after you do all that.
I’ll tell you how you should feel. Like crap.
Others may tell you how wonderful it is that you’re being so prepared. Or how important it is for you to have these KPIs (key performance indicators). Blah, blah, blah. I don’t care about any of that. Neither should you.
Is IT happening or not? If it’s not happening, then what are you going to do about it? Wait and see how things work out?
That’s a stupid tactic. And it’s too slow.
Instead, grab it. You know how to do that. Grab it anywhere you can. When you’re trying to make it happen you can’t be picky about getting just the right hold. Any old hold will have to do. Maybe you’ll find a better grip later on. Maybe you won’t. But right now, the only thing that matters is that you grab it and hang on.
You’re trying to make something happen. Attempts matter.
Some weeks ago some jack wagon gets me on the phone and throws some insane KPI out there saying, “This is what success is going to take.” I’m just listening. It’s not my place to talk him out of his expert opinion, no matter how wrong-headed it may be. You’ll find way more pictures of me with my hand over my mouth because I’m a pretty decent listener. I keep listening. He continues to spew forth more idiotic tactical verbiage. As I hang up the phone I realize he’s one of those people who place no value on attempts. All that matters is success. Success is measurable. There’s a KPI for that.
He’s wrong though. Attempts count. They matter.
I’ve successfully raised kids. I’m watching my grandchildren successfully learn. This movie is happening all over the world in households raising children. Children aren’t succeeding at their first attempt. Some may not succeed after 100 attempts. It depends on what it is. But they’re trying. They’re attempting to learn how to crawl, or walk, or tie their shoes, or ride a bike, or skate. They’re attempting to learn to talk, or sing, or form a complete sentence. Over and over. Day after day. Attempt after attempt.
No parent or grandparent would bark at a small child, “You moron. Can’t you succeed at this? Until you can do it right – completely right – the very first time, then there’s no use in trying.”
But too frequently we operate with that mindset in our careers and in leading our businesses. Some folks find it gratifying to talk about how winning is the only thing that matters. As much as I push the notion of good execution, life has taught me that good execution hinges on attempts. Depending on where you are along the process, the first attempts might not look very good, but it doesn’t matter. Perfect practice sounds good, but it’s wrong. The first attempts are likely anything, but perfect. Besides, if you could practice it perfectly then you’d have it down and your execution would be stellar. We practice in order to get it right (i.e. perfect).
So go out there and take your swings. Give it a go. Make the attempt. Then make another attempt. Ignore people who try to convince you that it doesn’t matter unless you’re winning. They d0n’t know what they’re talking about. They likely haven’t tried nearly enough stuff. My experience has taught me that these same people are among some of the least innovative, creative people, too.
I don’t know about you, but when I look back over the most memorable accomplishments of my professional life – I may could even argue that it’s true in my personal life – the biggest ones resulted from me trying something where I wasn’t dead solid sure of the outcome. I didn’t know if it would work or not. Only one way to find out. Try!
Yoda’s a moron. There is big value in trying. So think of that big thing – or that small thing – that thing you’re not sure if it’ll work or not, but you think it may. Try it and find out.
During my years of running luxury retailing companies I was constantly urging employees to “be present” and “be in the moment” with shoppers and customers. How can you deliver remarkable customer experiences if you’re not paying close attention to the customer? You can’t. But neither can you deliver a remarkable experience to employees, friends or family without it.
People aren’t always honest with the CEO. His people. His trusted advisors.
They’re not dishonest. They’re just not always candid.
It was magnified the other day when the CEO dispatched a small group of people to survey the troops. He’d read a book about employee engagement and culture. It prompted him to find out how his culture was faring. He’s anxious to discover how things are going — confident that the morale will be fairly high, and that people will see the organization as he sees it. High performing. A winning team.
Three junior executives have been assigned to find out how people are feeling about their work, their leadership and their future. A few thousand bucks have been invested to get a survey from a consulting outfit specializing in employee engagement and organizational culture. There are just under 400 employees to survey, including about 50 part-time people. This is going to take awhile, but the CEO is anxious and schedules time with the 3-man survey team each Friday morning to get updates.
After week one the team has determined this project will take about 45 days to complete, but the initial results are in. They’re not favorable.
The 3 junior executives have been nervous about this project, but thankful it’s a survey purchased by the Chief. The results will be what they’ll be…and these junior leaders know they’ll simply be messengers of the news, whatever it may be.
Just 58 surveys have been completed and they have a universal theme. People are unhappy. They feel unappreciated. Most report that their leaders do nothing more than lean on them to do more, do better and work harder. The survey team huddles late Thursday because tomorrow morning is going to be the first report to the Chief. It’s not good. The CEO can become agitated, sometimes with little or no provocation. High anxiety washes over the survey team. They decide their best course of action is to present the survey results without commentary. Keeping one’s mouth shut just seems the safest course of action.
Friday morning arrives. They walk into the CEO’s office and take a seat around his small conference table. He offers them coffee as they settle in. It’s obvious he can’t wait to find out the early results.
The team selected one person, Billy, to lead the presentation. Billy is the right guy for this task. He’s well-liked by the CEO and knows how to handle himself well in live, real-time situations.
Billy prefaces the presentation – and handing the CEO a binder of early results – by telling the CEO just the facts. “We’ve surveyed 58 employees so far. All of them full-time. Ranging from supervisors to executives. All results are anonymous so we can obtain the most valid results possible, in accordance with the survey guidelines. These results represent only 15.07% of our total workforce, including part-time staff.”
With that, he hands the CEO the binder, which consists of a cover sheet with pie charts and other overall results. Individual comments and other details follow behind those first few pages.
The smile leaves the face of the CEO almost instantly. His brow furrows, his eyes squint and he now looks like he’s getting a headache. You can tell he’s completely surprised. Fearing he’s going to get defensive, the survey team has rehearsed what may happen next. They played out every conceivable scenario except the one that occurs.
The CEO asks, “Billy, tell me what you really think?”
Oh, crap. Billy is caught completely off guard. Janet and Brad, the other two members of the survey team feel sick at their stomach. They’re anticipating being asked to follow Billy in answering the same question. Hopeful it won’t happen, but fearful it will.
Billy says, “Sir, it’s too early for me to have any real valid thoughts.”
“Cut the crap, Billy,” says the CEO. “I know you’ve got a thought. And I know that a 15% sampling isn’t necessarily a full picture, but let me ask you – is this 15% representative of people in most areas of our company?”
“Yes sir, it is,” says Billy. “This 15% represents people from all sectors of our organization, except it doesn’t contain any feedback from part-time workers.”
“Then tell me what’s happening, Billy,” asks the CEO.
“Sir, I honestly would rather wait until we have more data,” answers Billy.
This goes on for a bit until the CEO has an epiphany – Billy isn’t wanting to tell him what he really thinks.
In a flash, the CEO asks, “Billy, what are you afraid of? You afraid I can’t handle what’s really happening out there?”
“Sir, I wouldn’t want to speculate. And I certainly wouldn’t want to give you incorrect data.” See, I told you Billy was good on his feet.
The group is dismissed from the CEO’s office and his Friday is shot. Emotions go from anger to frustration to resentment. All in about a 10 minute span.
Within 15 minutes of the survey team leaving the CEO’s office, he’s got 3 VP’s in his office sitting right where the survey team sat. He tells them what he’s learned, tosses the single copy of the early results onto the table in the middle of them and goes on a rant. During his rant they each briefly glance at the first few pages, attempting to make sense of the pie charts and other diagrams of the overall results.
“This is just 15% of the work force,” says one VP. “Let’s wait and see how things are when we have more data.”
The others chime in conceding that that’s the best course of action. It’s way to early to assume this represents the sentiment of the entire workforce.
Then it happens. The same thing that happened to Billy. “Gentlemen, I want to know what each of you think is happening? I want to know if you think this properly depicts what’s happening in our culture?”
They try Billy’s tactic, but it’s not working now. They’re not junior executives and the CEO isn’t going to let them off as easily.
The room grows quiet. Frank has been in the company for 6 years. He’s seasoned, even weather beaten. He’s about 8 years younger than the CEO, and he knows he’s well-regarded throughout the company, including the office of the CEO. He breaks the silence.
“Sir, if I might.”
“Please, Frank. Let’s hear it,” says the CEO.
“Let’s examine what we’ve done so far and what led us to this place. For over a year we’ve been wanting to improve our culture, fearful that we were headed in a direction that might steer us away from being the organization we’d most like to be. Employee engagement has been a constant focal point, rightfully so. We’ve questioned how engaged our employees are. We’ve questioned if our culture is fit enough to get us to the next level. So we invested almost $10,000 in this survey tool in order to at long last see if we could all get a better handle on what’s really going on. As leaders, we solve problems. First, we have to understand the problem to be solved. Else, we just act like bulls in a china closet and none of us want to damage the china. So we’re finding out what our people really think and how they really feel.”
“Sir, may I give you one word that I think may best illustrate what may be our initial problem with all this?”
“Yes, of course, give it to me, Frank.”
“The word is SAFETY. Sir, you asked about my thoughts. In my judgment we’re experiencing data that has somewhat blindsided us because our employees don’t feel safe. I don’t mean our workplace is physically unsafe, it’s very safe. But I mean emotionally safe where people can tell us the truth. I reiterate to our sales and marketing teams that our prospects are only going to become customers if we can first make them feel safe. After that, we must earn their trust. If we earn their trust, then we must work on having influence on them. Every time we short-circuit that process, we fail. We can’t make a sale if the prospect doesn’t let us influence them. That can’t happen if they don’t trust us. And the only way to trust is safety. Our prospects have to know we have their best interests at heart, even though we do want to make a sale. We want the sale to be what works best for our customers. I don’t see any difference between our prospects and our employees. First, we need to lead them in a way that makes them feel safe — and that needs to come from making them know we have their best interests at heart. It seems to me, we’ve failed on that front. The good news is, if the other results are consistent with these results, then we can begin today working on a plan to fix this. Isn’t that why we commissioned this survey to begin with?”
During his answer the CEO was quiet and attentive. You could almost see the wheels turning in his head. It was making sense to him.
He asked the other VP’s if they agreed. They did. Not much more conversation happened after that and the group was dismissed.
Alone in his office now, the CEO reflected on what Frank had said. His anger was gone. In its place, sadness. He was preoccupied. A few phone calls and another short meeting happened, but he couldn’t much remember what any of it was about. He was thinking about 15.07% of his workforce who felt taxed and under-appreciated. And he was confident 100% of the survey would likely reflect similar results. How did it get this way? It was never his intent. He just wanted a high performing organization. And he had one, or so he thought. Truth is, these people were doing great work. They were high performing. And he began to wonder how high performing people can feel so badly about their work and their organization.
He walked out of his office down the hall to Frank’s office. Knocked on the door and asked Frank if he had a moment. “Of course, sir.”
For 20 minutes the men exchanged no data. They just talked about what the CEO most wanted – employees who felt alive at work. People who felt supported to do the best work of their lives. And the CEO listened to Frank, the first person willing to tell him candidly want he needed to hear. Frank was encouraging and proactive. He suggested that the CEO allow he and his peers to take some time to figure out real-life answers – things “real people can do” as Frank put it. Before the CEO left Frank’s office, Frank said something that seemed to hit it squarely on the head.
“Let’s consider how valuable the truth is. If we can make our people feel safe think of the enormous benefits we’ll have in the market. When we know the truth we’ll be able to more proactive, more innovative and world-class. This may be one of the greatest days of my career here, sir. We’ve just discovered an untapped resource of power that we didn’t even know we had. I say we capitalize on it and make connecting with our people the priority of our leadership.”