“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.”
That poor proverbial frog in the pan of water that is growing hotter and hotter. All the while the frog is unaware of his fatal decision to sit put. It’s a universal story of the dangers of lethargy and complacency.
I’m rather sure that a frog’s brain is mostly based on instincts and not thoughtful intention. Sadly, humans sometimes act no wiser than frogs. Except our instincts can often be based on our own head trash, our own past experiences and our world view. If a frog can get it wrong, then how much more can we get it wrong? WAY WRONG.
We hear the proverb of the frog sitting in a pan of water that is slowing growing hotter and hotter…and we think, “Jump! Just jump!” How hard can it be to leap out of the pan and save your life?
It’s a 2-pronged issue: a) how hard is it physically? and b) how hard is it mentally? Both prongs are aimed at why the frog just sits there, risking life. Sure death is coming and we can all see it coming a million miles away.
It’s not physical. We assume the frog is healthy enough to leap high enough to get out of the pan. Even if he’s not, we’re frustrated by his lack of effort. If he’s going to boil to death, it’s got to be better to go out leaping than sitting there like…well, like a frog on a stump! But he just sits there letting his body temperature soar with the temperature of the water.
It must be mental. Poor frog needs a bigger brain. Poor humans may need a smaller brain — one that won’t get in our way. The frog’s issue — or so we’re told — is partly physical though. So is ours! The frog acclimates himself to his surroundings. He’s not aware enough to fully comprehend the risk to his life. The whole point of the proverb is that the frog’s environment is changing so slowly he’s unaware of the risk. That’s physical.
Your surroundings can do the same to you. They can change poorly, yet so slowly that you’re unaware how the changes can put you at risk.
Is that really the point though?
It could be. Doing something is often better than doing nothing. Being aware far more important than being unaware.
Today it’s about complacency, lethargy, sitting in the pan doing nothing. It’s about hoping, wishing and dreaming versus thinking, doing, acting. It’s about sitting still versus leaping!
I know, I know. You’re a CEO, COO or some other top leader of an organization. I get it more than you know because I’ve spent my life – well, most of it – sitting right where you’re now sitting. Yes, it’s that seat where the buck stops! These days for me, it’s business leaders and city government leaders. Those are the folks I serve. They’re the only people I serve because like you, I’m a finite resource. And I’m picky about how I spend my days and who I spend my days with. About six years ago I got intensely focused on maximum impact. That’s important…not because of me, but because of today’s show topic: complacency.
Complacency Isn’t The Sole Domain Of Low Achievers
Top leaders who have slogged their way to the executive suite can succumb to complacency just like everybody else — maybe more so because the risks get higher (and the air thinner). Those brave acts of courage that got us the top job can wane as we realize we’re now flying much higher and the fall could kill us.
Complacency in the top leader may look different than what you have in mind. It’s not inaction. It’s not lethargy. It’s mostly manifested in status quo. We keep doing what we’ve always done because what we’ve done got us here! Just look around. We’re sitting in the corner office with income that we never honestly thought possible. Our list of perks is fairly extensive. Maybe we were named the CEO months ago. Maybe we’ve been the CEO for years. Isn’t it funny how little time it takes to get acclimated? You feel it, don’t you? In one fell swoop we’ve gone from self-doubt to a level of self-assuredness that we’re bulletproof.
But Fears Don’t Die So Easily
I’ve spent countless hours through the years sitting across from top leaders to know that titles and authority don’t overcome fears. The CEO with millions of dollars of resources at her disposal…or the city government leader with a 9-digit annual budget often has amplified fears because the responsibilities and authority make each decision more impactful on the organization. It’s perfectly logical. Top leaders have the authority to make decisions that could (emphasis on “could”) negatively impact the organization. A lower level leader has limited authority. He may make a foolish decision. The fall out on that decision isn’t going to jeopardize the business because he’s not able to make such decisions. But the top leader can. That puts far more pressure on the top leader to get it right.
Enter the elephant in the room – doing nothing often seems safer than doing something. That’s why leaders often find themselves in saying, “No.” Somebody brings an idea. The room debates the idea. Some are in favor of it. Others are opposed. Both sides seem to have thoughtful responses. Now it’s up to you. What do you do? The safe thing is to avoid moving forward with some new idea. Well, it feels like the safe thing to do, but it may well be the deadliest thing you could do. Say hello to complacency!
Earlier in the year – this year of 2015 – I started using that phrase: the slumped-shoulder-shuffle. We’ve all done it. We slump our shoulders in a posture of defeat. We stop picking up our feet and shuffle. Often times it’s coupled with a heavy sigh when people speak to us. We’re defeated. Life sucks. It’d be better if our wildest dreams would just come true. Sadly, the universe hasn’t answered the call to give us what we want. Like the frog we stop thinking and reacting properly. We just sit still.
Sitting still is the whole point of the frog story. It doesn’t mean that sitting still to think through an issue isn’t often warranted. It does mean that we can’t stay at that point forever. There comes a time when it’s time to jump. Time to move. Time to act.
Last January I was sitting in front of a CEO who was facing a common issue – considering a bit of a reorganization. He had some people he felt were now in the wrong places, doing the wrong jobs. He was also concerned about the company’s culture and the impact changes might have to disrupt the parts of the company he felt were working well. “How long have you been thinking about this?” I asked. “Since last August,” he said. This wasn’t a timid leader. He was extremely innovative, intelligent and thoughtful. In fact, he prided himself on freely embracing change and all signs indicated he did embrace change. It seemed awfully out of character for this leader to stall a decision, but here he was. Afraid of something. What?
“What steps have you taken so far,” I asked. He proceeded to talk about a number of things he’d actually done to figure out the best solution, and to implement the solution. He hadn’t been sitting by idly doing nothing more than thinking about it. He showed me a diagram and a strategy map created by him and his HR leader. The HR director agreed with him on the moves. They were necessary to shore up a couple of divisions. One division was easier than the other only because it was much smaller — it didn’t have as significant impact on the culture in their estimation. But the CEO wanted to do it all in one step. He wasn’t interested in making one move without the other because he worried about the strain it might put on the culture.
Here we are approaching the 6-month mark of his first meeting with the HR director about his idea. So far, the only progress made? Planning. Weekly, this whole idea consumed him. He labored with it, wondering and fearing what negative impact it may have. As we continued to talk it became clear that he wasn’t moving because things were going “fine” without making a change. The CEO hadn’t yet reached a point where acting seemed necessary. He wasn’t just sitting still in his mind. He was paying close attention, looking for “the right time” to pull the trigger. Today just didn’t seem like the right time. Neither did yesterday. Or the day before. But maybe tomorrow would.
At some point he chuckled, realizing how absurd the whole thing seemed to be, but he admitted his fear. “Am I wrong to be so worried about our company’s culture?” he asked. I’m a big believer in the power of culture. Far be it from me to minimize it, but it wasn’t my job to tell this CEO what he should do, or how he should do it. My job was to coach him to work through the issue so he could figure out how to best serve his company. That’s important because too few professional leaders have experienced coaching to really know what it is and how it works. It’s not a holding forth. It’s not a person sitting in front of you barking at you like a drill sergeant. It’s more like a confidant who can provoke thought, who can hold you accountable and who cares mostly about helping you move forward because their only vested interest is a positive outcome for the person being coached.
The story didn’t end with some breakthrough session where the CEO gained an epiphany because of my brilliant questions or insight. It was a process. It took time. Fear takes time, but sometimes there is a moment of epiphany. It’s the time when my granddaughter removed the training wheels from her bike and within minutes she was peddling without fear. A moment in time where fear vanished and it made all the positive difference in the world. This CEO would have that epiphany, but not today. It would be a few months later…after he’d had time to consider how his own head trash was fooling him into thinking it wasn’t yet time. He needed to come to that conclusion on his own. And he did. Because he’s a high performing. His complacency lasted a bit over 7 months, but that’s not important. What’s important is that he moved past it. Yes, I helped. He’ll tell you it may have likely lasted much longer without my help, but that’s what I do — I help serve leaders so they can go further, faster.
We’re winding down another year. 2015 is just about in the books. For many of you, it’s already in the books as many of you shut down for the final week or so of each year. Just a few months back you were sitting in a conference room with your inner circle planning a new year. Budgets were created after hours and hours of number crunching. Approvals were requested. Some granted. Others rejected. For some of you January 2016 will begin a new fiscal year. For others, it’ll be the final quarter as you race toward a year that ends in March.
What haven’t you done yet?
What initiatives have you not yet started?
What issues are still unresolved as you embark on a new calendar year?
What has stopped you from getting the help you need — the service you deserve?
For the frog, there’s no time like the present. He can jump now or wait. Waiting might be fatal. Even a recognition that the water is growing increasingly hotter may give way to the hope that things will cool off soon. Hope isn’t a strategy, yet many of us behave as though it is. Day after day we hope tomorrow will be a better day for it. Even hard-charging high performing CEO’s can convince themselves that the potential risks of acting today may be higher than putting it off until a more opportune day. Who can fault a leader for looking for, even trying to create, a more opportune time? Nobody. But that’s not always what’s happening. Sometimes it’s procrastination. Thoughtful procrastination is still procrastination. At some level, it’s still complacency. Like all habits, it gets easier to maintain it than to do something different.
Just this week ESPN released an interview with Alabama football coach Nick Saban. In the interview he was asked about the difference in this year’s team and those of the past…especially the ones who suffered critical big game losses. Proof that even winners – maybe especially winners – can be complacent.
“The biggest difference in this team and the last two years is this team seems to have a little more want-to about them,” Saban said. “They want to be great. Some of our teams here have been complacent — like last year, I was disappointed in the way we prepared for the Ohio State game. We had too many people not happy at the Sugar Bowl about having to practice and doing what we had to do. It was a little bit of a grind. These guys don’t look at it that way. They’re excited to be in the playoff. They’re excited to still be playing.
“The attitude part, I like a lot better. There’s a better disposition. That doesn’t mean we’re going to play well in the game or anything else, but there’s a better disposition and we’re going about it the right way.”
It’s time to try something different.
Starting the week of Monday, January 4, 2016 I’m going to be conducting free 90-minute sessions for CEO’s and top leaders. These are one-on-one, completely private and confidential sessions.
The 90-Minute “One-Thing” CEO Introductory Coaching Session
Not 10, or 5, or even 3.
One issue that keeps you up at night. One issue that vexes you…and has likely been vexing you for awhile. I’ll give you some examples of the kinds of issues I’m talking about.
You need to replace your longtime CFO
You’ve got a division that’s draining resources and you need to sell it, close it or consider some other alternative
You’ve got challenges with employee engagement
You’re considering acquiring a smaller competitor
You’re thinking it may be time to sell
Sales are dipping and you need to reverse the trend
Cost containment isn’t working and margins are eroding
You’re years away from stepping aside, but you’ve got nobody yet ready to take your place
A key leader in your organization died suddenly
The list could be much, much longer because for every CEO there are potentially dozens of issues. Because these are top level, top leader issues they’re especially important. Often urgent.
During our introductory session we’ll concentrate on just one – the BIGGEST one.
I offer these free sessions to help serve top leaders with a focused effort to address a single issue – one pressing problem.
These sessions are designed to help you accomplish 3 things, even as we focus on your one thing:
To help you gain greater clarity
To help you uncover hidden challenges
To leave you renewed, reenergized and inspired
They also provide CEO’s the opportunity to experience something many have never experienced. Personal, professional coaching with a person who isn’t beholden to them. Unencumbered service.
It’s A Real Human To Human Interaction
CEO’s and other top leaders are far more than a title, position and authority. They’re people. With families and close friends. They have challenges in life just like all the rest of us. They may live in fancy gated neighborhoods and drive luxurious cars. Climb behind their eyes though, and you’d see they laugh at the same things that tickle the rest of us — they cry (or want to) at the same sad stories we do — and they experience the same euphoria and pain known to the rest of us. That’s why this 90-minute ONE BIG THING session is just two people having a powerful conversation to work through the one agonizing issue that’s front and center right now!
What do I get out of it? Plenty.
For starters I get the opportunity to meet you and help you with an issue that can positively impact your life and your organization. I also get the opportunity to demonstrate how powerful it can be for top leaders to be transparent. Safe. Comfortable. Secure. Private. Confidential.
If you happen to be a CEO in the Tarrant County area of Dallas/Ft. Worth, then a free session with me may just result in multiple wins for you. Not only a free 90-minute coaching session, but perhaps an invitation to join an exclusive CEO group I’m building especially for CEO’s on the Ft. Worth side of the metroplex. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, we’ve got your one big thing – your one big issue that we need to help you address. Take the first, but most important step. Fill out the form below right now. Don’t wait. There’s no better time than right this minute.
All it takes is a few minutes to complete the form below. It’s time. High time. It’s also your opportunity to at long last discover a better way. World-class athletes and performer have coaches. As a high performing top level leader YOU deserve to experience it at least once. And yes, if I’m dazzling enough, remarkable enough, extraordinary enough — we may both decide the relationship is worth continuing. No matter what I’ll make you a promise (beside the confidentiality) — I’ll serve you in what’s sure to be among the most remarkable ways you’ve ever been served!
What a difference a day makes? Think of the difference an entire week can make!
Leadership requires many skills. People who work in leadership development or coaching often approach the topic from various angles. I mostly focus on the aim of leadership — namely, the people being served by leaders. It may not be the coolest approach, but it’s intentional. Free from gimmicks. Most importantly, it works.
This discussion has to start with a sober consideration about humility.
Just the other day I read this about Washington Redskins’ quarterback, RG 3.
“To get better in this league, you have to have a degree of humility,” a personnel director said. “Griffin sees himself like Peyton [Manning], in that light. When he looks in the mirror, he is seeing things that everybody else is not seeing. That is why I was surprised when they gave him the fifth-year [option] and said it was an easy decision.”
I instantly resonated with it because through the years I’ve had a few clients – not many, but a few – who were leaders that lacked introspection, or humility. And I’ve observed that rare kind of leader who doesn’t hear detractors. Most of us do. I’ve experienced far more of us who hear the lone detractor even if the majority are cheering. We have an ability to hear that one lonesome person boo’ing us. Not these people. Their minds work in reverse. The vast majority can be boo’ing, but if only one person is cheering…they can only hear the cheering. I’ve long been fascinated by this ability – which honestly, is more of a curse than anything.
It’s delusion of a high order and it stymies personal growth and progress. It can wreck a team, too. When you’re already perfect improvement is tough to come by. That’s why so few of my clients suffer this malady. People who feel they need no improvement don’t go seeking out people like me. Unfortunately, sometimes for them, their bosses do. Well, they think it’s unfortunate. It’s my job to earn their trust and persuade them I’m there to help. You’d think it’d be easier than it sometimes is. I mean, stop and think about it. I’ve been commissioned to help them — how hard is it to understand that if they improve, then I look like a rockstar! It’s in MY best interest to help them. If they don’t improve, I don’t look so good.
Being Open To Suggestions
Expansion. Growth. Increases. Improvement. These are things every business owner wants.
They all mean more money. More revenues. More profits. More income. More is better!
Leaders, organizations and businesses that are not open to suggestions — ways to get better — are doomed to slip, or fail. Even if current strategies and tactics are working well, they won’t necessarily keep working well. Strategies and tactics have lifespans. Some are more durable than others.
Philosophies can last, or they can last longer.
I’ve implemented many strategies for growing business. Some have worked well. Others have been major failures.
But I’ve stuck with some core philosophies that continue to serve me well. I’ve stuck one major philosophy that has been live on my About Page for years. It has served me well because I so firmly believe in it that I refuse to deviate from it.
It’s my non-negotiable standard for doing business. It’s not some high-brow “I’m-better-than-you” deal. It’s a real-life, honest-to-goodness way of life. Yes, that means it trumps everything else. Otherwise, what good is it?
If you sell out your philosophy then you’ve got nothing other than the price you sold it for. That first word is very important. Always means always — or it doesn’t. It demands the strongest commitment.
Let’s table any thought of strategy or tactics and stay on the track of this whole philosophy. Think about YOUR philosophy. It’s important because it’s driving your strategies and tactics. It’s also important because it reveals what really matters. It speaks to our character.
So what’s your philosophy?
If I know somebody’s philosophy — and if I know that it’s non-negotiable — then I’ll know how open they’re likely to be to suggestions for growth and improvement. Oh, I know that personalities matter. A lot. But more often than not the philosophy a person crafts is going to reflect and reveal their personality.
If you’re not open to suggestions of improvement then there’s little point in having this conversation. And there’s no point in even considering alternative strategies or tactics. There certainly isn’t any point in considering any shift or change in philosophy.
Today’s 3-step strategy for leadership improvement isn’t a magic bullet for people with a closed mind. There is NO strategy for a closed mind. That’s why I’ve begun this discussion with the important factor of being open to suggestions. If that’s a problem for you, then you’d better deal with that first. Somebody else can psychoanalyze you if you need help. I’m just going to tell those of you struggling with this, figure it out so you can elevate your performance and the performance of your entire team. That ought to be enough of an upside to compel you to fix it.
Texting and driving can be deadly. According to USA Today about 25% of accidents are caused by cell phone use. With more and more young drivers joining the ranks each year that number is likely going to increase, too.
Safety experts encourage all of us to slow down our texting and driving. NO THEY DON’T. They urge us to STOP.
When something isn’t working, or when something is working against us it’s the only wise option. STOP IT.
There are 2 fundamental components of this step. One is to stop doing harm. The second is to regroup, collect our thoughts and consider our options. This is why all that beginning stuff about being open was critical.
The temptation is to keep moving because too many of us mistake motion for action, accomplishment or progress. I do 3 to 4 miles a day on a treadmill. I’m stationary the entire time, but I’m moving and burning calories. Sure, I’m moving forward in my physical fitness, but geographically, I’m getting nowhere.
Too many leaders are perpetual motion machines. Lots of movement, not enough meaningful action. Some leaders don’t stop long enough to improve. These are the leaders who run around shouting, “Faster, harder. More. More. More.” It’s movement that matters. As long as they see people working, it’s good. You’d better be in your chair at 8am. And at 4:59pm.
You can’t properly meditate or think deeply enough about improvement if you can’t (or won’t) make the time to stop. I don’t want to hear about how busy you are. Or that you can’t stop because there’s just so much going on. I’m not talking about stopping all the work. I’m talking about YOU (the leader) stopping your work. I’m talking about you putting the phone on DND (do not disturb). Shutting down your email. Closing your door. If you prefer to think of this step as PAUSE, then do it. Hit the pause button.
It’s physical, mental and emotional. That last one may be the toughest because it involves your willingness to consider and reconsider. It means you may have felt one way about things or people — and you may have it wrong. Stopping long enough to consider it can give you a fresh perspective. In an upcoming episode I’ll be talking about evidence-based leadership. That’s where your emotional conclusions aren’t purely based on how you feel about a thing or a person, but you actually have some evidence (and I don’t mean one piece of anecdotal evidence) that weighs strongly in favor of your feelings. For example, a leader can say, “I don’t trust him.” Is it based on evidence or is it purely a feeling? It’s important for leaders to avoid letting their emotions pigeonhole their opinions without any evidence to back it up. If the untrusted person has numerous specific incidents of lying, then you’ve got evidence to support you feelings of mistrust. That leads to the next step.
First, look inside yourself.
I want you to really examine one question…
Am I the problem or the solution?
I don’t mean what every member of your team thinks, but I mean what YOU think. I want you to examine your leadership and management. Look at it more carefully (and closely) than you’ve ever looked at it before.
Every leader can sometimes impact things in a negative way. Our team can see us as part of the problem because they don’t see or understand what we see and understand. Our team can see us as part of the problem if they don’t have the confidence to perform. Self-reflection is hard when you’re trying to answer the big question.
For now, ignore what your team thinks or how they feel about the answer to the question. This is about improving your leadership. It’s about improving YOU.
So think clearly and as objectively as possible. Let me help get you started.
What’s the last big thing you faced?
Think of the latest big initiative. Or the last episode involving an employee. It could be anything.
Just focus on one example. Don’t scrutinize an array of things. Think of one.
Now do a post-mortem on your involvement. How did you handle it? Consider your speed, your approach, your tone, your objective, your priorities and everything else that was going through your mind when you were in the throes of it all. Why did you do what you did? Why didn’t you do something else?
Reflect on what others did that compelled or motivated you to steer in the direction you did. Did you maintain focus during the process or did you allow yourself to be distracted by emotions? Did you worry about somebody or something that caused you to go in one direction and not another? Who was it, or what was it? Why did it get in the way?
This is the time to get out the microscope and look very closely at why you did what you did — and why you did it the way you did it.
I once did this exercise with a CEO/founder. He focused on an interaction he had with one of his direct reports that frustrated him. He began by telling me, “He’s so stubborn.” The conversation between the two men was heated because the manager was defending his department’s existence. Seems the CEO was questioning the validity of a business segment run by this manager. I sat and listened as he recounted in great detail the conversation they had.
Some 45 minutes passed with me only asking a few prompting questions along the way. When the CEO came up for air I asked, “Does this manager have a future in your company?” He seemed appalled that I’d ask and retorted, “Of course he does. The guy has been with me about 15 years.”
“Does he know he’s got a future even if you downsize or jettison his department?” I asked. “Yes, he knows he’s got a place here,” said the CEO. “How does he know? Describe that conversation for me,” I inquired.
Within seconds it dawned on him that he’d never had a conversation with this manager. In his head he’d had many conversations. He knew what he wanted to do, but he had never shared it with this direct report. BAM! He was the constraint and didn’t even know it, or know why. Until now. He’d been moving so fast and furious it never dawned on him that he hadn’t shared critical information with this valued employee. And in the process he was now beginning to build strong feelings that this guy was “so stubborn.” Maybe he was stubborn, but the reaction was spawned by being uninformed. The direct report was in the dark and he was appropriately frightened about his own future — and turns out, the future of his team.
I asked the CEO, “Do you want your leaders to care about their people?” Of course he did. It seemed to me he had a manager reporting to him who was behaving perfectly logically and ethically. He wasn’t necessarily stubborn. He was fighting for himself and his people, and he did honestly see value in the work they were doing (and the profits they were generating). But like all employees lower down the food chain, he only knew what he knew. He didn’t know what the CEO and the CEO hadn’t communicated the challenges, solutions or plans.
Let me give you one more powerful question before we move on to the last of the three action items.
What if you’re wrong?
What if that person isn’t who or what you think they are? What if that situation or circumstance isn’t what you think it is? What if things are very different?
The strongest leaders I know give themselves to regular thoughts and questions like those. But again, they’re all evidence-based leaders, too. They’re not prone to knee-jerk reactions. They don’t shoot from the hip either. It doesn’t mean they’re slow. It just means they’re deliberate. And they’re deliberate with cause.
Give yourself permission to be wrong. And be willing to acknowledge your wrongness with your team. If you want your team to own their mistakes, then you’d better get busy owning yours. A leader who refuses to acknowledge his own weaknesses or mistakes is doomed to be surrounded by people who will never vigorously debate. Such a leader will most often hear what they want, see what they want and NEVER get what they want.
So you’ve stopped long enough to meditate and think. You’ve looked inside yourself to see what role you’re playing in solving or creating problems. Now it’s time to include others. Most notably your inner circle. Every — EVERY — successful leader has at least one person with whom they can shell things down. Some are blessed to have a few people. These are the trusted lieutenants. They are part of the executive team. You trust these people. Completely. And if you don’t, then you’re crazy for keeping them in their current role. You should be moving them along if you don’t trust them. There’s no room for untrustworthy people on your team. I don’t care if they perform with spectacular results. Without trust, you’ve got trouble. Pick which one matters most: trust or trouble.
Let’s assume you’ve got at least one person with whom you can be completely honest. You trust them completely. That doesn’t mean you tell them everything, but it means you could. You protect them from information that could unnecessarily worry them or things they have no control over. But otherwise, you rely on them for feedback, support and honesty.
I’m starting with these people because I’m hopeful you’ve got a relationship that isn’t built on telling you what you want to hear. But that may not be the case. You may be the naked emperor with nobody able to tell you how naked you really are. If so, then you’ve got more work to do than any single podcast episode can address. I’d suggest you get very busy finding a mirror — that’s at least one person at work you’re willing to be told unpleasant truths. If you’re not willing to do that, then I’m hopeful your regime comes to a quick end because you’re damaging the lives and work of others. I don’t much care how your end arrives, but the sooner the better. The world doesn’t need anymore autocratic tyrants.
Sit down with your most trusted people at work. Tell them what you’re doing. That’s right. Let them in on this exercise. Convince them you want candid honesty. Bring them up to speed with the answers you worked out on your own. Tell them that it’s only fair for you to expect improvement in yourself since that’s what you’re requiring from them, and everybody else in the organization. Persuade them that you mean it. If this is a first for you, expect resistance. They won’t likely believe you at first. Don’t strong arm them. Pretend they’re customers who must buy what you’re selling. Give them the best opportunity to buy it. It helps if you’ll own your past transgressions. If you owe them apologies, then do that upfront. Without hesitation or excuse.
Shell it all down with them. Ask them to share what they know. You need their intelligence. You need their insight.
Before you can listen you’ve got to ask for help. This may be the first step in a process of many steps to get people to tell you what you need rather than what you want. Or what they think you want. You want the truth, but before you can get the truth you need information. You need evidence that will direct you to the truth. That means the more information you gather, from as many sources as you can, from the most trusted and reliable sources you’ve got…can lead you to the truth, or at least get you closer to it.
Train your team – your inner circle – to open up to you. This isn’t happening in front of the organization, or in front of those outside your trusted inner circle. This is you guys. Yes, there is a WE and THEM. This is the WE part of the equation. It’s you and your most trusted people working together to help you become a better leader. It’s also the most important work you’re going to do because it’s going to impact the whole organization. Your organization deserves to have the best leader possible. That’s you!
This should be the most candid, free-flowing conversation you’ve ever had with these people. You should just ask questions to provoke further conversation. Don’t attack. Don’t defend. Don’t excuse. Think like a detective. Be non-threatening. You’re their boss so you’re going to have work a lot harder at making them know they’re safe and comfortable to tell you anything!
Be honest with them. Share your concerns, fears and other weaknesses. It’s the best way to make them feel comfortable and trust you. They’ll start opening up after they know you’re willing to open up as you tell them what you’re hoping to accomplish. Just remember to shut up once you’ve got the ball rolling. Some leaders mess it up by continuing to share and they dominate the conversation. That’s not the point. This isn’t a platform for you to hold forth. It’s a platform to get them to open up with you about YOU.
I’m going to make a strong suggestion that you carve out more time than you think you’ll need. I’d encourage you to clear calendars for an entire morning or afternoon. If your organization is formal, don’t set tensions high by telling people to clear their entire afternoon for one-on-one meetings with you, or something of that order. That may heighten their anxiety. Instead, tell the people who are invited to the meeting that you want to have a very casual brainstorming conversation about some ideas that you want to share. Tell them there’s no agenda and they won’t need to bring anything with them to the meeting except their willingness to share. If you want, have snacks and soft drinks or whatever may be appropriate for the time of day. Make this very casual and non-threatening.
If you can, conduct this meeting at a round table, not a conference table with a definite head at either end. Better yet, in my experience, is to gather chairs around in a loose circle, or just you and the other person sitting by or across each other if there are just two of you. Arrange it and set it as you would the friendliest conversation you’ve ever had. You don’t want any barriers to openness.
Lose the business speak. Don’t let yourself fall into behaving or speaking like you do when you conduct a formal business meeting. Talk to these people like they’re your friends – because they are! Don’t speak to them like subordinates or direct reports. Ask them to loosen up and not think of you like their boss. Rather, plead with them to treat you like a friend who needs their help. You do need their help. Make them know how badly you want and need it. Don’t be bashful. That will defeat the point of the conversation.
This needs to be an unfiltered conversation where you’re open to whatever they have to offer – however they want to offer it. If you begin to challenge what they say, or how they say it, then they’ll stop saying anything useful. Think of this as a free-form brainstorming session without rules. Remember, these are your most trusted advisors so you don’t have to worry about anything with them.
Some leaders are fearful that such moments will destroy professional decorum in the workplace. When properly handled I’ve never seen this happen. Don’t underestimate the professionalism of these people. They’re competent people, fully capable of compartmentalizing sessions like this. I often help leaders rehearse how to begin and conduct these sessions because I know it’s not something many leaders have experience with. Most of the clients I’ve helped overthink it and fret unnecessarily about it. More often than not it’s among the most rewarding conversations the top leader has ever had. And it’s so ridiculously simple they wonder why they never did it before.
It’s important that you – and your team – understand the seriousness of this endeavor. This isn’t some phase you’re going through that your people have to endure. This is a very serious work project designed to have maximum positive impact on the organization. They need to understand how serious you are. Follow up is one way to demonstrate that.
Specially, you need to have another session with your inner circle. Give them a few days after the initial conversation. Schedule a second session in the same week. That way they’ve had time to huddle informally amongst themselves. They need time to have those – “What-in-the-world-got-into-her?” – conversations. This is a curve ball they’ve not seen before (assuming that you’ve not been as open with them about such things before). They also need time to distill their thoughts now that they know what this is all about.
Your first conversation was without warning. They purposefully didn’t know what the meeting was about. They just knew it was going to be an informal brainstorming session (and it was). Now they know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish. Give them some time to collect their thoughts and bring more value in the next session.
There are 2 important steps I want you to take in doing this. One, I want you to end the first session urging them to think about your goal to improve as a leader, and about the things they’ve brought up…plus the things they haven’t yet brought up. Give them one simple admonition: “I want to make sure that as I work to improve my leadership that I see and hear things accurately. So I’m going to ask you to help me gather and distill the evidence. For example, ____________________.” Give them an example of a time when you didn’t get it right. Yes, it can be one you confessed to them during the conversation, but maybe not. That’s up to you, but have one ready to use as you end the meeting. You want to leave them impressed with your commitment to “get it right.” You’re tasking them to help you do that.
Two, I want you to have a brief one-on-one with each of them. For most leaders, this is very small group. In many cases, it’s just one person. No matter, however many people comprise your inner circle, schedule a 15-minute meeting one-on-one with each of them. The sole purpose of this meeting is to make sure they’re comfortable with this process. Reiterate your seriousness to grow as their leader. And reinforce the importance in showing them by example how you hope they’ll lead, too. Sometimes you’ll learn what’s bothering them about this process, or what fears they’ve got. Address those in this brief meeting.
Stop. Give yourself permission and time to think about your leadership. Meditate on how things are and how you’d like them to be. Quieten down the noise in your world or you’ll never be able to see clearly.
Look. Consider your wins and your losses. I believe in soaring with your strengths, but as a leader you must eliminate (as much as possible) the constraints you bring to the workplace. Think about the places where YOU may be the problem. See things as they really are, not as you wish them to be. Accuracy matters!
Listen. Involve your closest, most trusted advisors. These are employees who serve as your inner circle. These aren’t non-work related people. Those people don’t see what your employees see. Give them a safe environment to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.
Carve out time over the course of a week to get this started. Don’t stop doing it after a week. Use the intensity of one-week to get it launched. Then, make time regularly to keep doing it. That includes scheduled times with your inner circle to discuss YOUR LEADERSHIP.
If the work inside your organization is important, then why don’t you think work on your leadership is important?
The outcome of this process will an improvement in YOU and your leadership, and the impact it will have on your entire organization. Additionally, those leaders in your inner circle will be dramatically impacted in their own careers as you urge them to avoid neglect in their own leadership growth.
Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly.” Well, I could apply that same principle to any number of things, including growth as a leader. You must show yourself to be concerned with your leadership. That will make you a better leader. It’ll also foster higher human performance throughout your organization.
P.S. If you’d like to talk about how I might be able to help you and your team, call me at (214) 736-4406.
It was years ago when I was first called, “Coach.” It was a group of kids playing hockey. I’ve had 6 year olds call me coach, and college guys do the same. It’s a pretty good feeling actually. Knowing that you’re helping players learn, develop and compete. But it’s really cool to help players improve and bond together as a group. Nothing beats the feeling of being part of a great team.
A few years ago when I began to morph my career away from “roll-up-your-sleeves-get-your-hands-dirty” consulting to more of a boutique coach specializing in helping executives become more effective leaders…I wasn’t too sure of the labels. I was a bit jaded with all the “life coaching” services by every Tom, Dick and Harry. The notion that anybody with a business card could coach merely based on their ability to market themselves and be paid repulsed me somewhat. It still does. But fancy certifications by outfits whose main goal is to collect more revenue repulsed me even more.
Besides, my work violated every rule of proper business model creation. I was – and still am – a one-man-band. That’s by design. For decades I’ve run larger operations with employees. I wanted to rely solely on myself. My business isn’t scaleable. I serve people in the most individualized, personalized way possible. I dive into specific issues, challenges and constraints in work, people’s performance, organizational cultures and teams. It’s just the opposite of a one-size-fits-all approach to coaching. It’s the only way I know how to roll. And I believe in it. Strongly.
People are unique. Their circumstances are, too. Along with their work, culture and teams. Then there’s that experience and skill element. The coaching given to a beginner in golf or any other endeavor should be very different than coaching given to an elite player. I didn’t coach 6-year-olds the same way I coached college guys. Different skill set. Different experience. Different understanding. Different coaching required.
Coaching provides one enormous opportunity for my clients – perspective. It’s never about me imposing my will on anybody. I do hope to influence people and persuade them. Mostly of what’s possible. The goal is always the same.
Higher Human Performance
I want to help people elevate their performance and the performance within their organization or their team. These are leaders. They are executives.
It’s worth noting that the people who benefit most from coaching are high achievers or those desirous of becoming high achievers. They also have one other important ingredient – willingness. A high degree of willingness!
Once in awhile I encounter an executive or leader whose the subject of my coaching. That is, my services have been employed by a superior, a sponsor. Usually it’s provided as a benefit, a professional and personal development investment the organization wants to make in this person. In spite of that motivation, I can sometimes run into the person who resists my services. They simply refuse help.
When it first happened some years ago I took it personally, but experience has taught me that such people are resistant to help from almost everybody. I won’t say they resist everybody because I like to think we’ve all got at least one person with whom we could let down our guard and accept some counsel. Maybe not though.
Knowing why I’ve been commissioned, and knowing how badly the sponsor – usually the boss – wants me to serve the reluctant executive, it’s frustrating when I press and press, only to be insincerely patronized by the client. But there’s another aspect of my business model that isn’t conducive for empire building – I’m more interested in results than I am in embedding myself as a paid coach. I’m one of those guys who think chiropractors serve a wonderful slot in health care. I’ve been to them before. However, I’m also opposed to those chiropractors who are mostly interested in keeping you coming back week after week for the rest of your life. If I were a chiropractor I’d be the guy trying to help you as quickly as possible so you could stop seeing me. I know the business stupidity of that business model, but I’m at a phase in my life where I can afford to harness the power of a stupid business model because it’s just how I prefer to roll. I wouldn’t likely coach any client to follow suit. 😉
I want to make a difference for my clients. Whenever I run into a reluctant client who behaves like the job candidate who answers every question with a patented “good answer” I grow increasingly frustrated. “Tell me about one of your biggest weaknesses,” asks the job interview. The job candidate says, “I love people too much.” Yeah, I sometimes get that from people. And 100% of the time they’re the people who refuse my help. They work hard to fool me and put on a front that I know isn’t true. Sometimes I can break through, but most of the time they maintain their guard as I walk out the door for the final time.
I’ve often thought about why people behave like that, but in every single case I report to the boss that I was unable to help the person because they refused to come clean and be honest. I’ve never had a boss be surprised. Turns out that in every case the boss commissioned me because: a) they wanted to make an investment in the person and b) they were experiencing some of the problems I encountered. They were hoping I might be able to affect some improvement. Sadly, I could have – if only the person would have been able to accept help.
Refusing help isn’t limited to professionals like me though. It’s a much deeper problem for some. They refuse help from their boss, teammates and peers. Well, it doesn’t look as overt as that. It’s more passive.
“No, I’m good. Thanks!”
“Things are great.”
“No. No problems here.”
Every refuser I’ve encounter behaves in a similar fashion. They work hard to appear friendly and easy going. Their power weapon is deception through charm. They want others to think they’re unflappable, capable of handling any difficulty that might come their way. Unlike you and me, they’ve never encountered a challenge that left them wondering, “What do I do now?” Or so they’d have you think.
I’m sure some social scientist or psychologist would have a field day trying to dissect such characters, but that’s not my job (or my qualifications). I’m just trying to help people elevate their own performance, and the performance of their organization. An impossible task when people refuse to acknowledge any room for improvement.
One of the first times I encountered this was more years ago than I can remember. I was helping a senior executive, an older gentleman, develop a younger executive. He wanted to groom this young hot shot for some added responsibility. Unfortunately, he encountered some push back from the younger executive. He was finding the younger leader disagreeable with his ideas. “It’s as though he thinks he’s got to stand toe-to-toe with me,” said the senior leader. “I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve made a poor choice in putting so much confidence in him.”
I was between their ages. The senior executive hoped my experience, my demeanor (including my candor) and my age would work to benefit his young protege. I dug in talking with them together, then talking with them privately. I spent as much time as possible with the younger leader trying to figure out why he might behaving this way — and trying to figure out a way to help him.
It was clear from the outset that he didn’t want me to see any weakness or challenge. He had EVERYTHING under control. He had all the best ideas. He knew better than his team, his boss and he certainly knew better than me. Big rooms. Small rooms. It didn’t matter. He was determined to appear to be the smartest man in all rooms he entered.
I listened. I asked questions. I listened some more. It wasn’t hard. He was a talker – another trait I’ve seen in common with people who refuse help. They tend to fill silence, or they tend to create as much silence as possible. I’ve not found them to be middle-of-the-road when it comes to talking or not talking. They either do lots of it, or they don’t do much of it at all.
I told him how much confidence his boss had in him, explaining that my presence proved it. “I’m here to serve you,” I told him. He gave what he thought would be all the right answers. “Great. I’ll put you to work,” he told me. He’d launch into some specific work task as though I would be his personal assistant. I’d stop him and say, “I’m not here to do your work for you, or to do it with you. I’m here to help you with much bigger issues.” That’s when the “Who’s On First?” Abbott and Costello routine would begin. Lots of circle talking would drone on and I’d leave knowing I wasn’t breaking through.
Within months of my effort – my failed effort – he was gone, ditched by the senior executive who saw so much potential, but couldn’t get past the arrogance of a brash young leader with a very hard head. I saw what he saw. The young man had extraordinary potential. It would have been easier if he’d been completely incompetent.
Through the years I’ve seen that scenario repeated more often than I’d like. Nothing frustrates me more professionally than trying to help a person who would benefit from it – a person with skills, experience and know-how. Sometimes I encounter a person who is just over their head. Those people don’t frustrate me. They’re often just doing the best they can even though their best isn’t good enough. Those situations just need to play out sooner than later. But it’s those folks who could do so much better that make me sad. Like a drowning person who refuses a life-saver…you just want to coerce them to grab on and accept your help. But you’re helpless to help. And it sucks!
When Jack Welch was leading GE I got an invitation to attend a small gathering of people at a “meet and greet.” As Welch made his way around the room I knew precisely what I wanted to ask.
“How did a guy like you get to the top of GE?”
Welch quickly replied that he had a terrific boss who protected him and fostered his best.
And there it is – Welch accepted help. Jack Welch accepted help.
Sometimes I can tell the person refusing my help that story and they surrender, letting down their guard so I can begin to serve them. Most times they don’t. Most times they’re so dug in and committed to their posture that they just can’t seem to find a way to be human. Joining the rest of us is just not easy for them. No matter what help we may have needed – or may still need. No matter that Jack Welch needed and accepted help…they just can’t be like us. Mortal. Vulnerable.
It’s a mistake. To avoid vulnerability that will enable us to accept help. It’s a mistake for us to avoid seeking help.
It’s also the tell-tale sign of a low performer. Who cares if it’s insecurity, ego, pride or anything else? I don’t much care. I used to, but I’ve learned not to fret so much about it because the people who refuse help are mostly (not always and not entirely) not the people most capable of high performance. That’s because the highest performers are the most willing to do what must be done to elevate their performance. That’s the biggest ingredient of success – willingness.
I’m not diminishing skills and talents. But without a high degree of willingness those are just potential. I don’t know how to win with potential. I don’t know how to achieve anything with potential. Potential is just hope and hope won’t win anything. Hope needs action to become reality.
Just today I was hearing about a 2nd round MLB draft pick for the Texas Rangers who signed a $2M signing bonus. He’s a high school kid from North Carolina. Then there’s a 3rd round pick they made for a college kid from Duke. He got a $2M signing bonus, too. Four million dollars paid to two players who have potential, but have yet to play a single inning of major league ball. Will they pan out? I don’t know. The Texas Rangers don’t either. Not for sure. They’ve got good intel on these guys. They’re making a calculated investment, but right now they’re just paying for the potential of these two players. Time will tell if that potential is realized.
If both players put in the work, stay healthy and perform up to their ability — the investment will pay off. But if they party like foolish frat brats and aren’t willing to do what’s required to succeed at the major league level…they’ll bust.
You’re not likely going to get a $2M bonus based on potential. Professional sports and entertainment are fantastical. The rest of us live in the real world where the value proposition is very different. You were hired based on what you could do – or what your employer was led to believe you could do. You were likely promoted based on what you had done and what was expected you would do based on historical performances. Well, okay. That doesn’t sound unlike MLB…except for the $2M signing bonus part. 😉
You. MLB players. Entertainers. That willingness is still the common denominator to high achievement. Accepting or asking for help is another ingredient necessary for high performance. There are no self-made men or women. Everybody owes somebody for helping them along the way. Parents, teachers, coaches, trainers, advisors, managers, attorneys, accountants, trusted friends.
So what does all this mean? It means if you want to commit yourself to mediocrity or failure, refuse help. Go it alone. See how far you get. Go ahead. Try it. The high achievers will benefit by you not being part of the competition. You’ll just be one less person standing in their way of reaching their dreams.
So keep that scowl on your face. Embrace your misery as the smartest man in the room who never reached the heights of higher human performance.