Would you prefer to listen? Here’s the audio of today’s session. It’s 23:56 minutes long.
When I first heard him say it, I thought it was brilliant really.
It’s not that I’m unable to do it…I just haven’t done it yet.”
He had been asked about some accomplishment that he had yet to perform. It was evident to me that he was confident he’d be able to do it. In fact, he seemed quite confident he could do just about anything. Of course, I learned long ago that the “you-can-do-anything-you-put-your-mind-to” mantra is nothing more than urban or suburban legend. Well meaning parents use that phrase to encourage their children, but I’ve often wondered if they don’t really burden their children with an unreasonable expectation that can never be met. I encouraged my children to apply themselves and work hard, but I also warned them that success isn’t a right.
And that’s where I began to question the brilliance of his statement. Success was his right. He reeked with it. You could tell and I began to realize his statement could be both wise and foolish depending on the context and intention.
Some Things That Simply Aren’t Possible
1. You can’t always control what happens.
Circumstances and situations arise that are beyond our control. We’re not able to do much about them, other than react to them or manage them as well as we can.
Most of us have known people – sadly, sometimes people we love very much – who were diagnosed with some serious illness. Try as we might, there’s often very little we can do other than to support and serve them. We can’t heal them. Sometimes neither can doctors. We wish we could do more, but we’re often helpless.
In our careers we rarely are faced with circumstances quite as dire, but nonetheless they cause us high anxiety and grief.
2. You can’t control other people.
When I was a young father and my children were small, I could control them. As time rolled on and they grew up, my control morphed into influence. I could no longer control them, but I could influence them. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
People don’t always do what we’d like them to do. They don’t always behave as we’d like, or as they should. Sometimes, they don’t perform as highly as we’d like. It’s important that we understand the professional scope and boundaries of our work. That isn’t to say that we’re absolved of responsibility to help people. But, we all have to come to fully understand the differences between controlling and influencing. It’s impossible for you to control others at work. Ask any mom or dad of a toddler and they’ll tell you I’m crazy for saying you can control small children. I never said it was ideal control. 😉
3. You can’t always control the timing.
Every professional wishes they had better command of their schedule. That’s especially true of deadlines, unplanned events and emergencies. Things happen on their own timetable and sometimes it turns our lives upside down. “Of all the weeks, this would happen now!” we may mumble. Or yell.
Time management is a universal problem like weight loss. Type “time management” into the search bar of Amazon (for books) and you’ll get 121,807 results. Enter “weight loss” into the search bar and you get 90,374 results. Does that surprise you? Time management is a problem few conquer. At best, we can only hope to have moments where our grip is solid. Mostly, we feel as though we have no grip at all.
The impositions on our schedule are cause us to use language to depict how we feel. Swamped, covered up, in the weeds, chasing my tail, running around like a chicken with my head cut off, buried…those aren’t productive feelings. While we can all improve our calendar and schedule, there are so many other people and circumstances that pull us away from our ideal.
Then, there are those unforeseen things like an employee who suddenly resigns. You’re blindsided and think, “Oh, man. Not now!” But he’s resigning and you can’t do one thing to prevent it. It’s bad enough you’re losing him, but his timing couldn’t be worse. And so it goes.
Few things cause higher anxiety among professionals because this is one area where we’re unable to increase the resources. Budgets can be tweaked. Revenues can be generated. Profits can be squeezed. Time can only be improved by using it better, but we’re often baffled how to do that because we simply don’t have enough of it. And we can’t do one thing to get more of it.
What else can’t you control?
These aren’t the only things we can’t control, but it’s what I’ve identified as the top 3. Feel free to consider others, but I think you’ve got the idea. You’re a high achieving professional. That means you’re likely accustomed to getting your way and having a high degree of control. Those aren’t components of high achievement. Rather, they’re just common traits among high achievers in the workplace. That’s the problem. We tend to think these traits are the WHY of our success, but they’re not. Our success is determined by many things like our professional competence, our willingness, our problem solving prowess, our powers of persuasion and influence, our ability to build a team and countless other learned or innate talents.
NEWS FLASH You’ll be increasingly frustrated trying to control things beyond your control. Stop it!
Some Things That Are Possible
1. You can often influence what happens.
High achievers don’t tend to see themselves as victims. Most feel they’ve determined their outcome. Some feel they’ve contributed heavily to it.
The world is filled with victims who lament their inability to impact any positive change in their life. They lack an important mindset of high achievers – the knowledge that YOU can affect a positive outcome. In short, there are things you can do to improve your success.
Autocrats view themselves as the sun around which all other people orbit. They are the supreme commander of their life – and everybody else’s. Most often they are deluded tyrants, but some organizations are ruled by such people. Some are even operating successful companies. I don’t recommend it because it’s not a great long-term approach. At best, I’ve only seen it work for very limited periods of time because in time, people revolts or quit. Because we’re working together, I’m pretty confident you’re NOT an autocrat, but you are a high achiever!
Even high achievers can sometimes lose sight of their own powers of influence, especially if they answer to a strong leader often bent on imposing their own will. C-level executives sometimes find themselves feeling at the mercy of a hard charging boss. Harold Geneen, the famous tyrannical leader of ITT back in the 60’s and 70’s, regularly reduced upper executives to tears with brutal grilling during public meetings. I’m not a fan of his style, but I’m a big fan of one thing that he constantly urged his executives to do.
Managers must manage.”
I suppose that can mean whatever you’d like, but I prefer to apply it in the most positive way possible. YOU, the high achiever, must find a way to influence the outcome you want. When it comes to plans, goals and budgets – or any other measurable – you must exert the proper influence to affect the results you seek.
Rather than feeling you’re helpless to change things, accept the responsibility to influence things as much as possible. Build a strategy to get things done. You’re a manager. Manage. That means you can devise a plan and strategy to manage the workflow, processes and activities in order to get a more favorable outcome. Don’t be a victim, even if the situation seems impossible. Manage.
2. You can influence people.
Acts of leadership involve people. Acts of management involve processes, or “the work.” However, you can’t separate the two because people do the work. Both components have to work in harmony if any organization is going to achieve their desired results.
Great systems can often overcome a lack of greatness in people and greatness in people can often overcome weaknesses in systems, but…couple great people with great systems and you’ll have something extraordinary. No, it doesn’t often happen because it demands remarkable effort, thought, strategy and execution. If it were easy, everybody would achieve it. My work is focused on helping clients achieve remarkable status.
Regardless of the nature of your work, two things are necessary in everybody on your team: a) competence and b) willingness.
Competence can be improved with training. Willingness can’t. I have no answer for helping improve a person’s willingness. For me, a lack of willingness is a non-negotiable standard.
Some organizations are more technical than others so competence can often be more highly prized than willingness. If you’re in such a space you’ll likely relate to a hot shot engineer or chemist who has mad technical skills, but is difficult to work with. What they lack in willingness they make up for in technical prowess. You have to judge such situations and weigh the pro’s and con’s. But I know you’re often anxious with managing the work of such people because you may find yourself excusing or defending them. Is it worth it? Only you can decide that…unless your boss eventually overrides you.
You can influence people in a variety of ways and methods. Sometimes it’s ideal to have a private one-on-one. Other times it’s more suitable to address the entire group.
Don’t misunderstand the term “influence” for criticize, correct or rebuke. Some of the most powerful influences are praise. By nature, it seems most leaders focus on the negative. The deficiencies jump out at us and we instantly gravitate toward them. Junior walks into the house with a report card. He’s got 5 A’s and 1 C. Where do you think most parents jump? That’s right. They go right to the C and begin to tell Junior that he’s got to bring that grade up!
I want to give you a phrase that is critical when you’re influencing people…
Soar with your strengths.
I know you’ve got team members who need to correct some things, but I want you to focus first on their strengths. That doesn’t mean you avoid addressing glaring weaknesses. It means you avoid beating people over the head like dad might beat Junior over the head about the C (when Junior has 5 A’s).
You get what you reward. There are a couple of challenges with that. One, sometimes we think we’re rewarding one thing, but we’re really rewarding something else. The brainiacs of Freakonimics have talked frequently about reward systems, including paying kids for good grades. It all just proves how difficult rewards design can be. Two, sometimes the reward systems can create a new monster. A new commission can be implemented for a sales team that results in higher revenues. However, it may result in lower profits or in a spirit of “how much are you gonna pay me?” It can be tough to correct such reward systems.
You get more of what you praise. A recent Forbes article addressed the reasons why nearly 2 million Americans leave their jobs, even in a time of economic uncertainty. The article cited a recent Accenture report. These are the reasons they found people quitting their jobs:
a) They don’t like their boss (31%)
b) A lack of empowerment (31%)
c) Internal politics (35%) and
d) Lack of recognition (43%)
That last one is the one I want to point out. Okay, the first one is pretty important, too. Of course, you realize the last one can impact the first one.
The bottom line is, people love to hear praise. So why don’t bosses (YOU) do it more? Because you don’t think about it. Because you’re always focused on the problems that need to be solved. Because you’re afraid it’ll make your people soft. Those are pathetic excuses. Stop it. Right now.
Celebrate wins and you’ll start experiencing more wins. It’s the single biggest thing you can do to elevate your team’s performance.
What about your upward influence? Everybody needs to get a “yes” from somebody else. Maybe it’s your boss. It could be an investor or a financial partner. It could be a vendor or supplier. It could be an internal or an external customer! You need people to say “yes” to your ideas, suggestions and plans. How do you do that? With influence and persuasion.
You may be comfortable with the term “selling.” Or you may want to vomit every time you hear it. No matter, you MUST embrace it. Selling, wooing, winning over…they all mean the same thing. You need to say and do things that will assist you in getting a “yes” from important people. People who can help or hinder your progress.
This is usually part of our work together because you won’t be able to push forward without this skill. And it can always be improved.
3. You can gain greater control of your calendar and schedule.
Some organizations never have meetings. Instead, they call impromptu meetings during the random times when they’re absolutely necessary.
Other organizations have meetings galore. They have meetings where they can plan other meetings. They meet so they can have a meeting.
Your organization likely has a “meeting culture.” It could be the ever popular “standing only” meeting where nobody sits down because the organization wants to make sure the meetings don’t drag on unnecessarily. It could be the “first thing” meeting culture where hardly a day begins without a meeting. What’s your organization’s meeting culture?
Resist the temptation to cooperate with the meeting culture of your organization if it doesn’t suit your needs. For instance, I’ve worked with sales departments of very technical companies where the technical teams have a meeting culture that establishes the entire company’s culture. Unfortunately, that meeting culture is hazardous to the sales team. While technical teams meet to plan and review their work, the sales team needs to be busy selling, not meeting. Meetings assist the technical people in solving their problems, but the same meeting culture is detrimental to making sales. Two groups with contrasting missions can rarely be best served with identical meeting cultures.
When is the last time you really quantified the outcome of every meeting? Frequently, I’ll ask clients to put their meeting culture on trial for its life. By making them justify the meetings we’re always able to eliminate some meetings, shorten others and conduct others with less frequency.
Meetings sometimes become habits. We get used to meetings and we just blindly keep on holding them. There are lots of wasted man hours in almost every organization with needless meetings.
Sometimes it’s not the meeting that’s at fault. Sometimes it’s the facilitator of the meeting or it’s a lack of planning and preparation. If you’re in 10 meetings a week and you can manage to shave 6 minutes off each one…you just found yourself an extra hour! As with most things, better managing meetings doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition.
Work expands to fill the time allotted.” – Parkinson’s Law
When it comes to gaining greater control over your schedule, you have to be ruthless in planning and even more ruthless in execution. Have you ever constructed your ideal schedule ahead of time? Don’t be embarrassed. You’re in good company. Few people have ever taken the time to do this because they figure, “There’s no way I can pull that off.” They resign themselves to the status quo without ever trying. I encourage you to at least give it a try. And I don’t mean just a weak effort once, but I mean a consistent, concerted effort over time.
Change Your Mind, Change Your Outcomes
We could talk about a lot of specifics, but these sessions are designed to simply get you to think about what you do, how you do it and maybe most importantly, why you do it. I hope you’ll open your mind and let all these idea percolate awhile.
Think about them. Write down some notes about them. Experiment with them. Be bold to try some new things.