Ron’s Short Review: Because you are older doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wiser. But, research does find that many people who do cultivate wisdom, gather wisdom at every age. Daniel Pink in his book “Whole New Mind” noted that pattern recognition is the only cognative ability that correlates to success. Older people who have cultivated wisdom are much better at pattern recognition because of their longer experiences.
A.B. Meldrum once said,
Bear in mind, if you are going to amount to anything, that your success does not depend upon the brilliancy and the impetuosity with which you take hold, but upon the ever lasting and sanctified bull-doggedness with which you hang on after you have taken hold.”
Most of my clients would probably never hire me if I told them it was going to take five years to complete the major changes we talk about at the beginning of many of my consulting assignments. At one high-tech company, after three years of intensive effort to develop a new leadership style and corporate culture, the leadership team asked me to evaluate how they were doing. I asked them to rank their “completeness” in each of several major change categories. Overall, they ranked themselves at about 60 percent. I admitted that if they had asked me at the beginning of the process how long it was going to take, I would have estimated five years—so 60 percent after three years was just about right.
One strong leader whom I’m working with now took over an assignment three years ago in one of America’s largest corporations. When he was hired he was actually identified as the “change agent” that the company needed. Needed, maybe, but certainly not wanted. After three years of struggling with the internal practices of the company, he has finally assembled a leadership team that should be able to carry out the many changes that are needed to meet the firm’s looming challenges. I can recall many one-on-one conversations with him over the last three years when he wondered if he had the energy to keep going and whether it would be worth it in the end. But he has endured. I believe he will pick the fruit of an enduring company.
A leader needs to understand that he or she may quite naturally have an easy time focusing on the future or on how the future will look when certain projects, tasks, or goals are completed. Others within their teams may not be able to clearly or easily see the future, or they may be naturally pessimistic about anything involving the future. A leader needs the persistence to bring these people along—they are valuable to the team’s overall balance. They may simply need the leader to either ask them questions to propel them into the future or help them visualize steps to the future outcome.
Bringing an organization along also involves being particularly effective during times of change. Many on the team will naturally resist change, so leaders need to humbly and calmly coax people along to the new direction or vision.
Throughout the history of man, the greatest achievements have been accomplished by leaders having an against-all-odds tenacity. The unshakable convictions of the rightness of their causes have kept adventurers, explorers, entrepreneurs, and visionaries going despite overwhelming difficulty and fierce competition. They were and continue to be persistent, holding fast to their beliefs and moving the idea or the organization forward.
That’s the path to building an enduring organization.
I’m a big fan of Biblical teachings, ancient philosophers and adages. All for the same general reason, they each speak of truth and frameworks. Most of my ancient philosopher exposure is through Aristotle. To me, he provides frameworks that help me view the world from a certain perspective.
Frameworks are important to our brain because it is either lazy or doesn’t have enough capacity to process all the information it’s receiving every day—probably some of both.
By using frameworks, we can help ourselves and others gain a perspective on the world around us that helps us cope and move forward.
Aristotle was a student of Plato and Socrates. But these guys lived around 2,500 years ago. I began to wonder, where have all the philosophers gone or why have we not had one in 2,500 years?
But then I was listening to a Billy Joel song and realized that I had not been looking in the right places for philosophers.
Now with the wisdom of years, I try to reason things out
and the only people I fear are those who never have doubts.
Save us all from arrogant men, and all the causes they’re for.
I won’t be righteous again.
I’m not that sure anymore.
“Shades of Gray”
And take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while
It’s all right; you can afford to lose a day or two
And you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want or you can just get old
You’re gonna kick off before you even get half through
Let’s take a line from each of these songs and think about what Billy is saying:
“The only people I fear are those who never have doubts.”
“You can get what you want, or you can just get old.”
Why would a person never have doubts? They must be so sure of they’re view of the world (or situation) that doubt never creeps into their thinking, evaluation or decision making. As Billy says, that’s someone to fear! They just can’t accept that someone would have a different perspective that might be valid. Jordan Peterson’s Rule No. 9 from his book, “12 Rules of Life” says “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.” Someone who has no doubts is not likely to assume someone else knows what they’re talking about unless that someone else agrees with them. That’s scary!
In the second song, Billy is not talking about being selfish. In fact quite the opposite. He was writing words about being useful, doing meaningful work, maintaining dignity instead of just growing old and doing nothing. What state is your life today? Are you just growing old or are you doing meaningful things? This is not about being old, it’s about growing old. Everyone one of us is growing old from the start. Do something meaningful. It’s a lot more fun.
And then there is my favorite modern day philosopher, George Carlin. During one of his comedy routines, he said,
Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?
If people are not going at the same speed as you, they’re either an idiot or a maniac. If you think about that a minute you realize two things:
- You’re either an idiot or a maniac to everyone else around you.
- You’ll only be exposed to idiots and maniac because you never see the person going at the same pace as you. You’ll never pass them, and they’ll never pass you. You’ll never be exposed to “normal.”
Pay attention to philosophers, both ancient and modern. They have a wonderful way of observing the world.
I’ve shared in the past that the name of my company, Team Leadership Culture, is in that order for a reason. I firmly believe that building great teams is the key to success for any enterprise. I’ve never really had anyone disagree with me on that issue.
Yes, there have been the hard-driving bosses (notice I didn’t refer to them as leaders) who tell me that “The difference between success and failure it’s about getting people to do what they’re told to do.” There’s really nothing I can say or do in those circumstances. I usually just wait and then help pick up the pieces. Believe me, great teams make the difference.
So why is it so hard and requires a continual process to build great teams?
One of the main reasons is that:
- It takes everyone to make teams work and be great—build teamwork
- It only takes one person to cause team failure—breakdown teamwork
The tricky part is that it’s not always the same person at any given point in time.
Sometimes the team will enter a high-risk situation. One that will require a decision when there are still a lot of moving parts or there is still a great deal of ambiguity. It might be the most risk-averse team member that causes the delay that brings about failure.
Sometimes it happens in times of great success when one person feels they didn’t get enough credit for the success or their contributions were not appreciated. This can create a smoldering resentment that will cause failure in the near future.
Successful teams are constantly “sharpening the saw.” You might recognize that statement as number seven of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. His point is that even though you build in the other 6 habits, you need to constantly sharpen the saw. You need to constantly review your effectiveness then learn, grow, and get better. Teams need to do the same.
Teams need to speak the truth to each other. This attribute falls away quickly by the error of omission. Not saying something when something needs saying.
Teams need to hold each other in high regard. This disappears almost instantly when someone feels slighted or under-appreciated.
Teams need to constantly work the friction out of the systems. As soon as the lack of clarity or ambiguity creeps into the system, friction is created.
Teams need to reach unity and reinforce commitment. Without either you haven’t really accomplished team!
Teamwork is hard, but teams are the most important aspect of success. Work hard and constantly on building team.
The “you-first” leader is the man or woman whose focus is on responding to the needs of employees, customers, and community before his or her own needs. Last week, we discussed the first three characteristics that help put those you lead first. This week we’ll continue with the last three.
This is identifying with and understanding another’s situation, feelings, and motives. People need to know they are accepted and recognized for their special gifts and talents.
John was the head of a large entertainment company. He was concerned about everything but his employees and their needs. He lacked many of the qualifications of a great leader, but one of his most glaring deficiencies was empathy. Whenever an employee (executive, manager, or worker) expressed some personal problem or work-related difficulty, John would immediately take that as a cue to either go into his own personal problems or tell the employee, manager, or executive how deficient the person was in his or her job. John made a lot of money, so most employees could not imagine that he could have any of the same problems they experienced. That didn’t matter to John. He just went right into his monologue. Over time, he lost all of his good employees and leaders. The company, now a shadow of its former self, is simply “getting by.”
One of the greatest characteristics of a “you-first” leader is the ability to approach another person as a healer in a spirit of help and compassion.
When she first came to work, Diana was hardly a candidate for employee of the year. In fact, because she had made some terrible choices as a teenager, she was in pain and carrying a load of personal baggage. But the “you-first” manager she reported to sensed that beyond Diana’s broken spirit was a person loaded with raw talent and drive. But first some negatives needed attention. Diana had gaps in her formal training. So the manager worked with Diana on a plan to bring her to a place of peak performance. As she experienced some modest success early on and began getting rid of self-doubts and limiting habits, Diana blossomed. Soon her progress was exponential. Her manager tailored a bonus plan for Diana. She did so well that she outran the plan, creating a financial strain on the manager’s budget!
To this day Diana continues to thrive in both her professional and personal life. All of that started with a manager who could look beyond his own needs and place another person first. His commitment to healing opened the door for Diana to walk through and enjoy her job and her life.
Persuasion over power
Many times when a job is hard to do, poor leaders rely on sheer power rather than persuasion. The compassionate leader seeks to engage others rather than force compliance. There’s a desire to build consensus rather than use authoritarian power. Jesus told compelling stories called parables to help people see that what he was saying was not only different but also better for them. His disciples were confused. Why didn’t he just use his power and “force” people to believe? Jesus knew that he was much better off helping people understand through non-coercive means. With their consensus came the real power to accomplish something great. Power trips and plays deflate people and do not allow them to think for themselves.
What will you do next? This one question may be the key to success.
Our lives are filled with events. This list is long and complex, especially when you add personal experiences, but I’ll just stick with corporate issues in this blog post.
Events can include issues such as:
- A competitor surprises you with a new product or strategy in the marketplace.
- A disruptive new technology catches you off guard.
- You fail at an assignment.
- A teammate seems to be cutting you down behind your back.
- Your boss seems to be showing favorites on the team.
- You just experienced great corporate, team or personal success.
As you can see these events can range from outside your control, to personal experiences, failures, successes and everything in between.
With each of these, we will experience emotions. These emotions will vary as wildly at the events themselves and range from good to bad. We may experience:
- A desire to retaliate.
- Feelings of failure.
- Wanting to react immediately.
- Being a victim.
Again, our reaction, emotions, and immediate feelings will be all over the board. They’re natural and they will happen. Don’t assume that “as an adult” you should keep your emotions under control and feel bad about your reactions. They’re human. They will happen.
But, what you do next will determine your success or failure now and throughout life. Having the initial reaction is involuntary. What you do next is a choice.
If you’re part of a team or maybe even the team leader, you should intentionally talk about what you do next to deal with the issue.
If you’re dealing with a failure:
- don’t stick your head in the sand
- don’t ignore the truth
- don’t hang on to some false or out of date view of the world
- don’t write it off as bad luck
If you’re dealing with success:
- Don’t let it go to your head
- Don’t assume you’ve got everything figured out
- Don’t assume your success will last more than a day
- Don’t stop figuring out how to get better every day
Whatever the circumstances, figure out what to do next.
Great individuals and teams are constantly learning and growing. They’re figuring out what to do next.
Enjoy your success. Mourn your failures. But in all circumstances constantly be asking “What should we (I) being doing next?”
If you’ve ever seen the old movie Rocky you probably remember him climbing the steps of the Art Museum in Philadelphia to finish with a very powerful victory stance. It’s a very moving scene with very powerful music. What we remember is the success.
But, did you know that Rocky climbed 72 steps after running 30.6 miles?
Heidi Grant Halvorson in her book Nine Things Successful People Do Differently says, “Don’t visualize success, visualize the steps you will take in order to make success happen.”
Let me come at this issue from two different sides. One side is what I call “Dave the Dreamer” and the other side is called “It’s easy for you.”
Dave the Dreamer
I have a friend, I’ll call him Dave the Dreamer. Dave is one of the most advanced technical minds that I know. When Dave is talking about technical issues, I feel like I’m barely hanging on by my fingernails. I sort of grasp the concepts, but I don’t really understand the details (which he spends a great deal of time talking about).
Dave really is a friend and I do enjoy being around him and listening to these incredible stories. But Dave is a dreamer. He always assumes that the next big thing is going to happen to him. He visualizes the success.
With each new story and concept, I think (and say to him), “Dave, that’s fantastic. Go for it. Create it. Get it into the world. And Dave is sure it’s going to happen because he knows the “right people” and the concept just can’t fail. Dave visualizes the success.
The next time I talk with Dave, it’s all about the next new thing. What happened to the last idea I ask.
- Oh, it ran into a snag.
- We couldn’t come up with the funding.
- Someone didn’t follow through on their promise.
- This idea is so much bigger and better
Dave never visualized the steps that it was going to take to get there. He only visualized the success.
Success is fun. Steps are hard. Success is at the end of a straight line. Steps are long and winding roads. Success exists in your mind. Steps are real, hard and filled with setbacks.
It’s easy for you
I also see the other side of this story. Those who have visualized the steps. They faced each step and each setback. They overcame difficult issues, failed, got up and tried again. When they experience success, the crowd looks at them and often says.
- It was easy for you.
- You were smarter.
- You had a better opportunity.
- You were in the right place at the right time.
This reflects the crowd’s belief in visualizing success rather than visualizing the steps. Visualize the steps. They’re difficult. They are not stable. They’ll shift with time and circumstances. They’re long and arduous. But keep going. The success that others only visualize is much more enjoyable after you’ve climbed the steps.
Staying focused is virtually impossible without passion. So how do you identify and capitalize on your passion in the leadership setting?
Passion is a craving deep within us, that yearning for something we feel we just must have. It surfaces in a multitude of ways. For example, consider the story of Patrick (Pádraic) Henry Pearse.
Headmaster at St. Edna’s, a small private college south of Dublin, Pearse’s passion was Ireland’s heritage, something he feared was being destroyed by the domination of the English.
Pearse was by nature a gentle man who could never harm even the smallest creature. He had spent his life helping his students understand and pursue their own big dreams. Pearse certainly was not considered a militant or a revolutionary. Yet he was driven by his passion for Ireland.
No longer able to watch the nation’s language, culture, and history eroding, he felt it was time “to pursue his own great goals that, in his words, ‘were dreamed in the heart and that only the heart could hold.’ ”
He embraced the cause to reclaim Ireland and within a year was a leader of the Easter Rising, the Irish rebellion of 1916. After days of intense fighting, the British army defeated the revolutionaries, and on May 3, 1916, Pearse and others were executed in a jail in Dublin. The British leaders mistakenly thought this would put an end to the rebellion. But they did not understand the power of a person’s passion, as people across Ireland embraced Pearse’s ideas for saving Ireland and dreaming big dreams.
In 1921, Ireland declared freedom from England, and Pearse’s passion and dreams for the Irish culture came to fruition. Pádraic Henry Pearse’s passion ultimately forced a nation to find itself.
Finding our passion includes dreaming big. Ask yourself some questions:
- What is my burning passion?
- What work do I find absorbing, involving, engrossing?
- What mission in life absolutely absorbs me?
- What is my distinctive skill?
Answers to questions like these will point you to your passion.
In one of my recent posts about Balance, I spoke to the human need of balancing certainty and uncertainty.
A really good quote from Warren Buffett is “The five most dangerous words in business are: ‘Everybody else is doing it.”
He’s speaking of the need for Social Proof. When we are uncertain, we observe those around us to figure out how we should behave or how we should think. This need for certainty plus the need for belonging (also addressed in the Balance Blog) can combine for a deadly combination. That’s why Buffett describes them as dangerous.
This combines with another experience I (and likely you) have had when one of my parents discovered that I had done something stupid and asked “Would you jump off a building just because all your friends were doing it? Unfortunately, there are a few examples in history of people doing exactly that.
So how do we turn a moment of Social Proof into a moment of Social Poof? Magicians make things go “poof.” They disappear in a poof of smoke or a flurry of bright handkerchiefs. Why did they go, poof? Because they were illusions. They weren’t real. They were figments of our imaginations. The magician wanted us to “see” them so he could make them disappear.
Our marketing world is full of these Social Proof poofs.
You’re really somebody when you drive one of our cars.
Everybody who’s anybody drinks our beverage.
“Hi, I’m a professional actor and I endorse this product. You should want to buy it.” (Check out the Ted Danson Smirnoff commercials. They’re a great spoof of this concept.)
But, back to the purpose of this post. “The five most dangerous words in business.” Social Proof is a dangerous practice for leadership teams. I’ve seen these environments emerge when
- A leader is so competitive that it turns into a win-lose atmosphere. The leader expects total loyalty. If you’re not a “team player” you must be the enemy.
- The smartest person in the room syndrome. This may be a leader or simply a subject matter expert. But when the smartest person in the room exists, everyone else should get in line.
- I worked with a CEO once who told me (and I think actually believed) that he always listened to everyone on his team. When there was a position to be taken he would ask each person on the team what they thought and where they stood on the issue. But subtly, he would quietly listen to the person who had an opposite view without comment. While he would reinforce each person who agreed with his position. You knew immediately which side you were on.
Great teams break down these barriers and attempts at Social Proof by trusting and respecting diverse points of view and honestly dialoguing through them.
Make your Social Proofs go Poof! You and the team will be better off and better balanced.
Success.com recently published a list entitled “10 ‘Harmless’ Habits to Drop If You Want to Be Successful.”
Based on the experience I’ve had with successful teams the last several years, I would say just being successful at dropping the first habit will get you a long way toward success.
Number One: Saying Yes When You Want to Say No!
I’ve taught many teams recently the true meaning of the word decide. Top corporate teams are filled with high achievers. They have all been getting things done since an early age. They’ve been rewarded in academics, sports, arts, and business for getting things done. Getting them done faster and in more volume than anyone else. They’re “doers”!
So, it’s very natural to believe that when corporate leadership teams get together they should decide what to do!
But that’s not what the word means. The “cide” part of the word means to cut off, put to death, publicly execute. Think for a minute about the words pesticide or homicide. The one habit that is keeping most teams and leaders from success is concluding that they should be doing more and more. Corporations and individuals don’t have the resources, energy, time or fortitude to keep doing more and more. Successful teams and leaders decide what to kill, what to stop doing.
There are so many variables related to success and failure in the auto industry that I honestly don’t know if this one issue will spell success or failure for General Motors (GM). But, I need to applaud their courage in shifting their measure of success from being the number one car maker in the world by volume. That seemed to be the driving force in GM for decades. But today, they’ve decided to stop producing vehicles in many parts of the world. That takes courage. Will it be successful? I don’t know. As I said, there are many factors to success and failure. But I do believe that deciding where to stop putting your resources is a big factor.
Saying No is Difficult
I really don’t know many leaders who reward and praise their people for not doing something. But they should. Research and my direct experience with many great leaders validate that focusing on the top three issues you face is the best route to success. Rewarding your people for not doing the 10th item on their priority list (and 9, 8, 7, …) will lead to more success than you can imagine. Leaders and organizations never have enough resources to do everything. The assumption is they just need more resources or more productivity out of the resources they have. That’s the wrong assumption. The real answer is assuming you’re trying to do too many things. Deciding not to do the low priority items will help you realize that you have all the resources you need to accomplish your top priorities. And it will lead to greater success as well.
Figure out how to say No!
The Power of a Positive No by William Ury is a great resource. Deciding to say no will be one of the most productive practices you ever learn.