Leadership is proactive

As leaders, our willingness and ability to respond based on values and purpose… as opposed to reacting, which is largely driven by an unwillingness or inability (or both) is of monumental significance.  The former occurs when leaders are conditioned to deal with their feelings in a constructive manner and the latter, when they only know those auto-reponses that have run the show for so long.  Effective leaders know how to understand their feelings and as a result filter them without threatening others in the process.

If you’re the type of leader who measures your effectiveness by how well you build trust and positive influence into your relationships than your on the right field and may be in need of some strength conditioning only.  If your not, you may be on the wrong field which is a much larger hurdle but doable none-the-less.

The author who will make as big a dent in the universe as did Steve Jobs is Stephen Covey. He shares “While on a writing sabbatical in Hawaii, I stumbled across a book in an old library and read three sentences that staggered me and completely changed my life forever.”

He goes on to say, “In between stimulus and response is a space.  In that space lies our power and freedom to choose our response.  In those choices, lies our growth and happiness”.

Most people are genuinely unaware of the automatic way in which they think and act (read react) based on stimuli that comes their way.  I was consistently guilty of this for the first 30 years of my life and while I am significantly better today, it still kicks me in the pants when I choose to let it.  Step one is awareness of how you feel when you catch yourself on auto-pilot, then make the right choice.  

Purposefully placing a pause between what happens and how we respond significantly increases our ability to choose the right path, which in turn increases our opportunity to achieve the results we are charged with.

I started out practicing the pause in conversations and it worked.  I carried this new skill forward to my frustrations when I would get stuck working through a problem or project and it worked.  Sure there were a relapses along the way but awareness and right action is how muscle memory is ultimately redefined.

I’ve exercised the power of pause when thinking of unwrapping a Twinkie I did not need but thought I wanted and now most days after waking but before starting my day, I exercise that same pause to think of all the things I am grateful for.  Amazing how much you miss when your on auto-pilot, but conscious awareness is the key and over time leads to unconscious awareness, aka new and improved habits.

We all have the response-ability to consciously lead based on constructive values and goals rather than unconscious reactions, compliments of our ego and those manufactured stories it makes up to keep us feeling safe.  That’s playing not to loose or playing small ball as a good friend of mine often says.

Business and leadership can be very challenging and while consciously exercising your ability to choose your response will not eliminate all the external challenges you are faced with, it will greatly influence the manner in which you answer them and ultimately grow from them.  It’s your call as to whether you will be bitter or better post event.

If you are not careful… not conscious… your reptilian brain will make choices for you.  Not smart in my book, but everyone gets to make their own choices and in doing so writes their own book.  Check out the list below and see where you stand.

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Strategic quitting?

Leadership is easy, getting there is not.

Lots of things distract getting there but the one that is most responsible for making the journey longer and harder has to do with quitting.

I love how Seth Godin, in his book The Dip boldly stated that the old ism, winners never quit and quitters never win is actually wrong.  Some things are worth strategically quitting if you really stop to think about it.

Here is a very interesting thought that I’ve encountered in various leadership discussions, which have the wrapping of a business issue, but in truth is a personal leadership issue.

Being sick and tired of being sick and tired of a situation and quitting may be helpful, but it may lead to deeper more pervasive life challenges, the kind that stay with you when you change jobs, start new companies, even enter into new relationships.

There is a great quote by C.K. Chesterson, which I’ve returned to hundreds of times to work through my own drama as well as helping others work through theirs.  And by drama, I’m not being sarcastic or condescending because at the time we are spinning about in our minds, it’s as real as water is wet.  The quote is simple.  “It’s not that we can’t see the solution, it’s that we can’t see the problem.”

We often quit the external thing we are doing (the job, business, relationship) when in fact the thing itself was not the real problem.  All it may need is a few tweaks here and few others there with our hands comfortably on the dials that only our hands can be on.  Not because others won’t want to, but because others can’t do what only we can.

What if and just play with me for a minute- but what if the thing that we are quitting is the wrong thing all together.  What if the thing that really needs to be quit is the mindscape we posses, which hold tightly some outdated beliefs and stories that are the real problem.  What if it’s not the game we are playing that needs quitting, but what we are bringing to the game that no longer works as it did in our past.

Doing this of course means we would need be proactive and strategic with what we chose to quit and not on reactive autopilot which most of the world operates from?  It also means we would have to reflect deeper and longer holding some mystery for the idea that maybe it’s us, a contemplative exercise not for those more interested in fiction than non-fiction.

I’m only asking mind you, and I told you it would only be a minute.

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Lombardi, a true King-maker

If you’ve not seen the documentary on the life and career of famed football coach Vince Lombardi, you must.  It’s mandatory for leaders just as watching Rocky is for Italian-Americans.

The lessons are everywhere; the most painful found in the regrettable truth that his drive for excellence prevented him to some degree, the experience of true happiness and contentment that people like him who do so much for others truly deserve.  And if the documentary was a book needing to be placed in a section of the store other than sports, with not a single edit needed, it would be on the top shelf under leadership.

His pursuit of perfection revealed his underlying imperfections however his steadfastness paved the way to his legacy, as his singular focus was not just winning, but winning by bringing out the best in his players.

As if his hard work and dedication were not enough, it was said in the documentary that for the majority of his life, he could be found at mass every morning before work, likely giving gratitude for his spirituality and gifts but also seeking answers for those imperfections that no doubt drove him harder to be the full leader he knew he had to be, but maybe not sure just how he needed to be.

A reporter who covered the Packers during Lombardi’s reign tells the story that at mass one weekday morning, he looks up and could not believe what his eyes; there stood Vince Lombardi, an alter boy holding the Gospel book for the priest as he was doing the reading and with a slight bit of humor added “you could tell from the look on the priests face that as he read, he was looking at Coach Vince thinking am I doing OK Coach, am I doing this right?”

The entire Lombardi film is relevant for leaders and despite all the turmoil that was a natural by-product of his passion, he remained focused on teaching others to believe that they could do more and be better than they ever thought they could had they not crossed his path.  He was a true King-maker.

After 30 plus viewings and filling half a notebook with things that resonated on a soul level, what I perceive was the single thing that made his players “reach down deeper to get a little Lombardi” was that they knew he wanted excellence and they knew beyond his stone exterior he cared for them as people-but they also knew that he would cut their ass from the team in the blink of an eye if he didn’t’ think they could get him where he wanted to be, which was at the top.  It was that very thin line between caring and cutting that actually drove them to be their very best.  So simple, yet so complex and that’s the duality for which he seemed to have a Masters as well as Ph.D.

Courage was the price that life extracted from Vince Lombardi, as it does anyone who pursues what they believe with such passion and single-minded focus.  A fan of football or not, please watch and learn because leadership is not easy, but it is necessary and it is everwhere.

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Trust what trust can do for you

Leadership could not exist if there were no relationships and relationship health is wholly determined by the quality of trust within the relationship.  Agreed?

If so, then you’ll likely agree with the statement that leadership is not really leadership if there is no, or low quality trust.  On a good day you could loosely refer to such a dynamic as low-grade management, but that’s on a good day and I honestly can’t imagine a good day in a relationship where there is no genuine trust.

Trust between people is the foundation for which future possibility grows.  Possibility for more business, deeper relationships, even more purpose and happiness when you consider that relationships are the primary place people go to feel and experience deeper meaning in and for their lives.

As with anything worth risking there are no short cuts and certainly no guarantees and so this business of building a genuine foundation of trust becomes as necessary for flourishing relationships as oxygen is to breathe.

Stephen Covey introduced the analogy of the emotional trust account comparing it to a bank account in that if you made consistent positive deposits prior to a minor withdraw, it would not be left overdrawn with a negative balance.

Suffice to say that a leaders most important priority when it comes to relationships is improving the quality trust between them and their people.  An interesting if not obvious residual results because improved trust leads to an increase in task performance (doing their job) and decrease possible deviance (not doing their job).  

Creating the condition for people to do their whole job the right way is every leaders responsibility.  People who believe they are trusted are willing to reciprocate with trust which creates feelings of meaning, happiness and loyalty which leads to feelings of success.  People who feel successful will look harder and seek out those opportunities to make significant positive deposits into your brand by investing in customer relationships which in turn reciprocate with loyalty.

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What’s your Explanatory style?

Self explanatory style does lead to more personal happiness, business success and more profits.       

Positive psychology is something I have been studying and taking courses on for the past 6 years and if you chose to investigate as I have, you might be as equally delighted by the research and innovative discoveries as much as you would appreciate the intuitive nature of what it’s all about.  And while the old model of psychology was useful and relevant for the time, I can’t help but ask again and again, why the hell was this not discovered sooner.

If happiness, which is clinically defined as subjective well-being was the heart, then a main artery would be something called explanatory style.  Explanatory style- how we choose to explain to ourselves the nature of past events- plays the starring role, which impacts our happiness and sustained financial success.  Our explanatory style can be a conscious conversation, but can also and if often an unconscious one.

People either have an optimistic or a pessimistic self-explanatory style.  The optimistic kind is present when we interpret adversity and challenges as being local and temporary.  Local is “it’s just this issue” and temporary is “it won’t last forever”.

The pessimistic explanatory style is global and permanent; global in that “it’s everywhere” and permanent, “it’s going to be like this forever”.

What we believe determines how we behave which drives the lens through which we view and seek opportunities for more optimism or more pessimism.  It’s ingrained, until we choose to replace it.  The latter creates what Martin Seligman, the grandfather of Positive Psychology called learned helplessness, which he stumbled across while studying depression in 1967 at the University of Pennsylvania, a subject he was personally interested in.

Improve your self-explanatory style and improve your profits.  

The short version of his research was that in the 80’s, MetLife was loosing $75 million a year in hiring costs due to the high turnover rate in their sales force, which experienced a staggering 90% rejection.

Here’s what he discovered when he looked into the explanatory style of the sales force.  Those agents with a positive self-explanatory style sold 37% more insurance than those with pessimistic ones, and the most optimistic agents sold 88% more than the most pessimistic ones.  Additionally, those with an optimistic style were half as likely to quit as their pessimistic counterparts.

Regardless of how high agents scored on traditional “smarts & knowledge tests”, MetLife committed to hire only those agents with an optimistic self explanatory style and not only did turnover plummet over the next few years, but they experienced and a 50% increase in market share.  

Go to www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/ppquestionnaires.htm and take a free test to see what your self explanatory style is.

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Positivity = Profits, really

2.9013 is a specific number every leader should know.

Feel free to round up to 3, but be sure you give proper thanks to Dr. Marcial Losada, a psychologist and consultant who spent a decade working with with high & low performance teams which resulted in what’s called the Losada line.

Losada’s mathematical modeling reveals that 3:1 is the ratio of positive to negative interactions necessary to make a successful corporate business team.

This means that it takes about 3 positive comments, experiences or interactions to fend off the languishing effects of one that is negative.  Fall below that number and teams morale and culture suffers significantly but rise above it and research shows a ratio of 6:1 is where teams perform their very best.

Be warned though- this does not mean that superficial or careless attempts at positive accolades qualify, and neither does it mean that accountability should take a back seat to poor performance, replaced by flowery positive statements or interactions just for the sake of…

For those reading this who disagree, consider the number of times you are genuinely positive towards members of your team vs. negative and I’d bet you’re your ratio is not only reversed, but there is a high likelihood you see more wrong than you do right.

If that’s the case and you are the leader, how do you answer for all the wrong that occurs on your watch?

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Leadership lessons from a mathematician?

What can leaders learn from a famous mathematician and scientist from Greece?

A lot actually.  Here’s why.  Around 2200 years ago, Archimedes made the following statement.  “Give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”  

As leaders we often find ourselves working through, pushing or outright fighting situations and things to achieve results we are responsible for or that we want.  Assuming the result or end goal we are trying to achieve is correct (and that may be a big assumption based on the clarity of the leader), any leader willing to stop put down his lever and move the position of his fulcrum to gain what is best described as more effortless leverage increases his chances for success exponentially.

Of course you’d have to ask Archimedes for a more precise calculation if you really wanted to quantify the exact percentage advantage, but since he’s not around anymore lets come at it a little differently by asking a few questions that may help you increase your chances if your working the lever and not making progress.

Is it time to stop?
Are you willing to put down the lever for just a bit?
Are you willing to take a chance by moving the fulcrum?

The stop question can be slippery for leaders who love to work hard and are stoic about effort.  The putting the lever down question is tough for those leaders who look at anything but winning their way as surrendering.  And the moving the fulcrum question is not only hard compared to stopping and dropping, but for leaders who have a hard time being wrong, their challenge is to view moving the fulcrum as an opportunity to learn a new perspective, a new approach.

Where are you in this Archimedean scenario with your personal leadership or business challenges?

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