Getting things done

Leading at a Higher level

Leadership done well has an ascendant quality.

Often the reward for doing a good job is getting to do more.

That’s ok, especially if you love what you do.

It’s an opportunity for the leader with the right motives and vision to have a more significant influence and an impact that ultimately helps more people.

Here’s the thing.

Each time you gain altitude with your leadership, you have to figure out how to do more, and do it better, all while steering the ship and responsibly guiding the activities of an increasing number of co-workers.

The adage “what got you here won’t get you there!” rings truer than ever.

For most organizations, replacing the CEO can be a high-stakes gamble.

Unfortunately, not every transition works out, and the failure rate is steep. (up to 46%)

 In situations like this, high-altitude adjustment training becomes necessary for newer CEOs or Senior Execs.

Much like living and working at a high altitude requires preparation, the same is true for a CEO or senior executive elevated to a new role.

The Altitude Factor

There’s a simple reason that Kenyan and Ethiopian runners dominate world records in marathon running.

They live, work and train at high altitudes year round. So when they compete against elite athletes from lower climes, they have a distinct advantage.

Professional sports teams coming into mile-high Denver, Colorado, deliberately schedule an advance acclimation period before match-ups. Without this prep time, they risk getting trounced by the local teams, who have an altitude advantage.

What Happens in Times of Transition

Hardly anything that happens at an organization is more important than a high-level executive transition.

It’s a given that the new leader’s actions or inaction will significantly influence the course of the business, for better or for worse, for years to come.

Nearly 50% of new CEOs I’ve worked with expressed a distinct “not what I expected!” response early on.

Everyone, regardless of experience, finds transition into a senior role challenging. The disconnect between the expectation and the reality of being a CEO could contribute to a disappointing 27-47 % failure rate in the first two years. (Source – McKinsey White-paper Successfully transitioning to new leadership roles)

Backlogs

Quite often, an accumulated backlog of C-level work got deferred during the search and transition period. So it is understandable that some plans get put on hold until the new leader and their team is in place. Adding to the backlog are avoidable issues like lengthy reports, poorly designed meetings, presentations, and a tendency for trivial decisions to be referred upwards.

Overwhelm and the “Too Busy” Trap

Overwhelm is a predictable outcome of the work backlog. The new CEO often feels pressured to do a lot in a compressed timeframe simply because there’s a lot to do, and all eyes are on them. Connecting and interacting has never been easier. While technology has helped us do many things more efficiently, it hasn’t helped us become more effective. It certainly hasn’t slowed down the pace. If anything, the opposite.

There seem to be endless meetings, and we wind up drowning in real-time virtual technology. There’s Zoom, Slack, Teams, group texting, WeChat, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Loom.

The downside is that actual productivity and value creation get sacrificed in the arena of frequent and low-quality virtual interactions.

Expectations Run High

Leadership is all about managing expectations:  Both personally and that of others.

 The new leader’s goals and ambitions must be realistic and appropriate to the circumstances. If they are unrealistic, they will be perpetually stressed and self-critical.

If the timeline for reaching initial goals is unrealistic, consider adjustments that make things more realistic.

Disappointed expectations often stem from flawed assumptions.

It’s crucial for the new leader to constantly check alignment of expectations and assumptions with colleagues, stakeholders, board and staff alike.

Trust and Confidence are Fragile

Winning trust in the early going is key.

Leaders who can foster a climate of openness and welcome genuine dialogue about what’s going on earn respect and trust.

Trust is that “salt of the earth” quality that, over time, can win approval and support from even the most oppositional people. And of course, there will always be those who oppose change.

In Summary

It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that a senior leadership transition is more of a process than an event.

Crafting a “Framework for Action” with an accountability structure that addresses all of the above factors is the best way to approach transition.

Having an experienced advisor along side to guide the process gets the new leader established and the whole  organization can enjoy the long term benefits.

 

 

Until next time…..

Here to help.

 

Three Strategies to Combat That “Not Doing Enough”Feeling

The Unhealthy Comparison Merry Go Round 

Face it. We all play the comparison game. It’s how our caveman software works.

The grand illusion you and I are subjected to each time we spend time online is what success supposedly looks like.

When you scroll through social media posts, you may feel compelled to compare to a perception you see.

Unfortunately, people mostly share the shiniest version of what they want you to see. Skills are highlighted, and flaws are hidden. Wins are exaggerated, and losses are downplayed. Doubt and anxiety are rarely featured in social media posts. Defeated heroes and failed CEOs rarely sit for interviews.

Reality dictates that most things are more challenging than they look and not as fun as they seem. It’s also true that everyone has bad days, and no one has a picture-perfect life. We get a highlight reel of what people want you to know about themselves to increase their own chances of success. Unfortunately, we tend to compare that to the worst parts of ours.

When you compare others’ portrayal of success to yours (or lack thereof), you do yourself a disservice. Revisit what you want to get out of life and go for it. Success to you may be freelance writing from your van as you travel the country. That is perfectly ok and worth pursuing.

Antidote: Recognize when you find yourself on the unhealthy comparison Merry Go Round. Then just hop off it! 

Expectation Management

Leadership is all about managing expectations: Your own and that of others.

Your goals and ambitions need to be based on reality. If they are unrealistic, you will be perpetually stressed and criticizing yourself.

If the timeline for reaching your goal is unrealistic, consider adjusting things to be more realistic.

Consider what you want to get out of life and go for it.

When It comes to having expectations of others, I’ve learned to definitely have them and hold them loosely. When others perpetually disappoint us, it’s easy to grow frustrated. If your team or colleagues are underperforming against your expectations, it’s time to ask yourself how you expected them to act and why. People can only give you what they’ve got.

Disappointed expectations often stem from flawed assumptions. For example, I might assume someone understands what I’m conveying and what I expect, only to discover I’m dead wrong.

Proceeding without an agreed-upon assumption checklist is a sure-fire way to have things go wrong later. On the other hand, you will rarely be disappointed if you go into every situation with well-informed assumptions.

Antidote: Have a robust feedback eco-system. Every good leader I know has their own pipeline to reality. This allows for well-informed assumptions, decision-making, and planning.

Shorten the To-Do List

This might be too simple, but as we know, simple isn’t always easy.

So, often we feel inadequate simply because our to-do list has grown too long.

Learn to divvy things up according to priorities. Then, choose three items that you would feel accomplished if you could only get those tasks done today.

Why three? Well, two’s not enough, and four often is too many.

But hey, – you do you and decide what works.

It helps to remember that life is a journey. So we often get caught up in attaining the goals, and we fail to enjoy the detours and scenic viewpoints along the way. It might be time for you to look back at how you have grown as a person while pursuing goals, even if you haven’t quite reached them.

I’ve found it helpful to journal accomplishments that I can be quietly proud of.

Not in a “hey look at me” kind of way but in a “yeah, I got to do that, and it’s pretty cool !” kind of way.

Even small achievements are worth celebrating. Celebrating how far you have come will boost your morale and set you up for more success. For example, maybe you got in a 30 min daily walk for the last two weeks after being a couch potato for months. That’s an activity win to get excited about.

Antidote: Keep a viable running to-do list but make sure it’s not stressing you out. Journal the good things and accomplishments you’ve been privileged to be a part of.

Until next time,

Lorne

“It’s been crazy – busy around here recently.”

“I’m just so slammed!” 

Does this sound like you? 

Unfortunately, these are relatively common phrases I hear from Owners, mid-market CEO’s and Executive Directors alike. All too often, it’s the top excuse for avoiding something significant getting decided or done.

My question: “If we’re all so busy, why is so little getting accomplished?”

Spoiler Alert: If the boss is constantly “too busy,” it fosters a group busyness culture where it becomes the go-to excuse for everyone. After all, it’s being modelled from the top down.

We all know that famous Drucker truism, Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast!

Granted, the prevalence of the Smartphone synced with the emerging Information Economy are all contributing factors to general busyness.

A common complaint from executive leaders and senior managers is that too much time is wasted on pointless interactions that produce energy drain and information overload.

 

The Problem? Connecting and interacting have never been easier. While technology has helped us do many things more efficiently, it hasn’t helped us be more effective. It certainly hasn’t slowed down the pace. If anything, the opposite.

There seem to be endless meetings, and we wind up drowning in real-time virtual technology. There’s Zoom, Slack, Teams, group texting, WeChat, WhatsApp, Messenger, Loom and so on.

The downside is that actual productivity and value creation get sacrificed in the arena of frequent and low-quality virtual interactions.

I’ve found that actual value and productivity work best when leaders and their teams collaborate in three essential areas.

 

  • Complex Decision making with robust buy-in
  • Creative solutions and group problem solving
  • Critical information sharing and coordinating efforts

Three Field-Tested Fixes for the “Too Busy” Syndrome 

These are three personal favourites from experience. This is by no means a comprehensive list.

Fixing Priorities 

I’m a massive fan of the Eisenhower Matrix. I’ve used it for years, both personally and professionally, to avoid being busy with the wrong things.

If you do a quick search, you’ll get dozens of iterations of this simple but effective tool.

Me? I try to keep the bulk of my priorities in the “Important But Not Urgent” zone.

Fixing Schedule

Earlier in my career, I used to schedule myself at 100% and then flat-out go. As a high achiever who loves productivity, that is just what you do, right?

When inevitable, critical interruptions occur (which happens a lot when working with people), I would be frustrated, annoyed and get way too busy. It wasn’t in the plan.

When I learned to schedule myself at 80%, there was a margin for interruptions. I could be more relaxed because now it was in the plan. My personal productivity didn’t suffer; in fact, it overall improved.

Fixing Choices

It helped a lot when I recognized slowing down was a choice.

It meant saying “no” a lot more.

Often, they were excellent things, but saying yes would push me over into the too busy lane.

Choosing single-tasking over multi-tasking was a much more calming process for me. Much better than having multiple projects with multiple pressure deadlines

How about you ?

Got a personal tip or strategy to combat busyness? Shoot me a quick note. I’d love to hear about it.

I’m sure it would benefit other readers.

 

Early in my career, I was a 6th-grade teacher in an inner-city school that was politely ranked as “difficult.”

One of my early moves was to make homework optional.

My learning agreement with students was that they would have to put in the work if they actually wanted to learn anything.

While I could teach them almost anything, I couldn’t actually make them learn anything.

It helped if I could spark sufficient interest and curiosity to kindle inner motivation. Then suddenly, students were delving into topic areas on their own and enjoying it.

While I couldn’t force kids to learn, it was up to me to provide a positive learning culture and present opportunities. One little guy who struggled to read suddenly became an avid reader. He was keen on hot-rod cars. I accidentally (on purpose) left a couple of hot rod magazines lying on my desk. He asked to take them home. I said he could bring them back and read to me the parts he liked the best.

And a reading program was born!

While there’s some overlap in the understanding of these terms, it’s generally known as unstructured learning, leveraged learning, and self-directed learning.

One enormous benefit of my stint in the teaching profession was that I became steeped in the “Socratic Method” learning system. This allowed me to perpetually channel my inner 4-year-old to ask questions. That’s something I cherish to this day.

This learning approach has worked well in becoming a leadership practitioner in Project Management and then as a Founder and CEO.

How It Works

Everything we learn in formal education is well structured and predefined.

First, teachers and professors tell us what they think we need to know. Then at regular intervals, we cram to prove that we understand what they’ve been saying all along.

The process takes anywhere from 12-20 years, and we compete with peers to get good grades.

When we hit the real world, many of us hardly apply what we’ve spent years learning in a formal setting.

That’s unless we pursue specific things for what we currently do or intend to do. (I.E., Accounting, Law, or Medicine)

 

“We have sold ourselves into a fast-food model of education, and it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies,”  Ken Robinson, the author of The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.

How It Can Work

The real question is, how do you learn the hard, essential things that matter to your success in life and career? How do you explore and dig deeper into complex topics you deeply care about?

In the mid 90’s, I came across an article published by the Center for Creative Leadership that put forward some bold ideas about how people learn at work.

70% of what we learn is from hands-on, on-the-job training, problem-solving, and just plain doing it.  20% is from trial and error, failure, peer learning, and observing others, and 10% from formal classroom training and courses.

Much like your daily weather forecast, it’s not highly prescriptive. The great thing about this model was that it recognized that up to 90% of our work-related learning can happen very informally.

This new way of looking at things spawned a whole new movement of “learning organizations” characterized by strong teamwork, and a high capacity to solve problems.

“Being a student is easy. Learning requires actual work.”
— William Crawford

I embraced this style of unstructured learning many years ago. I followed curiosities, read many books, and reached out to experts I knew who succeeded in the things I was interested in.

Many significant achievements that I’ve been a part of over the past decades are directly attributable to unstructured, self-directed learning.

It’s also important to recognize that everything necessary we’ve learned or accomplished is because of a teacher or a guide. In my instance, many teachers. It just wasn’t formal. Quite often, they didn’t even realize they were teaching me.

Consider this: If you or I set about to climb Everest, where conditions are harsh, and every step could be a life or death decision, we’d definitely want a Sherpa guide.

Hard skills don’t lend themselves to some YouTube instruction or easy hacks. I’d like someone experienced to show me that way and teach me step-by-step on the path forward. Right?

While mastery is the goal, I consider myself an ever-learning practitioner in the topics of Leadership, Human Behavior, Faith and Spirituality, Organizational Development, Investing, Coaching, Consulting, Writing, and Film Making, to name a few.

 “Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.” Richard P. Feynman

Unstructured learners find and stick to learning methods that work best for them.  They find a “flow” that creates an environment and routine to sustain the creative learning process.

Build your own “learning scaffold” that can be used over and over again.

I’m amazed watching my grandson assemble complex and functional Lego creations from a bucket of random pieces. He has a personal creative learning process that he developed, follows, and repeats with every new product he produces.

 “Perseverance, pleasure, and the ability to retain what you learn are among the wonderful byproducts of getting to learn using methods that suit you best and in contexts that keep you going,” Kio Stark Handbook for Learning Anything.

If you don’t love the process of learning, this probably won’t work. Sometimes, it’s necessary to master a new skill or topic to advance your career, but this is when you find your bigger why and hold on to that motivation to keep learning.

The Basics

Here are some of the basics that can help you become a successful unstructured learner:

  1. There’ll be core content and foundational basics to whatever topic or discipline you pursue. So, immerse yourself in the basics first.
  2.  Find topics that augment and support your life’s purpose — it’s fundamental for sustaining the process.
  3.  Know what learning methods work the best for you and then explore, search, and discover. Build a personal learning scaffold that you can re-use.
  4.  Channel your inner four-year-old and ask endless questions. It takes at least 5 “why’s” to start getting to the bottom of things. Ignorance can help you dig deeper and learn faster.
  5.  Know what you don’t know — and use that to ask the basic questions. It’s astounding to me how ordinarily smart leaders deflect and B.S. their way through stuff when all that is needed is a simple “I don’t know.”
  6. Find a guide and/or cohort of like-minded people who share your interest.
  7.  Create your own feedback process. Double down on what’s working

Every unstructured learner invests in their unique process. Build your learning method and make it your own. Tricky things, topics, domains, and skills take time to master.

If you’re curious enough, don’t be afraid to invest in hard skills that will serve you for life. Commit to a process you can sustain.

Don’t rush it and burn out. Learning anything new will probably change your life for good.

The joy of mastering new skills or figuring things out on your own is a fantastic and worthwhile experience.

Until next time.

P.S. This October, I’ll once again be offering LeaderLab TM, a high-value blend of Executive Training and Coaching for successful applicants.

Watch for details in your inbox in the coming weeks. 

 

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

 

A PERSONAL STIMULUS CHECK

True confession: It’s hard for me to stay motivated these days.

 And that’s unusual for me. Usually, I’m a pretty motivated self-starter type, but I hit some invisible wall and have to dig way deeper to stay motivated.

My whiteboard of “to-do’s “is glaring at me from across the room. I have trouble deciding where to start, and then a sense of overwhelming arises.

Maybe it’s the S.A.D. Season and my vitamin D levels are down.

Maybe it’s the mild cognitive impairment brought about by ever-lurking pandemic fatigue.

Yeah, that’s probably it.

“He who moves not forward goes backward.”

– Von Goethe 

 

What I Know Works 

Well, first, I have to remind myself that this is a weird time when millions of lives have been lost. Millions of more jobs have been destroyed. 

In a few short months, we’ve had to reshape how we work, socialize, learn, and generally do life.

 “The future ain’t what it used to be.” 

― Yogi Berra

If you’ve ever endured a significant house renovation, you’ll know the unsettled feelings that accompany the chaos. Walls and wiring get ripped out; spaces are re-configured; everything is re-routed. Life for many folks is something like that.

The temptation is there to be scared and anxious about a thousand stupid things. 

But really, the job these days is to do the best we can and take it one step at a time.

And then take those steps. 

Motivation Is A Task

Intrinsic motivation is indeed part of every project that you and I are working on. It’s a task to check off. I frequently have to motivate myself to stay on target with my work, relationships, spiritual, and life goals. 

Why? Because some people are counting on me to show up. 

The same goes for you. 

If my goal is to be healthy and “eat well,” and I crave cookie dough ice cream, it’s my job to say, “I’ve got a better plan, and that craving will have to wait right now.” 

An acquaintance of mine is a competitive bodybuilder. He works out daily, sometimes twice a day, and eats a lot of food but according to a rigorous and well-constructed plan. When he’s in training for an event, he would MUCH rather chow down on a double cheeseburger with fries than another five ounces of steamed chicken breast and asparagus.

So motivation is something one must consciously choose.

Grit Is A Factor

Let’s face it. Perseverance, determination, willpower, and sticking to it don’t get much air time these days.

I mean it’s just not sexy. 

We live in a culture where people expect immediate results. There’s Nexus lanes, movies on demand, coffee drive-thru windows, high-speed internet, Instagram, and Door Dash.

If you want something right now, all you have to do is spend a few bucks. 

Unfortunately, people carry this idea into the work world where success is anything but instant or without effort.

The reality is that it takes a lot of hard work, patience, and time to experience success.

Success often comes and goes in cycles. This intermittent nature of success can be too much for some aspiring leaders to handle.

It doesn’t take much to be motivated when things are going well. But how will you respond when you go through a rough patch? As your energy slips, will you stay the course and continue striving toward your goals?

You see, grit isn’t necessarily the same thing as success, but it’s positively correlated with success because how can you overcome obstacles 

unless you’re willing to grind out through all the failures?

It seems there’s no such thing as easy on the stuff that’s worthwhile.

People who train hard and run a marathon don’t ever say, “Wow, was that ever easy! “

Grit is a critical factor that determines outcomes.

 

Take Some Steps – The Passion Thing Will Follow 

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” 

Yogi Bera

 

There’s this pervasive, unrealistic life theory out there that says you have to be passionate about just about everything you do all the time, or else why bother. Wrong!

True – it’s great when you can find that sweet spot in your work, where you feel challenged, rewarded, and fulfilled all at once.

Statistics and life experience tell us this is very much the exception, not the norm.

It is also true that sometimes there’s great wisdom and sound judgment in knowing when to throw in the towel.

 It shouldn’t be the default response when things start heading south.

All too often, I see initiatives, jobs, and vocations getting ditched because someone “just isn’t feeling it “(aka discouragement, overwhelm, disillusion, unmet expectations) 

 I think it’s a net result of the digital era where we’re all a part of a massive cognitive disconnect between what’s virtual and what’s real. 

I’m bombarded every day with smiling faces, successes, and achievements of others on Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, etc., which leaves me feeling “what’s wrong with me” or “I must really suck at life.”

But it takes doing something to actually “do something.” You can quote me on that.

Being persistent and consistent at doing the right things is what builds your influence and a leadership presence.

Sometimes that means just showing up and doing the work even when you’re not “feeling it”. 

Just do the work. The passion thing will follow. Trust me. 

The vast majority of leadership is a mental attitude. 

One of the most significant mental challenges for leaders is self-motivation, especially during slow or tumultuous times. If you find yourself struggling to move forward, you’ll need to get a grip.

“90% of the game is half mental.”

Yogi Berra 

Can we take this one step at a time? 

Until next time

Lorne

 


Degrees of Truth, Grasping For Reality,

and Why That Concept Still Matters

I love this fight scene from Monty Python & the Holy Grail.

The fictional Black Knight valiantly denies King Arthur from crossing his bridge and loses all of his limbs in the process.

“Tis but a scratch!” – Black Knight

“A scratch? your arm’s off!” – King Arthur.

“No, it isn’t!” – Black Knight,

Well, what’s that then?” – King Arthur

(Black Knight looks down at his detached arm and pauses)

“I’ve had worse.”  

As the battle ensues, the Black Knight is reduced to a trash-talking torso

hollering “I’m invincible” and “Come back here. I’ll bite your legs off!”  

After all, he’s a Black Knight, and everyone knows that Black Knights are totally invincible.

“Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”.- Oscar Wilde

Take away: Coming to terms with the truth of the situation can sometimes be a painful experience.

It’s said that John Cleese wrote this scene because he hated the saying, “You never really lose until you give up.”

The deadly assault on the Capitol by a bizarre coalition of self-proclaimed

neo-Nazis, white supremacists, camouflaged preppers, Christians, and Viking

wannabe’s, has got to be one of the great head-scratchers of our time.

If you’re anything like me. me you’re wondering, “why are things so haywire?” and “where’s the truth in this situation?”

Everyone wants to believe they’re thinking independently, understanding how things work and why things are happening.

But everyone has only seen the world through the narrow lens of their own experiences and their social network.

There’s a strong force in our human nature that propels us toward interpreting reality in a self-serving and unrealistic way.

There’s an equally strong force that pulls us to conformity.

Demagogues have always understood and exploited this human flaw.

Throw in a compelling storyline that may or may not be true, and suddenly

typically smart people are embracing and defending ideas that range from

goofy to disastrous.

It shows up all over the place.

The same story, again and again.

The best leaders can grasp the reality of situations and take appropriate action for themselves and others. The best leaders also resist self-serving behaviors and mindless conformity.

I really admire that.

To make sure I’m still on track, I revisited my assumptions and framework on the various truth types and how we’re governed by them.

OVERRIDING TRUTHS

“Gravity’s not just a good idea; it’s the law.” Seth Godin

This is one of those absolute, axiomatic truths that just “is.” It doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not.

Gravity is the truth that keeps you from spinning off into outer space. You can ignore it, but there’ll be a price to pay.

You can pretend it isn’t true. That also comes at a steep cost.

The same goes for the seasons of the year, death, and taxes.

Takeaway: The same way gravity keeps you grounded, there’s always an

absolute truth that overrides everything else in any given situation.

WORLDVIEW TRUTHS

(Also referred to as personal or experiential truth)  

We all have a worldview, whether we know it or not. It’s the set of our beliefs and assumptions that serve as our personal operating system.

Most kinds of truth we experience are about the past and the present. These are the easiest to see and confirm, but there are also truths about cause and effect. I.e., stove element- hot! Ice cream – yummy! Etc.

“The only source of knowledge is experience.” Albert Einstein

We all experience things at our own pace and time. Personal experience truth is the truth that’s mostly determined by you.

How you react and respond can only be seen and reported by you.
It’s how most of us interact with truth most of the time.

As we live out a truth based on experience either through direct or indirect participation

“Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.Rita Mae Brown

Take-away: Your worldview is essential, but it can also change as you learn,

change and grow through experience.

MISCELLANEOUS TRUTHS  

Beyond the types mentioned above, there are many perspectives on veracity that fall along a continuum of sorts.

In the strictest sense, truth is provable, objective, and not “opinion.”

“Likely truths.In the sciences, these are called theories. A theory isn’t always right. Instead, it invites skepticism, opinion, debate, and rigorous testing.

A “half-truth” is a deceptive statement that includes some element of truth. The information might be partly accurate but intended to evade, misdirect or lay blame.

“Truthiness,” coined by Stephen Colbert, is a belief or assertion that a particular

statement is true based on the intuition or perceptions of some individual or

individuals, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or

facts.

Truthiness can range from ignorant assertions of falsehoods to deliberate

duplicity or propaganda intended to sway opinions.

Outright BS – (Not the Bachelor of Science ) Well, that’s self-explanatory.

Take away – The more you know yourself and align yourself with facts and reality, the better off you are.

In Summary 

Centuries ago, a famous religious leader declared “the truth shall set you free!”. 

This phrase’s original context and intent refer to spiritual freedom from the bondage of our mortal sins.

“The truth shall set you free” has become part of our common English lexicon.

It is one of those axiomatic truths that has a liberating effect

wherever applied.

This works in business, in relationships, and yes, even in politics.

Yours Truly,

Until next time,

Lorne

Regret Has A Dark Side 

Here Are Three Ways To Overcome It In 2021

Well now. Didn’t see that coming!  Regrettable. Tragic. Heartbreaking. Painful. Difficult.
It’s like the cosmos did a once-in-a-century hit-and-run and there’s no going back to the way things were.

Whether we like it or not, we’re all in some kind of in-between space and dealing with some form of loss.

It’s been a universal public stress test and a very uncomfortable patience-builder.

I firmly believe that we have been changed in profound ways by this year, and probably will continue to be.

Our hopes rise and fall like a yo-yo in tandem with the daily tally of new infections, hospitalizations, deaths, jobless claims, government relief action and inaction, the latest news on therapeutics and vaccines, school opening and closings, and so much more.

Too soon to breathe a collective sigh of relief?

As much as I’d like for that to happen, I think we’re still in for more uncertainty at least for a while longer.

You see, I’m writing as much to myself as anyone else.

I resolved a long time ago to live life with as few regrets as possible.
How’s that going?

Pretty much OK, but I’ve got to admit, the impact of the past year has brought this area back into sharp focus.

Regret comes up a lot. It is a recurring conversation theme with many of my colleagues, clients, friends, and acquaintances.

No one seems immune. It doesn’t matter if you’re an up and coming professional or a hardworking barista, sooner or later you encounter the effects of cumulative loss.

Personal freedoms lost. Opportunities lost. Health or income losses. Time lost. Pandemic fatigue is real and I think we’re all allowed the occasional crank-out or bout of cynicism.

Even the indomitable Michelle Obama is admitting to low-grade depression due to quarantine.

The long term effects of regret (a form of grieving) are well documented. Not only is it detrimental to our mental health, but it also has physiological effects as well.

The litany of nasty side effects can include sleeplessness, heart disease, diabetes, addiction, and eating disorders.

How To Face Regrets Head On 

Practice Intentional Change Adaptation 

Innumerable changes have been foisted on us and there are numerous rationales we feed ourselves that make us resistant to change.

How many times have we needed to “pivot” in 2020? (plans changed, course reversed, gears shifted, etc.)

We all know people who haven’t been able to change with the times. Sooner or later they slide into irrelevance.

Our brains are just wired to prefer the familiar.

The good news here is that we can be intentional about metabolizing change. How we feel about it is less relevant than trying to understand why the change is needed, then make the necessary personal or professional adjustments.

Another piece of good news is the more you engage with change the easier it becomes. Keeping a clear sense of personal mission and an end goal in mind makes moving through changes easier.

Fighting the irrelevance that comes with not changing helps keep things on track in the face of discouragement, delays, and setbacks.

Have A Self-Care Routine That Works 

Well-being is a key aspect of living a truly successful, satisfying life even through challenging times. What does that actually mean?

It means tapping into a daily, weekly, and monthly rhythm that supports your health and well-being.

It should, at the bare minimum, include getting enough sleep, fresh air, recreation, and a balanced allocation of time and activity in the seven areas of optimal living (Body, Mind, Spirit, Work, Love, Play, Money)

Body – Our energy levels, diet, stamina and strength, sufficient sleep.

Mind – The ability to focus and learn new things.

Spirit- Care for that intangible life force at the core of our existence.

Work- Meaningful and financially rewarding career, business, or profession.

Love- The quality of our relationships.

Money- How we utilize finances.

Play – Our recreational options.

All of these areas are vital to our existence. If even one of these areas is short-changed, or out of whack, personal well-being gets messed up pretty quickly.

Lead With Gratitude 

This actually works if you dig in and do it.

There’s plenty of scientific data to back it up.

In his book, A Simple Act of Gratitude author John Kralik set out to write 365 thank-you notes over the course of a year.

Initially, he did it as a way to feel less hopeless during a time when he wasn’t sure his life was worth living. But with each letter he wrote and tracked, he was able to literally count his blessings.

At the same time, the act of sitting down each day with pen and paper helped to retrain his brain to focus more on the good things in life and less on the bad.

But Kralik didn’t just write letters. He also made a practice of answering simple “how-are-you?” with things he was grateful for rather than complaints.

“Gratitude gives us a break from regret and despair”

Personally, I’ve found that gratitude gets me out of my own self-absorbed head, and soon it becomes just plain fun.

It is so much more helpful than focussing on all the ways life is unjust or imperfect.

Does that mean I’m turning a blind eye to poverty, racism, social justice, climate change, and other important issues?

Nope.

Color me weird, but gratitude regularly reminds me of the important things I’m standing for, fighting for, and want to see change.

It also is a great way to sustain and build relationships. Relationships are necessary for any good fight. We can’t be in this alone. Telling people that we value them and their contributions is the very least we can do.

For me, giving thanks each day has made truly tough times more bearable. For that, I’m thankful.

Thanks also for the important work you do!

Until next time,

Lorne

 

2020: Blessed, Stressed, and Downright Hard.
(Revisiting The Big Why ) 

Too soon to debrief 2020?
C’mon, admit it. You’ve been thinking about that as well.
It wasn’t as though you didn’t have a plan. Getting lambasted by massive upheaval has seen a lot of plans, hopes, and dreams go flying out the window.
(not to mention jobs and in some instances, personal and mental health, and well-being)

LEADERSHIP IS HARD 
Finding personal motivation for hanging in there when the going is particularlychallenging is a key to forming resilience.
Having a clear personal reason for leading—a  “Big Why”—is not only a good strategy but it’s the secret sauce for developing sustainable resilience and tenacity that perseveres when resistance arises.
Usually, I’m pretty resilient. My rear-view mirror “take” on this past year is like that great line from the 1976 flick Gumball Rally.
(1st rule of Italian driving)
“What’s a behind me,…. is not important!
For whatever reason, when I face the worst, it fires me up to become positive, driven, and eager to be part of building a better solution.
On the other hand, the monumental difficulties of this last year have caused the empath part of me to be working double overtime.
I need to hit the pause button every once and a while to remind myself and those around me, that there are still a lot of good things going on and we can we live hopefully and with courage in this coming year.

Author Simon Sinek burst onto the public scene making one point: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” in his TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” (52 million views), Sinek lays out his view that the key to bringing change is to “start with ‘why.’” Your inner motivation or purpose is directly linked to rallying others to buy-in to a cause.

START WITH WHY
In the talk he draws a diagram of three circles; the center circle is labeled “why” and two outer rings are labeled “what” and “how.” “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” he says. The key factor for bringing change to the world is not in the strategies (the what) or the tactics (the how) but in the motivation (the why). For Sinek, the key to unlocking change is to find those people who share at the center of their being your same central beliefs and motivations and engage them in joining you.

Leadership, at its core, is about gathering people together to create value, in order to accomplish or produce something worthwhile that needs to be done. That mission is usually focused on a need or pain point that if addressed, benefits everyone, and makes our world a better place.

In this way, leadership is born not of the desire to lead but—at the center of our being—a desire to serve others in light of the painful realities of the world. It flows not from a desire to achieve, succeed, or accomplish, but to serve others at the point of real need and in turn experience that as one’s own calling.

For most of us, this is straightforward enough. For those of us whose leadership is characterized by words like transformation and mission, we are eager to make a difference and meet those needs. It’s a big part of how success is measured on our scorecard.

The prolonged Pandemic threat has had a blunt-force-blessing effect by forcing an examination of the status quo, plus adding some new perspectives.
Existential threats tend to do that.

  • The business world as we know it is transforming and resizing.

  • We’re personally needing to adapt, transform, and resize our worlds as well, to accommodate imposed changes.

  • Relationships have taken on fresh new meaning and value.

  • Simplicity, complexity, and uncertainty seem to cheerfully co-exist everywhere.

  • Usefulness and people’s time have become a new form of currency.

As I engage with executives and leaders, the recurring themes are eerily familiar; Survive, stay together, deal with rampant anxiety, regain a market share, return an organization to sustainability, or even “save the company.” The question before any leader of an organization is to “save the company for what?”

Fact is, the end-user of whatever product or service you work hard to produce, may not care all that much if your organization survives.

What they do care about is if you care about them!

Resilient leaders endure through resistance because of the deep care they have for people in pain in the world and the deep belief that their organization, institution, or company is meant to meet that need. The Big Why (Purpose) is both critical for an effective strategy and vital for forming the resilience to see it through.

It’s All About Purpose 
One of the best statements of “Purpose” comes from the ubiquitous Agent Smith character in Matrix Reloaded. I always liked Smith’s banal politeness, even while he’s trying to kill you.

“There’s no escaping reason, no denying purpose, for as we both know, without purpose we would not exist.
It is purpose that created us,
 purpose that connects us,
purpose that pulls us, that guides us, that drives us;
it is purpose that defines, purpose that binds us.”
Agent Smith

I doubt if Mr. Sinek could say it any better.

Thinking It Through 
How would you describe your personal “Big Why”?
What is your deepest reason for life and service?
What is your motivation for developing resilience as a leader?
How does your ‘Big Why’ help you face the challenges that come from leading and serving other people?

Until next time.
Lorne

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMPLICATED VERSUS COMPLEX
You Don’t Need To Be A Brainiac To Spot the Difference

I think we can agree that the world became a more complex place in 2020. The grand irony is that I chose “simplify” as one of my guiding themes for this year. Little did I know that enforced simplicity was headed my way. Lots of things became more simple (i.e. staycations) while other things accelerated towards complicated.
Rapidly evolving circumstances pushed even more things beyond complicated, into the complexity zone.

Most of us think of degrees of complication. The first is simple, the second is complicated and the third is complex. Many leaders I know mistakenly believe complexity is just a higher order of complicatedness as if there is some sort of continuum.  Umm….  Not so!

I’m an ardent fan of straight-forward simple. Simple never really equates with “easy”,  but once achieved, simple is elegant and functional.

Decision-makers commonly mistake complex systems for simply complicated ones and look for solutions without realizing that ‘learning to dance’ with a complex system is definitely different from ‘solving’ the problems arising from it. — Roberto Poli

I’m borrowing heavily from the work of European scholar Roberto Poli, `who writes about Anticipatory  Futures and Systems Theories.

Most complicated situations can be compartmentalized, reverse engineered, and put back together in a workable fashion.

Complexity on the other hand is a whole different animal.

And This Is Important Why? 
Leaders and decision-makers who try to tackle complexity the same way as they deal with complications, soon find themselves mired in futility. It’s much like trying to brush your hair with a toothbrush or nail Jell-O to the wall. It takes an entirely different approach to mindset, skillset, and toolset.

As a coach and consultant, I often get asked to provide a “once and for all” solution to intractable problems that are mislabeled as complicated, when they really are complex.

While much of my life as an executive was in the context of complex issues, I can’t say I’ve always been super successful at it. After a while, the characteristics that differentiate merely complicated scenarios from complex ones become evident.

Being able to identify these quite often is the key determining factor in good outcomes.

Here are five differentiators to help sort things out.   

1. Identifying Root Causes 

Complicated: Has a fairly linear cause-and-effect trajectory where you can pinpoint the individual cause and observe its effects.
Complex: Characterized by patterns of multiple intertwining and overlapping causes. Root causes may be disguised as other things. There’s no real straight line cause-to-effect relationship.
Takeaway: Much time can be squandered trying to analyze root causes in a complex situation. Usually, complex situations in organizations evolve from a host of combined factors over extended time and aren’t quickly or easily reversed.

2. Knowing if there’s a Timeline 

Complicated: Has a finite timeline where you can reasonably predict outcomes. Every output of the system has a commensurate input.
Complex: There isn’t an easily predictable timeline. Outputs in the organizational eco-system aren’t necessarily proportional or linearly related to inputs. Small changes in one part of the system can cause sudden and unexpected outputs in other parts of the system.
Takeaway: Large and costly initiatives can have zero impact, while one misspeak in an email can lead to a chain reaction of revolt. Small “safe-to-fail” experiments are more informative and useful than large projects designed to be fail-safe.

3. Can it be reduced to it’s simplest parts?

Complicated: We can break things down and isolate structural components to better comprehend how things work between the various parts.
Complex: We can’t presume to fully comprehend all the moving parts. Because complexity is a shifting target, conventional approaches and familiar change tools have little or no effect.
Takeaway:  Complex systems are emergent, they are greater than the sum of their parts … we need to interact or “dance” with the system in order to influence it. We also need to understand that our mere presence is already changing things.

4. Is it Controllable?

Complicated: You have a bit of a framework or structure to contain and control problems while they get diagnosed and solved.
Complex:  Complex problems emerge from multiple random moving parts in an unstructured way, so it’s difficult to distinguish the combination of real problems. Even the smallest well-intentioned interventions may result in disproportionate and unintended consequences.
Takeaways: Fluid complexity is prone to bring surprises and uncertainty. Knee jerk interventions can bring unexpected changes and even new or worse challenges. Leaders need to shift the “problem/solution” thinking to “evolving patterns” thinking.

5. Are There Constraints? (Boundaries or Guardrails)

Complicated: Complicated can usually be defined by some kind of sandbox or context.
Complex: Complex systems are more open, to the extent that it is often difficult to determine where the system ends and another start. Complex systems are can also be nested part of larger trends, ideology, or movement. It can become hard to separate the system from its context.
Takeaway: Context matters, ignore it at your peril. As soon as organizations become too internally focused, the naval-gazing makes them vulnerable. Making sure that adequate and diverse feedback mechanisms are in place is a key strategic imperative.

Wrapping Up 

When dealing with complexity, keep expectations realistic. Getting to “maybe” might just be as good as it gets.
It will always take longer than you thought, and the end results may not be what you expected. From experience, it’ll always be worth the journey.
Complexity does demand a new breed of leadership. Today’s successful leader is relational vs. organizational, permission-giving vs.command & control. He or she works in overlapping circles vs. being linear and hierarchical.
Me – I’m still working on it. 

Until next time,
Stay safe,
Stay strong,
Lorne

References: A Note on the Difference Between Complicated and Complex Social Systems, Roberto Poli, 2013

Photo Courtesy Lucas Ludwig on Unsplash

 THE CURSE of “INTERESTING TIMES” and A FEW ANTIDOTES

“May you live in interesting times”- Unknown 

This Confucius-style saying poses as a blessing while delivering an underhanded curse.

If received as a “curse”, it wishes that your times be filled with turmoil and difficulty.
It’s a buzzkill observation when misfortune, hardship, and mayhem seem to hold more interest for us than do peace, prosperity, and calm.

BTW- There are way more history books written about war and famine, than about peace and plenty.

If the saying is received as an affirmation or blessing, the ferment of change always opens the door to exciting new possibilities.

Certainly, we can agree that our current pickle, being in the middle of a full-throttle,  global pandemic qualifies as “interesting”. With the first psychological shock waves subsiding, we’re in a pervasive, collective reality that adversely impacts us all.

Maybe it’s Murphy’s Law gone wild, or maybe we’re at the bottom of a big honking learning curve with a very steep upside.

As the COVID-19 crisis persists, no training or experience in previous downturns has prepared us for it.

Governments, businesses, schools, hospitals, churches, and families are all scrambling to cope with the insidious nature of our current era.

Over the past months, I’ve had numerous personal conversations with fellow leaders about the current situation and its greatest challenges. The current over-all toughest challenge is the mind-numbing complexity brought about by uncertainty.
The frustrations spilled over.

“It seems that every way I turn these days, I’m facing a no-win-situation” Young CEO in the Charity Sector. 

“ It’s like I really have four jobs. There’s the one I signed up for, you know, the job description. Then there’s the job my board expects me to do. My staff has high expectations of me to help them do their job while keeping them safe. Finally, there are the expectations of stakeholders and investors. The pandemic has really complicated all of this”. CEO in the Housing and Community Services Sector.

I launched these conversations to research an online leadership development project that I’m working on. The results were much broader and richer than I anticipated. It will inform my work for some time to come.

If we take a good news/bad news approach, the bad news is that uncertainty is non-negotiable. It’s the X factor that seems to lurk around every corner.

It’s just that recently there’s been so much of it.

The addendum to this is that “Our brains perceive ambiguity as a threat, and they try to protect us by diminishing our ability to focus on anything other than creating certainty,” says Christine Carter, Ph.D., a Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center.

If we are in a state of perpetual high alert, preparing for potential bad events, this results in a chronic stress pattern build-up. Physiological symptoms are mental churning, random anger at the slightest of provocations, being perma-cranky,
or feeling physically drained for no apparent reason.

On the flip side, the good news is that there’s a trail forward. There’s always a way forward. It’s just that it’s not always real obvious.

The trailhead is the realization that you can take charge of everything within your control and be intentional or mindful about not worrying about the things you can’t.

This valuable principle has been around for centuries.

Epictetus, the Greek philosopher from the early 2nd  century observed that things are either under our control or not under our control.

His Enchiridion (The Good Life Handbook) begins with this basic idea.

“Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.” Epictetus

This truth-powered concept is echoed in the well-known 20th century Christian Serenity Prayer;

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference. – Reinhold Nieburh 1934. 

Regardless of your worldview, the idea of focusing on the actions and experiences within your control has been around for centuries.  It’s as valid and effective today as it was back then.

Another Approach I’ve Been Thinking About…

Minimum Viable Outcomes

Another approach for tackling the complexities of uncertainty is the idea of a Minimum Viable Outcome combined with small wins.
The main elements are core activity, realistic expectations with small wins, and forward momentum in a strategic direction.

Protect the main thing! 

Minimum Viable Outcome (MVO) refers to those core activities that you do best while paying attention to the small margins between success or failure.
What really needs to happen next?
And why is it important?
What’s the smallest measurable outcome I can deliver to address this?

Set realistic expectations! 

It doesn’t have to be perfect. Perfect almost never is.
What would be a small win in the right direction?
Small wins can be the super fuel of your inner work life.
It’s great for your mental health AND it can help catalyze and inspire others.

Find your trail!

It’s hard to steer a parked car. Things work so much better if you generate some forward momentum.
Momentum comes when you begin taking some small steps. Take them in a direction that makes the most sense.
Take them humbly and with fingers crossed.
Make mindful note of your progress.
Progress isn’t like flipping a switch or having one big AHA moment. It usually comes in a small series, more like a slowly dawning revelation.

Like you, I have good days and bad days that toggle between optimism and pessimism. I can go from seeing optimistic signs of progress in the morning to feeling doomed by dinner. (watching the news cycle doesn’t help)
It’s OK to stay informed while battling the urge to tune everything out. The flood of information can both important and overwhelming. I find myself switching between outbreak updates and wanting to mindlessly watch silly Netflix videos. (that’s so not me)

On the whole, I’m confident we’ll get through this. Trying to figure out what “this” is and what it means, can be exhausting.

If you’ll pardon me, I have to go decide which shirt to wear on my next Zoom call.

Until next time,
Stay safe,
Stay strong,

Lorne