Champions Keep Playing until they Get it Right

•February 9, 2015 • Leave a Comment

In my inbox, this morning, from Mark Anderson, President of Execunet, a company that helps business leaders achieve what’s next in their career. As a long time football fan and former soccer player, I always thought that team sports are one of the best examples of leadership. Find below Mark’s take on the last Super Bowl.

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As I reflected on what to write to you this week, my thoughts kept coming back to the Super Bowl and how it could apply to an ExecuNet member’s life.
Those working for others or who are currently engaged in a search may not feel they are in control of their own destiny. I think otherwise. You’re in control, even when it doesn’t feel that way. Winning and succeeding are not always certain and certainly not always in a straight line. It’s about having a good process, using every available resource, working hard, allowing others to help you, never giving up, and ultimately making it happen.

One can say that’s what happened in the game. In the fourth quarter it looked like the Patriots would lose. When Brady, down by 10 points with 10 minutes to go in the game drove the Pats against an amazing defense for two touchdowns, the second of those with only two minutes remaining. The Patriots had the lead, and football immortality was in Brady’s grasp.

An immaculate reception by a Seattle receiver brought back images of the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants because of a circus catch, and it looked like Seattle would snatch the game from the Patriots, just as the Giants did. It’s tough to predict anything as competitive as a Super Bowl, and the same is true for business and careers. Brady had done everything one person could do to lead his team, but looked like it wouldn’t work out.

Brady’s situation at that moment reminds me of a member I talked with recently who had a perspective that helped through the uncertainty. He said, “It was about believing in yourself and doing everything you could and using every resource available to give yourself an edge to get the right break”. Brady said the same thing in a post-game interview: “We had confidence in ourselves and in our teammates… that we could make it happen”.

It was process that led to results, a process that requires people to help people. When things had looked grim after the fourth game of the season, when they lost 44-0 to Kansas City, the Patriots pulled together as a team, changed things, worked hard, learned, and succeeded in their quest.

What is interesting is Brady throughout his career has never had it easy. Seventh on the depth chart at Michigan as a freshman he outworked his competitors, learned his craft and excelled when it mattered most. Picked 199th in the NFL draft, he moved from fourth string, to back-up, to starter when an injury opened the door. Throughout Brady was an extremely hard-worker who studied and labored at his craft. He is great because of his effort and desire more than natural skill.

Brady got help and feedback along the way, and that’s what you do too. To achieve your goals:

  • Show determination.
  • Always believe in yourself… no matter how deflated you may feel.
  • Work hard at your craft.
  • Find a process for evaluating how you’ll achieve your goals.
  • Be adaptable and make changes as needed along the way.
  • Develop a strong team to help you.
  • Keep making connections even when it seems fruitless.

Consider, are you allowing your connections, your “teammates”, to help you? As great as Brady was in that game, it took his teammates to secure the win. It was help from a most unlikely source that saved the day for Brady. Malcolm Butler, an undrafted rookie of all people, is the one who made the game-saving interception on the goal line. Are you open to help from people you don’t think can help you? Brady succeeded because his teammates, his connections, his network helped him out… and so can you!

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Let’s not Solve our Problems with the Same Level of Thinking that Created them

•January 29, 2015 • Leave a Comment

For a while, our team seemed doomed. This new transformation program was a complicated colossus. It took an army of people, each working different topics, to define the right strategy, but most of the time our strategy fell flat. The more we focused on the various problems, the more problems ensued.

So, instead of continuing to stare at the problem, we started looking in a different direction. We asked what our business users would solution1do and shifted from formulating a technology-centric program to imagining a value-centric one. In the process, our mind started grappling with solutions, not problems.

Solution focused thinking is about being brief and focusing on solutions, rather than on problems. When there is a problem, many professionals spend a great deal of time thinking, talking, and analyzing the problems, while the suffering goes on. A different school of thought says that rather than focusing on what is wrong, it is much more effective to talk about solutions, thus bringing a degree of realistic, reasonable relief as quickly as possible. The approach has been so successful that it is now widely used in teaching, management and social work.

Psychologist David Niven, in his book It’s Not About the Shark, provides some bits of wisdom from research on problem solving. His central point is that we get too caught up in our problems, fixating over them and trying to finesse the details, narrowing our vision so the best solution isn’t obvious. “Whatever your problem at work, at home, or in life may be, you can solve them if you are willing to look for a solution instead of staring at the problem. And when you do that, the problem won’t be so scary any more”, he writes.

This is difficult to do since managers are trained to focus on problems, and solve them. Problems help managers to matter. With a problem, we are consequential, but also dangerous: Remember, the famed Milgram psychology experiment that tested deference to authority showed that more than 80% of study participants would be willing to administer “electric shocks” to another individual if it helped the participants to solve a problem.

With problems, the normal tendency is to try harder. But there are stories of people who kept trying harder and ended up in miserable situations. It’s not that people should give up, never try, and never apply themselves. The point is simply this: turning effort up to an 11 on a 10-point scale is inherently counterproductive: it makes problems seem bigger and abilities seem smaller.

business team workIf that seems like nothing but a litany of problems, here are some solutions from Dr. Jason Selk, most known for his work as director of mental training for the St. Louis Cardinals. One of his most outstanding ideas is his methodology to develop and practice relentless solution focus. The challenge for an organization is how to turn these strong principles into a process, one that creates a winning team. Here are a few thoughts about how to make it happen:

  • Bring the concept of solution focus into your team. There are goals, and problems to solve, but they will not be achieved until solutions are first considered.
  • Think of solutions as the organization’s major goal. Any improvement, however small, is a success. Acknowledge it and build on it. It feels good. That’s important.
  • Recognize that feeling good is an essential team goal. Because it contributes to self-esteem. Positive self-esteem builds confidence. Self-confidence leads to success when negativity detracts from achievement.
  • Create a climate of many victories. There can’t be big victories all the time. Some small successes, every day, are what leaders need to highlight.
  • Nobody ever said that winning is easy. It’s hard. Developing new habits and attitudes never happens overnight. A leader has to be thinking about the top of the mountain as a goal but the strategy to get there is even more important.
  • If success isn’t easy, relentless solution focus is even harder, the most difficult but rewarding path to business success. We all owe it to ourselves as leaders to dig deep and be relentless, to attack and never give up. There isn’t an in between.

Following these steps helps transform solution focus into a process that teams need to adopt every day. It’s a fascinating mix of psychological research and practical operational solutions. In thinking small with solution focus, you can achieve large, and enjoy better health, and that’s one of the secrets to leadership success.

If Better is Possible, Good is not Good Enough

•January 21, 2015 • Leave a Comment

HyperActiveNetworkerSteve is a friend who seems to never sleep. He responds to my e-mails or texts late into the night, despite living in a different timezone. Regardless of the hour, he always comes across as thoughtful and coherent. When I mention this to others, they often reminisce about the days when they, too, could pull off such superhuman feats. Like many workers of today’s world, I feel the pressure to be productive 24/7, despite my belief that it can lead to personal and professional disaster.

This behavior is not something we can easily fault, especially when it’s a trend to do more with less. There are recent studies that showed that while 70% of employers expect an increase in their business in the coming months, less than 40% intend to add to their head count.

In practice, this can lead to long days, longer nights and a whole lot of exhaustion. Well, this doing “more with less” attitude is just getting worse. The theory is that profitability rises when you push the same number of people to work more in an attempt to boost productivity. And since companies are still suffering “a hangover” from the recession, they are not adding permanent head count unless they really have to. Result? the pressure on existing teams has led to a spike in employee stress leaves, while employers also report that staff morale has declined. If this “more with less” trend continues, next year will see greater incidences of stress leaves and even lower morale.

Definite advantage.If this is our new reality, how long can employers continue stretching their staff? While there is no easy answer to that question, assuming an employee is given interesting work, with a purpose, and a clear line to advancement, then such actions can go far to boost morale. According to some recent surveys, the biggest contributor to employee turnover remained lack of career progression.

So how do you cope with work when you are constantly being pushed to do more? Or how do you manage a team with a “less means more” work ethic?

  • Start setting priorities by asking yourself “What is the one thing I could do today that would make all the other things on my to-do list irrelevant?”
  • Focus on work that lasts, so spending time on a document or a process that can be reused in the future are of higher value than frantically multitasking in areas like e-mail and social media.
  • Communicate with your team, especially when they complain they have too much to do. Sit down with them and help them re-prioritize their to-do list, analyzing what is urgent and important versus not urgent or not important.

Sometimes, when you’re put in a position to do more with less, it could be a blessing in disguise. You’re forced to concentrate your dobettertime and energy on the most meaningful tasks, and you achieve the goals you set out for, much more efficiently. For example, in 1997, when Steve Jobs came back to rescue Apple, he removed several thousand middle managers. He couldn’t see that they were doing anything valuable for customers. Apple demonstrated a central principle of radical management: by focusing energy on only those that added value to customers, and stopping doing things that didn’t, Apple did much, much better with less.

Finally, the best way to do more with less is either to ask people to help or be ruthless in saying no to lower-value tasks. The biggest trap people fall into is doing everything and anything by themselves. Pick high-value tasks and do them well. Don’t be afraid to say no to others or call in help if you need it.

A Vacation is what you Take when you can No Longer Take what you’ve been Taking

•January 14, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I took a few days off during the end of year holiday. On my last day off, I was on the beach in the Caribbean enjoying a healthy 80ºF (26ºC) before flying back North, and experiencing a drop to -6ºF (-20ºC) immediately after landing.

But I still enjoyed every minute of my short vacation. This may not seem surprising, given our national propensity to fly south as fast as we can check our winter coats and whip our flip-flops out of carry-on. Still, it may come as a surprise to my colleagues to know that I was away. I spoke to them regularly in my virtual meetings, which I held in the sun-room of my friends’ home, in my bathing suit, praying that the Internet connection would remain steady during the call.

It was pretty much business as usual until we agreed that we would not turn on our computers for at least two whole days. I can’t remember the last time I did that, and the experience allowed me to do things I haven’t done in ages: read a paperback, beat my son in a video game and savor an entire newspaper. Who knew being lazy could feel so good? On my return, I found myself refreshed and more geared up for work.

I soon realized that until this brief interlude, I had considered leisure time a vice. Working 10-hours a day is considered Friday_by_PascalCampioncommendable; spending a few hours playing a mindless video game, not so much. But what if leisure time was rebranded as a virtue? It’s a concept that Bertrand Russell extolled over 80 years ago in his essay In Praise of Idleness. Forward-thinking companies are encouraging the use of vacations, especially at a time when North Americans often don’t use their full allotment.

Netflix and Virgin Group offer unlimited days off while other companies go so far as to require employees to take a certain number of days off each year. Companies are endorsing vacations but employees seem hard-pressed to get with the program, locked into their outdated holiday mentality.

A break really isn’t wasting time. Part of the problem is that society has this terrible misconception and that we have miscast the break as time wasting. We have miscast resting as time wasting. Resting has been mislabelled as terrible when, in fact, if you can’t rest, you can’t perform. In professional sports, coaches rest athletes so that they can perform at critical levels of their game.

We find resting acceptable in sports since it’s physical work, but are loath to apply the same principles when it comes to other professions. Without rest, we can’t deliver at our peak. So why are we so slow to get on the holiday bandwagon?

New York Construction Workers Lunching on a CrossbeamWell, the workplace ethos in Western culture has always emphasized increasing amounts of work in an effort to maximize productivity. It took a while to realize that overworking actually produces the opposite effect. Still, we struggle to rid ourselves of this misleading notion. Even lunch breaks are becoming extinct. A 2012 survey by Right Management showed that just one in five North American workers take a break during lunch.

The solution is to ensure that senior leaders endorse vacation time and that employees plan their daily breaks more actively. Most of the time, we do a lot of planning, but we don’t really plan what we do break-wise during the day. As a result, it’s the last thing we’ll do and squeeze it in when it’s appropriate.

Start by asking yourself what times of the day you need to be at your peak efficiency? When is there a natural lull in your workday, week or quarter? When are you most likely to feel worn out? Plan your breaks accordingly, so that you can derive the most from your time off. If workers can stop looking at breaks as a waste of time and more as a means of recharging their batteries and boosting their performance, the stigma of taking breaks will go away.

So despite it being January, when my instincts typically tell me to kick my work into high gear, I’m also going to be booking my next holiday. I may have my laptop on the beach, but I’ll be happy.

Learn from Yesterday, Live for Today, Hope for Tomorrow

•January 5, 2015 • Leave a Comment

It may sound like a strange way to start a new year, when most spend time wishing the best to their friends and family, or making new resolutions.

But, Stuart Scott, a longtime anchor at ESPN, died Sunday morning at the age of 49. For all of us, sports aficionados, he was a well regarded news anchor and his contributions to the sports lexicon were large from his signature “Boo-Yah!” to “As cool as the other side of the pillow”. But they are only one aspect of his legacy. When he passed away, he left behind so much more. He inspired his colleagues with his sheer talent, his work ethic and his devotion to his daughters.

Scott was remembered through an outpouring of tributes by athletes, colleagues and fans on Twitter, and President Barack Obama. Moments of silence were held at sporting events around the United States on Sunday. Scott saved his best for his last year on the air. At the ESPYS on July 16, shortly before his 49th birthday and following another round of cancer surgery, Stuart accepted the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance with strength, humor, grace and these eloquent words: “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live”.

Happy New Year!

•December 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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Another year filled with sweet memories and joyous times has passed. You made my year special and I wish you continue to do so. With you around, every moment is an occasion for me. So, for all of my friends throughout the world, thank you for your unwavering support, for believing in me through good and hard times. I have been blessed to work with you and to challenge myself with your various ideas.

I wish you the very best in 2015 starting with great professional success and a fulfilling family life. Be thankful for what you have, you’ll end up having more. Because, if you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough. Close your eyes, think of everything that made you smile in the past year and forget about the rest … Hopefully those smiles are multiplied by 2015!!

I want to work and be Happy

•December 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Rickie Lee Jones, the famous singer, said it first (see post title). Isn’t it what we all long for?

A few years back, I worked as a management consultant. I’d always been interested in advisory management, and the position allowed me virtually free reign within the practice. Basically, the position was a great fit for me, but I still wasn’t happy at work.

Even though I was in a good job in the field that I loved, I still left each day feeling a little less happy with my decision to work there. I didn’t hate my job, but was this really what I was hoping for? I would think things like, “Is this as good as it’s going to get for me?” Or “Is this job going to make me happy, or am I going to be stuck in neutral forever?”

o-WORK-HAPPY-facebookI have kept on trying to find the right answers to these important questions (more on that in a later post) but today my focus will solely be on ways to be happier at work.

To start, here is a link to an article from Jon Gordon, first published on Execunet.

And another one, coming from Forbes.

Let me know what you think.

 

 
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