On A Tightrope Over A Chasm of Failure

 

 

I wonder about you.Own It!

I know things are stressful, and you’re unsure.

Every day you question. Every day you worry that you don’t know where you stand, and if what you’re doing is appreciated.

Or even seen as important by anyone. At all.

I know it’s not fun to be so uncertain. Not one bit.

So, I wonder if –  for just one day – you could shift it.

That for one day, as a test, you could own that…you actually do know what you’re doing.

That you’re not making it up as you go along. That you’re not walking on a tightrope over a chasm of failure, one error away from falling.

What if – for one day – you could ignore the tightrope and come at your day from a place of calm? Generated from a deep understanding of your own expertise?

Not in a boastful or bullying way, but with a centered sureness.

Sure in your bones that you haven’t gotten to where you are by luck, chance or happenstance.

Because, you, my darling friend, are not a fluke or a mistake.

No, you’ve gotten where you are by showing up, doing what needs to get done and honing your practice.

Whatever your practice might be.

I know it’s easier in some ways to say that it’s all luck. Or chance.

Because then you don’t have to claim anything. You’re sort of off the hook.

And no one can say you’re too big for your britches.

Or that you’re calculating.

Or trying too hard.

Or not nice.

If you shrug off your expertise, you’ll probably continue to fit in with the crowd. You know, the Whac-A-Mole herd-like people who are only happy when no one sticks their head up?

Those people.

There is comfort in a crowd, for sure. But you might also feel anxious. And as if everything could change in a moment.

Unsure.

Unsteady.

Stressed.

Do you know what I’m talking about?

Does it keep you up at night?

It doesn’t have to.

You can have calm, steadiness and success. You can have great days.

But to get there you have to own who you are and what you’ve got.

So, for one day – just one – give it a try and see what happens.

Stop pretending you don’t know what you’re doing and start owning everything you do know.

Of course, be open to learning. Be open to the perspectives of others. That’s what people who center in their strengths do.

It’s what the best leaders do.

It’s what you can do.

Step away from the crowd. Dip into your expertise. Feel it. Own it. Live it.

For just one day.

Just one.

I wonder what that will be like.

I wonder if this week holds the day you’ll give it a try.

And as one day leads into another, maybe you’ll happily find that you’re permanently off the tightrope and walking your own, broad path of success.

 

Connecting The Dots

 

When I’m not working directly with clients, I spend a lot of time connecting dots.

Honestly, I’m reading all the time.Connect The Dots

Like this one: Mother May I? The author raises a fascinating question – are your work relationships adult-adult, or parent-child? I can see this one question immediately changing your approach.

I was asked if I had written anything about mentoring, and I found this: Mentoring Mojo, which was apt and timely since it’s nearly five years since the loss of my great mentor. I learned so very much from her.

Speaking of learning, there was this: What Writers Can Learn From ‘Goodnight Moon’. It’s beautifully written, and got me thinking about story arcs and the “surprising twist”.

Then this one: 5 Smart Steps to Combat Workplace Bullying. I wonder if you’ll be surprised to learn just who it was who came up with those five smart steps.

Speaking of bullying and difficult people, I’m going to be doing a webinar with the Harvard Business Review and Citrix on the topic on August 12th: Bullies, Jerks and Other Annoyances: Identify and Defuse the Difficult People in the Workplace. Use that link to register, and it’s absolutely, 100% no charge to you and yours. Join me, won’t you?

Yep, I’m always connecting the dots. And sometimes the patterns appear readily, and sometimes… it takes time for them to come together.

The Nancy Drew in me completely loves that.

 

In Praise of Sleep

 

Bright Bedroom Decorated With White Flowers

Someone once asked me to define “extreme luxury.”  My  answer came quick and certain:

Going to sleep when you’re tired and waking up without an alarm. Now, that’s true luxury.

Having lived a life full of late nights and missed planes and small children and smaller dogs and international conference calls, I have maintained a tricky relationship with sleep.

Oh, sure, I learned how to dip into a twenty minute nap while on campaign planes. And I learned to sleep when the baby slept, even though there was work to be done.

I also learned that there is always work to be done.

Studies have shown that prioritizing sleep is the right way to go, because chronic sleep deprivation yields an enormous impact on the body and mind. Prolonged sleep deprivation, in fact, has the eerily similar effect of knocking back a few cocktails – your speech slurs, you get all wobbly and your reflexes are shot to hell.

Just no paper parasol as a souvenir.

Yet, somehow “getting by” on just a few hours of sleep has become a red badge of courage. As if only the weak need sleep. That if you’re really and truly Type A and worthy of victoriously standing astride the globe as a conqueror, you don’t need any stinkin’ sleep.

Only slackers need sleep.

Some folks point to the productive genius Thomas Edison who famously slept less than four hours a night and demanded the same relentless endurance from those who worked for him.

The last full measure of devotion when you’re doing something important, it seems, becomes sacrificing sleep in favor of productivity.

Which, naturally, makes the most extreme luxury that which flies in the face of such group think.

Such as sleeping when you’re tired and waking up when you’re good and ready.

I achieve this feat about once a month - often enough for me to realize it’s possible yet rare enough to feel like a true luxury.

That’s why it’s the perfect extravagance. Costs me nothing. Comes with no designer labels nor inscrutable instruction manuals.

Sleep is, I have realized, the gift I give myself as a reminder that my well-being matters. A lot.

And I feel like a million dollars after getting enough sleep. It never fails that the next day I feel fully equipped to take on the day and master it.

Those are the days when my motto is “Bring. It. On.”

So, if you’ve bought into the collective thought that those who sleep are lazy, unmotivated, loafing slackers, I invite you to try some extreme luxury – get some sleep.

For one night, put your alarm clock away. Keep your phone in the kitchen.

When you’re tired, go to bed.

And sleep until you wake up.

It’s a luxury that will utterly change your life.

 

How The Really Successful Get That Way

 

The pendulum certainly does swing.Pendulum Of Foucault In Pantheon Of Paris

Seems to me like we are in the widest part of the arc these days with…analytics. Maybe the better word is “metrics”. Or maybe “algorithms”.

Oh, shoot – let’s just say “math”, shall we?

I continually hear stories about how organizations are driving accountability by taskifying every single function of every single employee and then measuring them according to an allegedly quantifiable “goal”, though if you ask me there are so many things at work which just cannot be quantified.

Such as creating strong relationships with customers.

Such as mentoring the next generation.

Such as being a genuinely nice person.

I have railed against the Tyranny of the Bean Counters for some time. But in some ways I get it, I really do.

I realize that there are some people for whom nothing is real unless they can see it, touch it, taste it – and make a little check mark signifying that it’s been documented.

And I know there are some people who are deeply suspicious and are certain that everyone would take advantage of lax supervision and become total slackers if given half a chance. [because, perhaps, they fear that this is what they would do in that circumstance. Just sayin'.]

And then there are those who have worked for large consulting firms, which take bean counting to a whole new, quite expensive level.

These folks represent the far part of the pendulum’s arc and have created a unrelenting emphasis on quantification and numbers. But it’s my fervent hope that at some point the pendulum swings back and rests at the middle point, where there are good goals – but also where the unmeasurable is valued and appreciated.

Because, in the end, success is not driven by numbers but by meaning.

Doubt me?

A recent study led by Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski and Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz looked at motivation using a group of 11,320 West Point cadets. They wanted to learn if the most successful people are driven by an internal motive, or by what they call an “instrumental” or external motive, or a combination of the two.

One might think that successful people have a perfect balance of internal and instrumental motives. They care about their work, and they care about getting the corner office – doesn’t that sound like the right mix?

But, guess what? The study showed something…different.

People who are motivated solely by what others will think, or how much money they will make - instrumental motives - tend to be unsuccessful over time than those who are internally driven.

Interesting, huh?

So, what if you have a blend of both internal and instrumental motives?

“Remarkably, cadets with strong internal and strong instrumental motives for attending West Point performed worse on every measure than did those with strong internal motives but weak instrumental ones. They were less likely to graduate, less outstanding as military officers and less committed to staying in the military,” say the study authors.

Now, back to the bean counters.

This study clearly shows that they’ve got it all wrong. Giving people better job titles, more money, the corner office as a prod for increased performance? Not going to work.

OK, maybe you get some short-term results – and you can certainly check a box off a list – but over the long-term your organization won’t really be successful because you’ve transformed internal motives into instrumental ones, which are ultimately much, much weaker.

The researchers say, “Rendering an activity more attractive by emphasizing both internal and instrumental motives to engage in it is completely understandable, but it may have the unintended effect of weakening the internal motives so essential to success.”

Meaning. Purpose. Learning. Growth. This is what we all need to be successful.

So, if you want success, transform your focus. Shift your own personal internal motives – the Big Why of why you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing – toward what it means, how it helps, what you learn, how you grow.

And if by chance you have the power to transform an entire organization, get cracking on amping up theses collective senses in your people – starting from the top right on down.

Because, “Our study suggests that efforts should be made to structure activities so that instrumental consequences do not become motives. Helping people focus on the meaning and impact of their work, rather than on, say, the financial returns it will bring, may be the best way to improve not only the quality of their work but also — counterintuitive though it may seem — their financial success.”

And so the pendulum begins to swing back.

 

 

 

You Have Spinach In Your Teeth

Spinach Leaf Isolated On White Background

 

Let’s say there are some things you just won’t do. Or you think you can’t possibly do.

For instance, here’s a big one: You can’t tell your boss what you really think because you’ll get fired.

At least you tell yourself she won’t like it and you’ll get fired.

Let’s explore that for a minute, shall we?

Just so happens that I was talking with a boss the other day. Let’s call him Dave just because that’s a fun first name.

Dave was worried about one of his key employees – let’s call her Ginny because that’s also a fun name.

Ginny respects Dave so much that she does whatever Dave says to do.

Dave says, “Let’s make all the widgets purple!”

And Ginny runs around like a crazy person organizing the production of purple widgets.

The next day Dave, who is a self-admitted idea guy with a bad memory, has a blue sky moment where he idly says, “What if we made some yellow widgets?”

Ginny nods and says, “Okie doke, yellow” and moves heaven and earth – and spends quite a lot of money – to build ‘em yellow.

The next week, when all the yellow widgets are finished and Dave sees a report about their move to the market, he says, “Yellow widgets? What the hell?”

See, Ginny never once asked Dave for clarification, like: “What about yesterday’s purple widgets? Is yellow in addition to purple, or instead of purple?”

When I asked her why she didn’t speak up and at least clarify what Dave wanted, she was shocked at my suggestion and said, “That’s not my place. He’s the boss and I’m just here to deliver whatever he wants.”

But I talked with Dave, he said, “I need her to tell me when I’m being an jerk, and when I’m costing the company time and money. I’ve got too much on my plate to remember everything and I count on her to keep me in line.”

Well now, people, what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. 

When I talked with Ginny further, I asked, “If you noticed that Dave had spinach in his teeth just before he was supposed to be on the Today show, would you say anything or would you say nothing because he’s your boss?”

“Oh, I’d say something because I want him to look good,” she said.

“So what if whenever you saw him contradicting himself or not remembering accurately, you simply thought of it as if he had spinach in his teeth and said something?” I asked. She laughed and said she’d never thought of it that way, but then she pulled herself up short.

“Wait. Who am I to tell the boss he has spinach in his teeth?” She started to get anxious. “I’ve just never thought of myself as a person with that much power.”

As we coached around her concern, Ginny realized that she kept hearing her father’s voice telling her not to be too big, not to get too big for her britches, to go along and get along at work. She heard her mother’s voice telling her to be a good girl and make everything easier for everyone else. It really had nothing to do with Dave.

It had everything to do with how she saw herself and what she thought was possible.

This was a pretty big moment for Ginny, I have to tell you.

And it was pretty inspiring to see her as she realized that if she could expand herself in this one way – in essence, to ask Dave if he wanted to know he had spinach in his teeth, and then do him the favor of pointing it out – then she could really grow. She could dare to be more of herself. And maybe lower her stress level a little bit.

Today, Dave and Ginny have a strong and true partnership. The organization is stronger, more efficient and clearer – for everyone. Even the folks on the floor who are making the widgets.

And Ginny? Feels pretty strong, efficient and clear, too.

Finally.