I’ve wasted a lot of time and energy in my businesses, and I want to encourage you to not repeat my mistakes (and I believe that the same principles I’ll discuss in the context of business are equally relevant to your personal life and relationships):
I’ve recently come to the sobering realization that a lot of what I thought was productive work for many years was actually a lot of ‘busy work’ (not all of it, of course – or even most of it – but certainly more than I’d really like to admit). I’ve also come to believe that the old adage, “build it and they will come” should really be changed to “build it and bring ‘em to it – because they’re not gonna come on their own”.
For far too long I’d mistakenly thought that I could simply work hard and then rest on my laurels. I thought that I could learn everything there was to learn in my field(s), and that business would just come naturally as a result. But I was wrong: I’ve since learned in business that ‘building it’ is a critical piece of the equation – but that the equally-important second piece is ‘going after it and making it happen’.
What got me to the point I’m at now, is that in a couple of areas I do feel like I’ve examined pretty much all there is to be examined. This is not to say that I “know it all”, of course – but there is a concept known as ‘circular learning’ that has come into play in a couple areas of my life…
(Circular learning speaks to the idea that there’s ‘nothing new under the sun’: that if you follow a thread of knowledge completely enough, you’ll begin to see the same underlying principles repeating themselves. They’ll be assembled in different forms and colored with different language, of course – but it’s really all the same stuff after awhile).
Through this circular learning process I’ve come to realize that many of the principles that became clear after years of examination are pretty much the same principles I had learned soon after I had begun my journey. Granted, my skills are more refined now than in earlier years (and I don’t begrudge the expertise I’ve accumulated) – but I understand now that I could have been more successful, a lot more quickly, had I acted earlier and more aggressively on the principles I assumed were too incomplete and immature to be acted upon.
So my biggest mistake –and the lesson I want to share – is basically that I wasted too much time building, when I could have been getting better results by taking more action. The lesson is simply this: know what you know when you know it; take quick action based on what you know at any given time; and continue to learn and correct your course as you go!
Some time ago I had written an article on claiming your leadership. I suppose this article could be a follow-up to that after some recent, disheartening, personal observations.
We talk about things like distributed leadership, a person-centered, authoritative approach, leading from the ground up, building solid teams and trusting your people – and many other best practice leadership buzzwords and concepts. In short, we know what works. We know which types of leadership strategies and habits are effective and which should have died a long time ago.
And the leadership paradigm certainly has changed on the whole – but examples of archaic leadership unfortunately persist: little to no communication from the top down, a heavy-handed approach with little recognition, expecting more out of people to compensate for low morale… you get the point. And although I continue to see this quite regularly in certain pockets, I’m always still a little surprised by it.
Being a “solo player” myself, I’m not in a formal leadership position: and I know it’s easy to cast stones until you walk in someone’s shoes (excuse the clichés). I’m not assuming by any stretch that I would do a better job in a formal leadership position; but as an objective observer I still find it very perplexing and frustrating.
As a coach I see that these types of leadership behaviours make things very difficult for the players behind the scenes.
But leadership takes many forms, and it has to come from all levels. If it’s important that you do so, express your own leadership wherever you can and wherever you are. Don’t let the obstacles in your environment – wherever they’re coming from – stop you from doing what you know needs to be done. You probably have more impact than you know; despite the fact that it often goes unrecognized.
Change happens because certain people see what needs to be done, and they persevere. If your environment is working against you, do your thing anyway if you know its right. It’s often the leaders behind the scene, interspersed throughout the system – formal title or not – who change paradigms and improve lives.
There are many different styles of leadership with varying degrees of effectiveness. A people-centered approach is probably best in general; but only if partnered with sound knowledge and skill, and delivered in an authoritative style (a strong focus on relationship with the ability to appropriately set limits and apply corrective action).
I’m currently coaching someone I consider to be one of the best leaders with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work. I don’t know if she actually knows that she’s as good as she is: she’s relatively new to her position and has lots of questions and doubts about her style. But this type of questioning is common and expected for a new leader, and I fully expect her confidence to rise steadily with experience. I also sincerely hope, though, that she never loses the habit of self-reflection.
I’ve always had the impression that this woman is a strong leader, despite some of her doubts in specific areas. It was when I reviewed the 360 degree feedback from her team, though, that I realized how much of a star she really is. She has mastered that difficult balance between people skills and technical skill; between relationship development and task orientation. She is truly an authoritative leader who knows what she’s doing.
On the contrary, I’m also aware of leaders who appear oblivious to the fact that they’re not particularly great at the people side of things. They may be good at the technical aspects of their jobs, but they tend to rub others the wrong way. They are often closed to others’ ideas and they have difficulty sharing credit.
I think this happens for different reasons: they might be aware of their shortcomings but don’t particularly care; they may be aware of their shortcomings but don’t have the skills to change; or they might actually believe this style is effective. My guess, also, is that these types of leaders are often (but not always) masking a deeper sense of insecurity with an authoritarian style of interaction. Regardless of the reasons for the authoritarian style of leadership, it’s clear that these leaders don’t – at least actively and openly – question their leadership.
We might not all possess the leadership finesse of my client, but we can always continue to grow when we’re willing to engage in honest self-reflection. I believe that my client is a natural leader to a great degree – but I also believe that she’s as strong as she is because she questions herself.
It becomes increasingly difficult to question ourselves as our confidence and competence grows: self-reflection is often done in response to self-doubt and fear of failure. But to be effective leaders we need to reclaim and hold the assumption that we can always be better.
I’m the first to admit that I’m not a natural-born writer. The words don’t always come easily, and I sometimes don’t know exactly what it is I’m trying to say. So why am I writing this article? It’s primarily because I want to: I do have things to say, and I do want to share them with others. I’ve also decided that writing articles is good for my business because it helps to keep me in front of potential clients and customers.
But because my love of writing is not as strong as I wish it was, I don’t typically jump all over the chance to sit at the keyboard for a half-hour trying to think of what to say. So despite all the great motivations I have for writing this article, there is another reason it’s actually getting done: it’s because I’m accountable to someone besides myself to do it.
I made a commitment to my friend, Mark, that I would write an article once a month for his online newspaper. This has proven to be a win-win situation: Mark gets content for his paper, and I have a structure that helps me to do something I want to do (but doesn’t carry the inherent reward-power to allow me do it on my own).
If left to my own devices I probably would write regularly for a few months, then it might become more sporadic, then it might dwindle down to nothing at all. But because of my commitment to Mark I’m sitting here now writing this article. And I’m glad I am: I’ll get to experience a sense of accomplishment, and I’ll get to continue to share my thoughts with others, as well as continue to keep my name out there.
So I know that accountability is a powerful structure when one wants to get things done. It’s also free and easy, and can help with a host of behaviours.
A friend of mine, to give another example, has had a hard time quitting smoking. He’d tried it many times and always started up again. But when he was truly ready to quit, he shared his intention with his children. He knew, as hard as it would be, that once he had told his kids and got their hopes up he would never light up again. And he didn’t. He was truly ready to quit, but didn’t feel he could quite do it on his own. He was wise enough to leverage the structure of accountability.
What have you been putting off that you know you want or need to do? What self-motivation strategies do you employ? Could you also leverage the structure of accountability? Could you offer to be the one that others could be accountable to?
I’ve recently been trying to get ahold of someone to come and take a look at a problem I’m having with my roof. I’ve left three messages with this particular company, and none have been returned. Similarly, a few months ago I needed to get a potential moisture problem in my basement looked at. I phoned two different companies numerous times – one called me back once, but I missed the call and they were never to be heard from again. The other company booked a total of three appointments with me and did not show for any of them. The first time looked like an innocent-enough misunderstanding, but not showing for the second and third bookings I thought was just plain irresponsible.
A friend of mine suggested a service that he uses, and owner was at my house the next day, surveying the problem in a very professional manner. Why wasn’t it just that easy the first time around? Similarly, I recently called a local computer repair service to ask about my recent slow internet connection. I phoned three times over the week and didn’t receive any response. I finally gave up and phoned another service I’d never used before, whose technician walked me through a process on the phone that quickly fixed my problem (with no charge).
Why, I wondered, do some people just not show up?
Then I thought about what showing up really means, and I realized that it means different things in different contexts – but that the underlying principle is the same. It’s about ‘being there’. For a small business like the examples I gave, the act of not showing up could be a matter of life or death for their success. But what does it mean to consistently ‘show up’ in one’s life?
I’m reminded of something a friend told me recently: he had been working on a project that had inadvertently caused him to start to dig deeper into who he is – to examine his habits and practices as a human being. He informed me that an unexpected side-effect of this inquiry was that he has become more involved and available to the people in his life.
My friend has been honoring his commitments more now than he has done so in the past – consistently following through with the plans he makes with colleagues and friends. He’s apologized for some old hurts and mended a relationship with a family member. He has begun to be more present in his interactions: really listening to others and engaging in more meaningful levels of conversation.
In other words, my friend is learning what it means to “show up”. He’s discovered the importance of really ‘being there’ in all the areas of his life: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Being more consistent and reliable, open, present, and engaged, he says, has afforded him many benefits on many levels. And he just feels good about his life.
So as a leader, a business owner, a parent, a friend… are you in the habit of showing up? Do you meet your commitments? Are you reliable and dependable? Do you listen well and speak carefully? Do you treat every encounter as if there is something important to be both shared and learned?
You’ve probably heard all you want to hear about the Flu vaccination by now: I know I certainly have. So this article isn’t really about the flu shot – it’s actually about making decisions. What brought his topic to mind, though, is that I’ve recently decided to forego the shot this year and go the homeopathic route instead.
Is this because I know better than those who advocate the vaccination? No. Might I end up regretting not getting the shot? Maybe. I don’t know.
And it’s precisely because I don’t know that I had to make that decision with my gut. This doesn’t mean that my gut is necessarily right – but because of the vast array of conflicting opinions and information to be found on the topic, my head simply wasn’t able to make the choice.
But, again, this isn’t just about the flu shot – it’s about all of the personal decisions we need to make in our continuous striving for growth and wholeness. Ideally, we can search for the information we need, find it, and make a decision based on what we’ve just learned (assuming that it’s accurate). Unfortunately, though, there are a lot of things that just don’t work that way. And so we have to make a decision based on other things and hope for the best.
We all do the best with what we’ve got at any given point, and we can never predict with 100% accuracy how things are going to turn out. All of our decisions are based upon some combination of past experience, hard data and hearsay, intuition and faith. Sometimes we’re guided by our values and beliefs, and at other times we feel safer playing the odds. In any case, decisions have to be made.
But it’s important to understand the difference between the decisions that are irresponsibly founded on intuition (where if we actually cared to do the work we could come up with something more informed), and the decisions that need to be made when intuition is truly all we’ve got.
It takes a lot of discipline, patience, and critical thought to thoroughly examine and investigate our options and the potential implications of our choices – to do our due diligence. But it’s an important endeavour: many people too often get lazy with this and act mindlessly and impulsively; sometimes with serious consequences. And many of us also tend to take it too far the other way: we over-think our lives and ultimately succumb to overwhelm and ‘analysis paralysis’ – never taking the risks that can lead to great rewards.
So let’s always remember to be thoughtful with our choices, and take care in our actions. And when we do feel stuck, fearful, or confused after an honest assessment, let’s learn to trust that things often turn out okay anyway – and that we can handle the unanticipated variables with grace and resilience.
You are a leader. Stake your claim to what is yours.
It’s very empowering to acknowledge, celebrate, and truly own all of the aspects of our existence. And each of us is a leader on some level: at home, at work, in the community… through formal or informal roles. Whether a CEO or a stay-at-home parent, we all have the ability to inspire others and create action through our ideas, words, and examples.
Of course we can’t all be leaders in all areas – but we can claim the leadership responsibilities that have already been bestowed upon us: if you’re a parent, then you’re a leader. If others often come to you for feedback or advice, you’re a leader. You’re a leader if you can think beyond the minutiae and the mundane, and if you’re able to assess challenges as opportunities.
We can claim our leadership in any area in which we feel a sense of passion and investment: wherever we care deeply enough to develop our knowledge, self-evaluate and grow, and challenge ourselves and others to strive for something better.
Try expanding your own concept of leadership, and seize the opportunity to stake your claim. You may already be the top dog at work – but how can you bring a more positive influence to your children? Or you may possess no formal title at all – but where can you share your unique knowledge, experience, talent, and wisdom? Where can you influence a change in your world (no matter how small), and inspire those around you to do the same?
You are a leader. Wear it proudly. Positive change is desperately needed on all levels, grand and small – from the political arena, to the boardroom, to the living room. And each of us can embrace the privilege, right, and responsibility to make it happen!
Someone asked me the other day if I thought that we really ‘know ourselves’. The surface answer to this question, I thought, is yes. Do you know what your favourite colour is? What you like and dislike? What you value and what you avoid? What you want out of life, for you and your family? If you’ve ever given any thought to these things, then yes, you can safely say you know yourself.
However, there is a deeper level to this: a level where the answer to this question is quite possibly no.
I was reminded of the book “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by me)”, by Tavris and Aronson, which was an insightful reminder about how we come to shape our own perceptions about who we are. If you’ve read any of the theory and research in the fields of cognitive dissonance and human memory (the main topics in “Mistakes Were Made…”), or narrative therapy and Gestalt psychology, you’ll know that this process is done largely through fallible processes.
If you’re not familiar with these areas, the crux is this: memory is highly prone to error, we as humans always want to put vague, disjointed pieces together to form a logical whole (i.e., we “fill in the blanks”), we justify our actions by reconfiguring our perception of an actual event or its outcomes, and we ultimately believe the stories we create for our own lives – accurate or not.
For years when I was a kid I believed that my older sister had a pet gorilla (where this belief came from, I have no idea). I was able to eventually discount this belief, of course, because of its absurdity. But my memories of this gorilla to this day still seem so real. So what about our memories and life stories that are more feasible than that: the ones that don’t include a 400-pound pet? They may be wrong too – we just don’t question them.
So what does this mean? Well, frankly, it means that we may not actually have had many of the experiences we remember; that our personal history and relationships didn’t likely go down exactly the way we think they did; and that on some level we may not even really be who we think we are! Kind of scary, isn’t it?
The point of this article is to remind and encourage us to look at those things that shaped our lives, relationships, and leadership styles – those specific events, the decisions we made, the conversations we had – and challenge them. Does it all really fit into that neat little package we envision, or were things really perhaps a little more unpredictable, messy, or chaotic than we care to remember?
Thinking about this, even if it stays rhetorical, can help to remind us that we’re all human: we’re all prone to mistakes and misperceptions, and we’re all really quite vulnerable in the big bad scheme of things. We try to do the best we can with what we’ve got – even if it means unintentionally skewing reality to protect our sense of control in this unknowable universe.
We need to remind ourselves to think critically, admit our fallibility and develop our empathy – and to be gentle with ourselves and others along the way.
My son had a bowl of Mini Wheats this morning, and he was absolutely off the wall. My kind, gentle soul of a child turned into a raving lunatic within minutes.
Now Mini Wheats are certainly a somewhat-nutritious breakfast, but one of its ingredients apparently did not agree with his little system. I believe the culprit was artificial colouring (we’ve begun to notice this trend with a variety of foods).
The thing is that this was not very difficult detective work: food in, beast unleashed.
But as adults, we have so many more layers of complexity: when you’re feeling a little off during the day, is it because of that conflict with your co-worker? Is it because you have a thousand impossible deadlines to meet? Or is it simply because you had Mini Wheats for breakfast?
The truth is that what affects our emotional and physical balance is multifactoral: lots of different pieces of the puzzle adding up to the whole picture.
But some pieces are bigger than others, and carry more weight on our sense of well-being or dis-ease.
So when you’re doing your detective work, experiment on all levels: have the difficult conversation you need to have. Go to bed instead of watching that last movie. Learn some better time-management skills. Forego the Mini Wheats tomorrow morning.
Experiment and identify the big pieces of your puzzle. Keep a journal and record your foods, activities, energy levels, and moods – and see what themes arise. You may be surprised at how one simple change can have a domino-effect on the rest of your life!