April 25, 2017

How Your Discipline Will Amplify Your Impact

Photo by hamad M

“This is NPR. National Public Radio.” Ugh. 5AM. Why do I do this to myself?

Most people think I’m crazy waking up so early. My wife finds it equally odd that I jump out of bed. No snooze button for me. As soon as that alarm goes off, Bam! Out of bed and ready to create and take on the world.

Early mornings are my most creative and productive. It’s when I can think and ponder about my next project, how to organize an event or a particularly challenging work problem.

These early morning creative times allow me to build up to my day. They get the mind moving and allow me to free form all those whacky ideas that swirl in my noggin as well as setup for the rest of the day.

I bring up my routine not to brag about how I figured it out but to give you just one example of what works for one person. Your routine will be different. You may need to tweak your day to get into the groove. I know I had to change a bit. In order to wake up a 5:00am, I usually go to bed at 9:00pm. Yup, I’m rock’n fun at parties!

Discipline Builds Onto Itself

Even if I just outline a piece, answer emails or do research, the discipline of working builds onto itself. Pretty soon, I’ll have a outline done, a completed piece, scheduled my next neighborhood meeting or just more ideas. This allows me to build up a body of work incrementally and not have to rush through projects to make a deadline. Sure, I give myself deadlines because that’s the only way I’ll get stuff done.

Getting stuff done is also a great boost to your self-esteem and demonstrates to others that you can be relied on. That’s an important trait to have. More on that later on.

Now, some of you may be wondering what it takes to build up the momentum to create or lead day after day, week after week and even year after year. It’s really not as hard as you think.

Building Momentum Daily

Whatever your creative or leadership pursuits, it’s important to constantly work on them. Without constant practice, you will lose your skills.

Now, we will build on your base of doing to take on more challenging projects and expand your impact. The major change is you will no longer fly solo. In order to expand your impact, you need to now work with others.

Expanding Your Impact

By now, I’ll assume you have been creating or doing something solo for a couple of months maybe even a year. That’s great. You should be proud that you stuck with it.

Now, we need to expand your impact by getting others involved with your ideas and projects. This is really the only way to bring your leadership and creativity to the next level.

By taping into others, you expand your influence as well as your ability to get stuff done. It’s really a simple concept — the more people working on a project, the better and quicker it will get finished.

Who’s A Skeptic?

I know some of you are skeptical about working with others because you want total control of your project, creation or idea. In some cases, that’s required but eventually, you have to get other people involved.

The reason is simple — you need them. You need them for feedback. You need them to spread the word. You need them to own a piece of it. You need them to encourage you on.

Without the help of others, we don’t grow. Every great leader, CEO, artist or writer had help.

Writers have editors. Bill Gates had Paul Allen. Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniacki. Bert had Ernie.

Collaborating With Others

It’s actually pretty scary inviting other people into our worlds. It feels a little vulnerable to open yourself up and work with others.

There are no hard fast rules when it comes to collaborating with others. The general guidelines below will offer a basic framework to get started:

 

  • Socialize: Before working with someone, it’s best to get to know them a little beforehand. Just jumping into the work can hide some potential personality conflicts .

  • Start Small: It’s best to take on a small project to test the waters of your new collaborator. That way, both of you have little to loose if things don’t work out.

  • Be Honest: The best way to start off any relationship is to be honest with the other person. Don’t embellish your capabilities only to later have to renege on commitments.

  • Set A Deadline: The best way to get a project done is to set a deadline. Make it a little aggressive so that you are focused on getting the tasks done.

  • Strike An Equitable Deal: The best collaborations are when the parties are equal. Anything other than equality and things get a murky and complicated.

  • Hold Each Other Accountable: Commit and deliver is the name of the game. Expect the same from your collaborators and your project will go smoothly.

  • Respect Each Others Time: Time is our most valuable resource. Respect the fact that your collaborator has other projects and commitments.

 

Once you have successfully collaborated on a project, you will feel great. Not only do you start to see other opportunities but you grow as a person. Even a simple project like cleaning up a community garden will inspire you to seek out more like minded people.

This momentum will build and pretty soon, you and your colleagues can take on more and more.

What Happens If Things Go Wrong

It’s natural to think of the downside of a collaboration gone wrong. It does happen and that’s one of the risks of putting yourself out there.

The key attitude to have when collaborations go wrong is to treat each other with respect and find an equitable way to get of of the deal. No hard feelings. Nobodies fault — it just didn’t work out.

If you take that tact, then you can preserve the relationship and maybe work on something else in the future.

Take The Leap

Enough talk about the downsides. The upsides far outweigh the downsides. It’s a wonderful feeling to have collaborated with people to create something bigger than yourself. Don’t be afraid. Embrace the challenge. Get out there and create.

How to Avoid Parlor Trick Leadership

Photo by Willow&Monk

Some leaders employ various parlor tricks to appear caring, confident, inspiring and in touch. Initially, these tricks work but over time, supporters catch on and slowly separate from the cause or project.

Preventing this exodus takes a leader that is authentic in their feelings, actions and words. Being authentic requires confidence in ones abilities and the realization that short cuts, empty promises and unlikely statements need to be avoided.

It’s so much easier to throw out an inspirational quote, a canned statement or a “dog and pony” show than it is to truly inspire people.. Occasionally these tricks get the job done but they are only a short term fix.

Take a look at some of the most common tricks below to understand why they are over used and how to craft more believable statements and actions.

Trick #1: We are All in This Together

Really. “All” of us are in this together. Come on. I doubt that the CEO or executive management is really in the trench with the troops.

This is such an old and tired trick that every time I hear it, it makes me cringe. If the boss or leader really felt this, then they would step out of their office, come down into the lab or factory floor and interact with their people.

If you really mean this, then you need to show it. Some ways to show this include:

 

  • Take action: Do something that shows you are all in this together. Get on the production line. Debug code or just go get everyone dinner.

  • Show up: Having the team work the weekend or late at night, make sure to show up as well. It says a tremendous amount that the leader works late or on the weekend as well.

  • Take on a burden: There is always something that the leader can do to help the team. It might be as simple as cleaning up the office, getting dinner, writing the report or coordinating shipments. By taking on a burden, you demonstrate your commitment.

  • Reward sacrifice and dedication: No sacrifice or dedication should go unnoticed. Even simple things like a thank you, a phone call or a surprise treat makes a world of difference.

 

Trick #2: This is the Best Team I Have Ever Led

This is another one that is kinda hard to say and even harder to believe.

All teams have strengths and weaknesses. At the moment, the statement might be true but to say that throughout all of time, this team is the best, is a little short-sided.

The better way to approach this is to describe why the team is great and that it’s the best team I have led so far. This statement is a lot more believable and probably true.

The most common use of this trick to instill pride in the team and motivate them to do impossible things. The complex part about saying such statements is that it restricts you and your team by offering no room for improvement.

Trick #3: I Feel Your Pain

This statement is overused a tremendous amount — usually by leaders who are out of touch. A leader really does not need to say such a statement if they truly feel your pain — it will evident in the leaders actions.

A better approach would be to empathize with the situation by recounting events that demonstrate you understand the hardships. Nothing will win respect more than telling a story about how a similar situation felt and what you did about it.

Trick #4: We Work Hard and Play Hard

You hear this a lot at high tech companies where the pace of competition is so great that you have to ship products quickly. The statement is usually false because the Play Hard side is always sacrificed for the Doing More Work side.

A better way to approach this is to be honest about the pace of the group and why celebrations are an important part of the culture. That way, it’s a direct relationship.

Even if you do work hard and play hard, the term is overused and abused so much that it can immediately turn people off. Try and think of a new twist that gives the phrase new meaning. A couple that come to mind include:

 

  • We celebrate every great success and catastrophic failure

  • Every month we all go out to dinner

  • Friday’s are dress like the boss day

  • Whoever does the best during the week get’s their pick of Friday lunch spots

 

Trick #5: We Must Meet These Milestones

Milestones are always tricky business. Most of the time, they are artificial. When the leader pronounces that certain events must take place at certain times, they are opening themselves up for rebellion.

Hitting milestones is important but the reasons behind hitting the milestones are even more important. Rarely must a milestone be absolutely hit dead on unless it’s a matter of life and death or running out of money.

To make this more effective, the leader should always explain why the milestones need to be hit and the consequences if the goals are not acheived. If the reasons are purely ego driven, then your supporters will rarely rise to the occasion.

If you make the reasons resonate with the people, then it’s more likely to get done. Don’t skimp on the reasoning or rational. Every single one of your supporters has a reason they support you and all of them want to know why the milestones are important.

Trick #6: This is a Team Effort

Team dynamics and unity are important aspects to focus on. If you have a team that’s really not functioning as a team, then no amount of you saying we are a team will make them act like a team.

This trick is typically deployed when contributions within a team are lopsided or when tensions are high between team members. Team dysfunction is usually directly attributed to the poor leadership of the team leader. The reason for this is simple — the leader does not fully utilize the members of the team.

In most cases, all members of a team want to contribute. If the contributions are lopsided it’s usually because the leader has been ineffective with roles and responsibilities. Remedy that problem and the effort will truly be a team one.

Trick #7: We Are Moving to Fast to Get Consensus

There is never a time when you cannot build consensus about a course of action or decision. It’s just a lazy way for a team leader to avoid having anyone debate their decisions.

Supporters will only put up with this for so long especially if the effort or group is always moving to fast to care about consensus.

A better way to deal with this is to foster a constant consensus culture that can quickly discusses, assess and decides on directions. That way, everyone on the team feels they are part of the solution rather than a pair of hands to do the work.

It’s About Being Authentic

The key to avoiding parlor trick leadership is to take action. Consistent action reinforced by words will have better outcomes than non-action with empty promises. The tricks above may give you some sort term successes but over time, people will figure it out and your ability to lead will degrade.

Remember that authenticity requires taking action and setting the example on how you want others to act. No parlor tricks can make up for that.

3 Letters Every Endurance Athlete Dreads and So Should You

Endurance athletes have a nemesis. It’s at every event and accompanies them during training. It’s the hidden monster that drives all endurance athletes to train, train and then train some more. No one is immune — not even the best athletes.

This nemesis is the dreaded DNF — Did Not Finish.

All leaders can relate to not finishing. It’s something we all fear. Not finishing means we failed and failure is hard to swallow.

Endurance athletes use the DNF as a motivational tool because just finishing a race, no matter how slow, means we accomplished what we set out to do.

Leaders can also use the DNF as motivation to push through adversity. It can be the driving force to carry on when all seems hopeless. When you finish that project, land that sale or close that funding you succeeded. You finished. You conquered.

Not finishing is far more painful than any temporary pain one can endure. Even if an athlete has to walk, they will walk. Even if they have to crawl, they will crawl. This is so ingrained in the endurance athletes brain that they will even help others finish — it’s that big a nemesis.

Why Finishing Is Important

Finishing a task means we succeeded. We set out to do a task and we accomplished it. To finish is the ultimate reward. It means we made good on our commitments.

Finishing also has a positive effect on others around us. When we finish, our co-workers and friends share in our success. Finishing builds momentum and that momentum creates more opportunities for success.

Battling The DNF

Most of the DNF battle takes place within us. It’s our motivation, drive, determination and shear will that lets us down when the beast rears it’s ugly head. This battle takes place in every leader and every athlete at all levels. Battling the DNF takes courage, strength and commitment in the face of adversity and hopeless odds when lesser people would quit.

To help combat not finishing, take a look at these proven techniques that endurance athletes use to slay the DNF monster:

 

  • Baby Steps: When the going gets tough, the tough focus on small steps. That way, they can celebrate small successes. Success breeds more success and pretty soon, those baby steps are giant leaps.

  • Focus on the Positive: Even amongst great adversity, there is something positive to focus on. Maybe it’s the beautiful day, a cheering fan or the eloquence of that last paragraph.

  • Train Hard: Nothing prepares you for a race like training. The harder you train, the easier the race. Same with work. Get the training you need and your project will go a lot smoother.

  • Ask For Support: If you need a little help, ask. Don’t be afraid to swallow a little pride and reach out to others. Just a little help from others can give you the boost you need.

  • Give Others Support: If someone asks you for help, give it. Helping others will also give you that extra boost. It’s rewarding and motivational when you give others the support they need to finish.

  • Pretty is Overrated: No matter the task, you just have to finish it. Don’t fall into the pretty trap by tweaking and tweaking until it’s oh so pretty that it’s never done. Finishing is more important than pretty since you can always tweak it as long as it’s good enough.

  • Walk When You Have Too: There is no dishonor in walking. In fact, sometimes it’s the only way to move forward. If the pace of your project or race is just exhausting, slow it down a little to catch your breath and regain your momentum.

  • Crawl If You Must: When you can’t walk, then crawl. Fight for each inch forward until you can’t fight anymore. Chances are, that each step forward will give you additional drive to continue on.

  • Make Others Want You to Finish: When others are in it with us, it inspires great acts of courage, performance and commitment. Get others on your team and have them want you to finish. This will give you that needed boost just when you need it.

 

All leaders face the prospect of not finishing. It hangs over their heads during every project, every meeting and every fund raising pitch. It’s a constant fear that needs to be channeled to your advantage by simply owning your destiny, building your skills and recruiting others to want you to finish.

Not finishing is bad but not trying is worst. Even when you can’t move another step, the fact that you did the best you could is the ultimate motivation to compete another day. Every endurance athlete knows that and every leader should learn that.

The Not So Naughty Lesson I Learned From Madam Butterfly

Some say, the butterfly swim stroke is the best exercise. While others say it’s the worst exercise invented. Before meeting Madam Butterfly, I was in the worst exercise camp.

The butterfly or just the fly, burns more calories, demands larger doses of oxygen and elicits more fatigue than biking 14-miles an hour or running a 10-minute mile. If you could actually sustain doing it for longer than 30 seconds, you could loose more weight and gain more muscle than any other exercise. The problem — the fly is hard to learn, hard to master and even harder to swim.

My fly used to be like an Orca whale leaping out of the water — the whole pool could feel my wake. I would be lucky to last 25 yards without having to catch my breath. Enter Madam Butterfly.

Sometimes The Truth Hurts

It can sometimes be tough to take criticism. This stems from our egos getting in way of our growth. When someone bluntly or subtly points out our weakness, it can sting a little.

Knowing the truth about what we are bad at is the only way to grow as a leader and as a supporter. When my teammate told me that I looked like an Orca whale doing the fly, it was a little shocking but totally true. I sucked at it and if I wanted to get better, I would have to swallow a little pride, put my ego in check and listen to her as she showed me the proper technique.

Everyones a Teacher

Teachers are all around us. You can learn from anyone, no matter their position, stature or lot in life.

Realizing this makes developing yourself a lot easier and frankly way more fun. Learning from a diverse set of people makes the learning experience much more enjoyable. Everyone has something to offer — you just have to tap into it.

Everyones a Student

Conversely, there is no person that knows everything. We are all students. Our development and continued growth depends on being diligent students of our craft. The leader who does not learn and grow will not be effective. The world around us is always changing and that change requires learning new skills, digesting the latest trends and keeping a sharp eye on the latest technology.

Helping Others, Helps Ourselves

When we help others, we deepen our bonds, strengthen our knowledge and hone our skills. The act of taking the time to assist a fellow human is a gracious act that reaps huge rewards.

As we help others, we realize that we are helping ourselves master our own skills. This happy consequence makes us better.

Be A Humble Student

I’m a lot better at the butterfly simply because someone had the compassion to point out my flaws, took the time to teach me, corrected my mistakes and encouraged me to practice. This may seem trivial but the implications are vast. By showing me how to master a touch skill, Madam Butterfly taught me so much more.

Her kindness to reach out and spend her valuable time was a simple yet gracious act. More of us need to embrace our inner teachers. Even more of us need to be eager students.

There is plenty to learn and all of us need to teach and absorb as much as we can.