What it Means to be Authentic

Authentic

You’re nervous, scared.  You’re breathing is shallow and you’re beginning to sweat.  Your mind is racing but you can’t seem to find an answer to your problem that makes you feel good.  In fact all you see in front of you are choices that are not so good and plain bad.  You start weighing the outcomes of each choice in terms of personal perception.  How will I be viewed if I make this decision or that decision?  How popular or unpopular will I be for making such a decision?  Will my boss support me?  How about my wife/husband, my friends, my parents, my kids?  Your emotions reach a crescendo and you feel you’re about to collapse.  What now?

Try this interesting test.  It’s a simple and fast test that requires answering just one question no matter how difficult the decision is you are facing.  It can serve as your decision starter.

What would I do if I didn’t have to worry about any one persons reaction or perception of me based upon the decision I make?  Sure this sounds unfair but if you begin every decision thinking first about what others will think of you then you’re likely to arrive at the wrong place.  Like politicians that look at polls before deciding on their personal stance on an issue, people who worry more about what others think rather than doing the right thing will ultimately experience a short life cycle as a leader.

Authentic leaders don’t worry about what others think.  Not that they set out to offend, hurt, or alienate themselves from others but they instead focus on being true to themselves first.  After all, that’s what makes an authentic leader so appealing to follow.  You always know where they stand on an issue today and tomorrow.  They don’t waiver or pander.  They simply establish their position, communicate it effectively and stick to it.  If they do change their position it is backed up by facts and tangible learnings that justify their change.  Not at all based upon opinion polls, or pressure from stakeholders or markets.

They have a sense of intelligent fearlessness.  They are smart enough to understand where the pitfalls are but effective enough to lead through, around, or over them.  They are mindful of cause and effect and focus on communicating both the why and the implications of their decisions.  They are often times seen as bold, courageous, and confidence.  They use their intelligence to assess the situation and select the best approach.  Their intelligence coupled with their confidence in conviction allow them to lead others fearlessly toward the goal.  This does not mean carelessly.  The difference here is that an authentic leader through their personal intellect and confidence are able to make tough decisions without fear, while leaders whose only strength is to pander to public opinion live in constant fear of being judged.  As such the leader who lives in fear is always looking to make the decision that allows them to place or shift blame elsewhere.  To have cover when the sky begins to fall.  Authentic leaders understand the risks and have no problems being held accountable to their decisions.

Recently Kathleen Sebelius was replaced as the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).  In the interviews that have followed since her removal from office she stated that they had got it (the website http://www.healthcare.gov) readiness wrong.  It should have never been promised to roll out in October 2013.  Yet video clip after clip shows Sebelius saying with conviction it will be ready.  It is ready.  It’s working.  It’s right.  So where was her authenticity as a leader?  Where was her courage?  Unfortunately like so many others in leadership positions she sacrificed her authenticity for popularity.  If only people would realize that popularity is fickle.  Eventually inauthentic decisions and the leaders who made them always show themselves but by that time both have been cast as failures.  If only we could stay true, stay firm, stay authentic from the start.

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The Positive Power of Regret

Regret

We’ve all done it.  Looked back and said, “Gosh I wish I hadn’t done that.”  Decisions we made, things we did or didn’t do that led to an unfortunate, uncomfortable, or disappointing experience.  Many times our failures can be tracked back to a decision we made, failed to make, or even made too hastily.  Likewise, success can be viewed in the same way.  But if you stop to look at the critical moments of your life, or your crucible moments as they’re often called, you may find a new tool in your bag worth using.  Regret.

Oddly enough “woulda, coulda, shoulda” could play a key role in helping to improve your decision-making.  How so?

Let’s imagine I have an important decision to make.  Could be personal, could be professional, it really doesn’t matter which.  I start by looking at the information I have in hand.  What do I know, what don’t I know?  What feelings or emotions strike me as I think through the different paths I could take in making this decision?  Perhaps I take the step to do a typical Pros and Cons sheet.  I write down all the positive things that could happen if I make Decision “A” along with the negative.  I do the same for Decision “B”.  I tally up all the pros from each chart and the one with the most is typically the path I take.  These are all fairly standard techniques in decision-making.  Now let’s add Regret.

Imagine 6 months have passed and you’re not in the place you had hoped you’d be.  Something went wrong along the way and things just didn’t turn out as you expected.  You’re unhappy, miserable, and regretting things.  Now come back to the present and ask yourself, what would I have done different to change that regretful outcome?  Maybe 6 months from now that diet didn’t work and I actually gained weight.  I may have regretted not working out 6 days a week, or eating that bag of potato chips every night.  Six months from now I may have failed my Chemistry class.  I may have regretted not studying enough, or asking for extra help from my professor.  Or maybe 6 months from now I’ve missed my sales goal again.  I may regret not making those extra calls each day when I quit at 5 pm.  I might regret not going to a networking event because it dug into my personal time.

Regardless of whether you have a personal or professional regret, using the positive power of regret may just help you make a different decision in the present that results in a better outcome in the future.  Regret can be a powerful tool when combined with visualization.  Visualize yourself in that unhappy moment, the failure you may feel, the disappointment that weighs on you.  Now take those feelings and ask what would I have done differently?  Regret often times gives you a second chance if you embrace it properly.

As Henry David Thoreau said, “Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.”

The Secret to Leading a National Sales Team to Success? Communication.

Win

Vince Lombardi said, “Coaches who can outline a play on a blackboard are a dime a dozen.  The ones who win get inside their player and motivate.”  This insight from Coach Lombardi speaks to the necessity for all leaders to understand their players and instill confidence while inspiring a desire for to achieve greatness.

Running a national sales organization is difficult. There are numerous challenges that come into play that every leader must deal with on a regular basis.  Cultural differences, time zones, and competition are just a few of the most pressing items that every sales leader encounters.

While there are many critical characteristics that make up a great national sales leader one stands above the rest…communication.  Communication is both art and science.  At its most effective level communication is a two-way street.  A give and take.  A back and forth.  It requires research, listening, understanding and patience.  Good communicators know what to say.  Great communicators know how to say it and when.  The right message delivered at the wrong time, in the wrong venue, or with the wrong tone can be just as disastrous as delivering the wrong message.  Great leaders know their people.  They understand what drives them.  What makes them tick.  Because of their deep insight into their people they are able to communicate at a higher level than those leaders who don’t take the time to get to know their people.

To be a great communicator you must do these 6 things:

  1. Educate yourself in your area of expertise.  It always amazes me how some folks believe that because they’ve been “in the business” for 10, 15, or 20 plus years they just know it all.  Their arrogance has misled them providing a false sense of security.
  2. Get to know your team.  Really get to know them.  Spend one-on-one time with them to understand who they are, what’s important to them, where they want to go, and when they’d like to get there.  Listen to them and be sure to focus all your attention on them.  We’ve all had those meetings where the person we’re talking to has “wandering eyes” and you just know they’re not hearing you.
  3. Practice.  Use a mirror.  Even after more than 25 years of building and leading large teams I still practice my message in front of a mirror.  Facial expressions are just as important as your message.  If the two appear disconnected your credibility goes out the window.
  4. Show empathy.  As the saying goes, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Empathy can only be developed when you take a genuine interest in helping others.
  5. Do it often.  The more you communicate with the right message the more transparent you become.  After all that’s what people want…transparency.  The ability to know what to expect without surprises is what builds credibility.
  6. Be clear.  Say what you mean.  Minimize the buzz words, big words, and impressive phrases.  No one cares how smart you sound.  They’re only interested in whether what you do can help them meet their needs.

Give it a shot and let me know how it works!

Stop Trying to Fit In and Start Being Remarkable

remarkable

Everyone wants to fit in. To be a part of the crowd. Some people go to extremes to remain invisible whether at school, the office, the gym, or anywhere else in pubic. Blending in is part of our culture. Why do you think brand names like Nike, Levi’s, Coke, Asics, Hollister, and Target are so valuable? They represent the main stream. Sure they offer quality and value but they also offer a strong emotional connection to safety. I’m safe if someone sees me wearing Nike, shopping at Target, or buying a Diet Coke.

But success doesn’t come to those who play it safe. Success isn’t for the faint of heart, or those who want to be part of the crowd. No. Success usually comes to those willing to take chances, to challenge the norms of society, to stand out and be remarkable.

Are you remarkable? Do you stand out at work or are you one of the crowd? Do your co-workers look at you as a thought leader? A progressive thinker? Or are you one of the many doers that get things done but not the one “cutting the edge?” Do you invest in building your personal brand? Are you working to create awareness around your ideas and opinions or are you silent, laying back, waiting for the next set of directions to come your way?

History is a great teacher of the correlation between remarkable and success. Thomas Jefferson, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, and The Beatles all were remarkable for their time. Dimon, Reagan, Lincoln, and Gates made bold decisions, often unpopular, but remarkable in ways that led to great discoveries, financial stability, and peace through power.

We all have the ability to be remarkable. We may not all be Thomas Edison’s or Michael Dell’s but we each possess unique characteristics that if amplified make us remarkable. A great sense of humor, the ability to provide calm during turbulent times, or being able to rally people together for a common cause can be remarkable characteristics. What makes you remarkable?

Great Mentors. The Difference Maker.

partner

In my previous blog, 5 Important Differences Between a Coach and a Mentor, I provided clear differentiation between these two advisers. Both play a valuable role in your development but go about it in entirely different ways. Understanding your current circumstances and having semi-clear objectives – goals – is critical in knowing which, a coach or mentor, would provide the greatest value.

While most coaches tend to have very specific areas of expertise, mentors are completely opposite. Mentors bring a broad set of skills, perspectives, insights and opinions to your developmental party. If you are fortunate enough to have a real mentor in your life consider yourself blessed…and lucky…for they’re not all that common. Remember, you select a coach, a mentor selects you. Great mentors can come from a variety of areas in your life. A relative, a friend, co-worker, boss, or business associate can all be potential mentors. What are the ingredients that make a great mentor?

  1. Deep life experiences. These experiences do not need to be in the area of your specific profession. The mentor has been in and around many different situations that have provided them with incredible insight and perspective.
  2. Demonstrates a personal interest in you. The mentor takes a proactive role in wanting to help you by providing valuable feedback, and guidance. Often times they proactively reach out to check in with you rather than waiting for your call.
  3. Excited and passionate about your development. The mentor never makes you feel like you’re on the clock. Instead they make you feel like they exist specifically to help you. Their energy and authenticity is tangible and easily recognized.
  4. Honest in a positive and constructive way. The mentor provides hard-hitting, honest feedback and observations, but does so in a way that doesn’t put you on the defense, or belittles you.
  5. Teacher, Coach, Counselor, Motivator all rolled into one. The mentor has a natural ability to weave in and out of these roles effortlessly with a near “cloak of invisibility” as they do so. Their deep understanding of you allows them to take the role most effective for the situation at hand, with the genuine intent to aid in your development, while never lecturing or criticizing.
  6. Trust. The single most important ingredient for any great mentoring relationship is trust. A strong, trusting relationship with a mentor creates the bond that is necessary for free-flowing, honest, personal, and sometimes difficult feedback without the fear of embarrassment or intimidation.

Great mentors do all these things and more. Having the benefit of a mentor gives you the ability to make better decisions, broadens your perspectives, and often times provides the clarity you need to move forward. These unique and wonderful people grace us with their active presence in our lives, teach us in ways others can’t, and provide us with the strength we need during life’s most crucial moments. Great mentors are in fact the difference makers in a life full of success and personal fulfillment.

5 Important Differences Between a Coach and a Mentor

Helping-Mentor

Throughout your career, you will encounter moments that will present great challenges and/or opportunities.  Knowing what to do at those specific times depends on several things including experience, attitude, skills and capabilities, and the strength of your personal support network.    As you grow personally and professionally, the complexity of these circumstances increases and may create anxiety as you determine your next steps.  And while this is perfectly normal from a developmental standpoint, having a coach or a mentor by your side can make a huge difference in the quality of outcomes.  Understanding the difference between the two is the first step to making the right selection.

Many people believe mentors and coaches are the same…interchangeable terms.  But they’re not.  Mentors are quite different from coaches.  The key differences between the two are listed below:

  1. You select a coach, a mentor selects you.  As such, mentor relationships tend to last for years, if not a lifetime.  By the mentor selecting you, he or she is demonstrating their personal commitment and genuine desire to help with your personal development.
  2. Coaches focus on improving specific performance, usually on the job, while a mentor focuses on your overall development with a much greater focus on you, the person.
  3. Coaches interact through a formal structure, usually the same day and time each week – office hours.  The session follows a certain flow or formula for the review and update on the items discussed in your last meeting.  A mentor interacts as needed.  They’re “on-call” and happy to be so.  Less formal in nature, free-flowing, and very personal.
  4. Coaches tend to be “career-point-in-time” resources.  Meaning, few coaches can provide value in all stages of someones career.  A great high school football coach does not automatically equate to a great NFL coach simply because he understands the game of football.  As the stakes grow higher in your career, you will need to find a coach whose skills are equally equipped for the circumstances you are encountering.  The coach you had when you were 35, and in your first senior manager role, most likely will not be as effective for you when you are 45 in an executive role.  In contrast, a mentor is always focused on the “broad YOU”, gathering deep and intimate knowledge of the real you, thereby allowing them to provide valuable insights and guidance in nearly any circumstance.
  5. Finally, and perhaps the biggest difference between a coach and mentor is how they are paid.  Coaches, at least professional coaches, charge a fee for their service.  These fees range anywhere from a few hundred dollars per session into the thousands depending upon the circumstances, and length and frequency of the engagement.  A mentor has no fee.  They’ve taken you under their wing.  They have a personal connection with you and are committed to your development and success.

It’s important to understand that while different, there is a need to have both a coach and mentor in your life.  Both play very different, yet important roles in your personal and professional development.  Having a general understanding of your circumstance, time frame, and objectives will help guide your decision on selecting the right coach or mentor.  I will visit specific benefits of coaches and mentors in upcoming blogs.