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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Taking The Lead Vs. Being a Leader

leader

I’ve built many sales and marketing teams over the years.  I’ve led many to success and some to failure.  Throughout my career I have learned a great deal about leadership and leading people to achieve a desired goal.  One of the important facts I’ve learned over the years is that there is a clear difference between taking the lead and being a leader.  Having a true understanding of this difference helps to effect the best possible outcomes.

The difference between taking the lead and being a leader is quite simple.  When you take the lead you exert control.  You see examples of people taking the lead everyday throughout the world.  Kids take the lead to be the captain of the kickball team at lunch.   Executives maneuver to take the top spot in a company that may be floundering.  Yet these examples and others like them do not demonstrate leadership.  They simply showcase situations that arise where there is a vacuum at the top and any opportunistic person has the chance to step in and take control.  But that’s not leading.

Taking the lead involves control.  It often times results in a new regime rising to the top that is less focused on the team and much more  focused on an individual or small group of individuals.  This is not to say that in times of need that someone with noble intentions can’t rise to the top and become a leader.  Those situations do happen but are less likely when there is a leadership vacuum at the top.

The most significant difference between taking the lead and being a leader boils down to one ability.  The ability to inspire.  Great leaders inspire.  They get people to dream big, to not accept the status quo, to challenge conventional thinking without fear of embarrassment or disappointment.   The best leaders inspire people to own their own destiny.  To not settle for mediocrity.  To live the change we want to become, as Gandhi said long ago.  Leaders who are able to inspire possess a quiet confidence.  A sense of conviction that is both strong but flexible.  Strong leaders are learners and adapters.  They are able to see things as they are while formulating a plan to shape the future they intend to create.  They are driven by the need to be of value, and of service, to others and they inspire the very best from each of us while doing so.

These highly favored leaders are those  individuals that we all like to follow, to watch, to cheer on.  These are the people who make us feel confident in the value of our personal contributions, and are able to rally a diverse group of folks to charge off in a common direction.  They inspire each of us to reach for, and obtain greatness.  They are the real leaders.

Critical Insight When Making Tough Decisions

decision

If you need to make a difficult decision make sure you understand your surroundings as much as you understand the facts and details of what it is you’re trying to decide upon.

I recently had lunch with a colleague to discuss some key decisions that I need to make in our business surrounding strategy.  I presented my facts, beliefs, and experience with great passion.  My plan was both logical and well thought through.  I knew however that some of my decisions, while believed by the team the correct ones to make, would create some discomfort.  Why?  Because while we can all understand logic, and positive correlations, we are after all human beings, and human beings dislike change no matter how sound, logical, positive, or necessary that change is.

My colleague, who has years of experience and incredible wisdom said to me, “be aware of the issues that are not part of the issues.”  This statement perplexed me.  I didn’t understand.  When I asked her to explain she provided this wonderful story that provided the clarity to what she was saying.

For years she had her hair cut by the same stylist.  Through life’s many trials and tribulations, ups and downs, good times and bad, this stylist cut her hair and listened to her stories.  As times changed she wanted a new hair style but the stylist was unable to provide the cut she wanted.  She knew she had to make a change but her feelings and emotions of abandoning this stylist were strong.  She is an intensely loyal person and the thought of ending this long-standing relationship was quite troubling.  Her head told her it was the right thing to do but her heart was most certainly conflicted.  So while the issue at hand was achieving a new hair style, the emotional issue tied to her sense of loyalty came to the forefront of her making the decision to go elsewhere…hence the issue (emotional), not part of the issue (new hair style).

Bottom line:  It’s critical to understand emotions when making a decision. Your emotions as well as those of the key stakeholders involved in that decision are paramount to effective decision-making.  Emotional history, sometimes referred to as baggage, can play a major role in decision-making.  Being aware of these issues, that are not part of the actual issue being decided upon, can help you frame your approach.  Your decision is your decision.  It’s the “how” (the approach) you present your decision that can often times become the difference between effective decision-making and holding the status-quo.

 

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.”

5 Ways To Make Your Meetings More Effective

Improve

Another meeting?  Most days start with meetings and end with meetings.  We spend our days running from one to another, whether in person or via the infamous conference call.  Some companies can’t operate without having a meeting to discuss even the smallest of decisions or topics, while others work hard to minimize the number of meetings they schedule. It’s not that meetings are bad, it’s just that most of them are an ineffective use of time. Little is accomplished during these meetings other than wasting the time spent being in the meeting itself, as well as the time spent preparing for that meeting.

So how can you increase your level of meeting effectiveness?

Here are 5 things you should do before scheduling a meeting:

1. Create and include a clear meeting objective. Provide a brief summary of the purpose of the meeting. Be sure to state whether this meeting is meant to inform, solicit feedback, or make a decision.
2. Invite the right people. The key word here is “right”. Don’t get caught up inviting the entire company to make sure you’ve CYA’d yourself. Have the right people there. The type of meeting you have set will determine who you should invite.
3. Be clear on your time. If you need an hour then schedule an hour. If you believe that your topic may go over an hour then plan accordingly. People hate to attend meetings that consistently run over. You don’t want to create the perception that you’re a poor planner.
4. Provide materials in advance. Many people feel that meetings should be somewhat of a surprise. I can’t stand that approach. Time is valuable for everyone. Why wait until the meeting to drop a 20 page deck on people. Give them time to read through it and absorb it. Having the ability to formulate questions, thoughts, and opinions prior to the meeting is key to running an effective meeting.
5. Schedule critical meetings during the day before 4 pm. The fact is that human nature is such that most people find getting invited to a meeting that starts at 4 pm to be annoying. Hey I know you have to be in the office until 6 pm anyway but still in all, people look to the end of their day to wrap up items that were opened during the day. Many 4 pm meetings become nothing more than place holders to reschedule another meeting when people are prepared, ready, and engaged.

Try taking these 5 actions before scheduling your next meeting and see how much smoother your meeting runs.

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?

Income Inequality. A Difficult Subject.

Equal

During the President’s State of the Union address he spoke to the country about income inequality. The difference between what one person makes versus another, for the same work, based upon gender, race, etc. Taken at face value I believe most people are in support of income equality. If two human beings are doing the same work, regardless of gender or race, they should be paid equal…of course that also requires all other things beyond those two criteria also being equal. And that’s where the challenge comes in.

Most successful people make significant sacrifices on their career journey to success. Long hours, missed events with their children, wedding anniversaries when they were out-of-town, an occasional birthday missed, or worse yet a birth of a child missed because of work. Many families make a very conscious and deliberate decision to focus on career advancement. This does not mean that they’ve chosen to throw everything to the wind. Perhaps their goal is to be able to send their child to Harvard, or vacation to destinations that provide both educational and personal awareness for their children to actually see what they have relative to others. And what about those that have made big sacrifices only to give back in a big way to their community with their time, skills, or money?

Every human being has free will. Of course ones ability to exercise their free will, or choice, depends in large part on where they live. American’s have the ultimate ability to choose. We can do what we want, when we want, without any interference from the government. Now to be clear, of course there are laws we need to abide by but even those are broken by people who have chosen to break them. The fact is that America was born around the concept of equal opportunity. We are the country (land) of opportunity. The land where hopes and dreams have a real possibility of becoming a reality. But even at our founding there were those that sacrificed much while others did not. That’s just human nature.

So the challenge is not in the concept of equal pay for equal work. The challenge sits with how to assess two different workers’ desires, passions, and commitments. No place is this executed better than in the world of professional sports.

Peyton Manning possesses many of the skills other quarterbacks have. Strong arm, deep understanding of defensive schemes, and the ability to change plays based upon what presents itself during the game. But Peyton Manning is different. His drive, his desire, his intense focus on watching game film over and over again. His personality presents additional leadership skills that make him even more valuable. Anyone remember Ryan Leaf? The point is that it is quite difficult to make things equal when most times the facts prove they are not equal. No two quarterbacks are the same, no two snowflakes are the same, no two CEOs are the same.

It’s a difficult if not emotional topic. It demands thought, conversation, debate, and action. We just need to be sure we’ve explored it as best we can before making things equal based solely on an altruistic perspective.  Being an American means  you have the right to explore, find, and secure opportunities.  It does not guarantee any specific outcome.  Just as we’re warned when we enter the Stock Market, no investment is guaranteed, it is simply an opportunity to invest and the possibility of your investment growing.  Think of each of us as investments.  We all have the opportunity to grow, and we all have the opportunity to fall.  Between luck, chance, skill, desire, commitment and ability the outcome – like a true investment – is never guaranteed.