4 Steps To Taking Action

Mark Twain has numerous comedic quotes, many of which will get you a laugh (one of my favorites being, “Golf is a good walk spoiled”). Despite the cleverness, and seeming shallowness, of many of the quotes, however, the majority of them have a great depth if you are willing to stop and consider their realities.
One that is particularly applicable, both in terms of general life and business.

“I am an old man and have had a great many troubles, most of them never happened.”

How often in life do we let potential troubles, worries, or complications paralyze us? Take a good hard look at every aspect of your life including work, relationships, health, education, etc. Which parts are you truly happy with and which are you not? Which troubles, that have not happened and may never happen, are stopping you from improving the parts of your life that need attention?
What project would you like to take on that you are avoiding? What challenge is scaring you away? What major life change are you putting off? Humans are creatures of planning and forward thinking, which makes us unique. But when that forward thinking causes anxiety and keeps you from ever coloring outside the lines, then it’s time to get off your ass and shake things up.
Tim Ferriss has a wonderful chapter in The 4 Hour Work Week that encourages readers to do one simple activity:
1. Think of that change you have been wanting to make.
2. Imagine the worst case scenario if you take the leap and it doesn’t go well.
3. Then, realistically consider what steps you could take to get back to your current state (or close to it) if it doesn’t work out.
4. Now, think about what your missing out on by NOT taking the action (fulfillment, happiness, etc.)

Most likely what you are missing out on by not taking the action is scarier than the tangible objects, property, or money that you MIGHT miss out on if you take it. And even if you take it, and it doesn’t go well, you can likely recover pretty quickly! So don’t let the troubles in your life (that haven’t happened) stop you from pursuing what you should.

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Become the Go-To-Guy (or Gal)

As I mentor younger employees or new employees within my company, they often ask, “What do I need to do to get promoted?”

Without diving into the numerous issues with that question, I usually begin in one simple place. I don’t go into the “Why do you want to be promoted?” or “What’s your motivation?” or “Are you running to another job, or away from this one?” Those could all be topics of different blog posts.

Instead, I explain to them that people who usually get the jobs they want are already doing them before they are paid for them. Often this only gets me a furrowed brow and a “What do you mean, Mr. Shamelessly?”

What I mean is that the person who is going to get that promotion will already have learned the ins and outs of it and begun literally DOING it before the opening is even announced. The person is not paid for doing these things, usually because they were not asked to do them!

I can already hear the chorus of readers bemoaning the above: they shouldn’t have to do work they aren’t compensated for. Or the ever-present, “Well, that’s not my job”. Well, tough shit, I guess. All is not fair. In fact, almost nothing is fair. You are competing against other people for this job that you want. Why would you not take the advantage if it’s there? What you’ll also find, is that as you get accustomed to doing the more complicated or different position, you not only get better at your own, but it will take you less time. Your time management skills either get better, or – more likely –  you have come to understand Parkinson’s Law (more on that another time…..)

Want some examples of what I mean? The Sales Manager at my company has to collect weekly sales numbers every Friday. He has to track down his sales people and account executives and collect these numbers, put them in a spreadsheet, and send them up to his boss. One of his young and upcoming sales people is interested in being promoted sometime in the near future. He asked me how he could get recognized as a go to person and distinguish himself when the time came. He wanted to know if his numbers would be good enough.

“Numbers only get you into the conversation. They don’t get you the job. You know how your sales numbers get collected by Mr. Sales Manager every week? You think he likes having to do that? Do you think your value would go up if, without being asked, you started collected those at lunch every Friday and sent it to him, so that he didn’t have to worry about it? Do you think the next time a bigger, more important project comes along, he will come to you or to someone else to help get it done? Whose name will end up on that project alongside his?” It took my mentee a moment, but once he understood, it all clicked into place.

That is a very, very small example that takes very, very little effort. However, that’s the point. It can have a large impact on the mindset of the person who will be promoting you one day. Start doing the jobs you aren’t paid for. You will become the Go To Gal or Go To Guy in no time.

Why You Should Burn Your SMART Goals

You know those SMART goals that your boss made you set this year for your personal development? The ones that are supposed to make you better at something or other? Or maybe you made them for yourself on a personal journey you wanted to undertake. Either way, go ahead and pull those out, and set them on fire. Yeah go ahead and burn the shit out of them. Or right click on the file and with a flourish smash down the delete button. Now let’s talk about why.

Just about everyone in the business world is familiar with SMART goals by now. Some of the words in the acronym have been switched around or interchanged over time, but the gist is below:
S. – Specific

M. – Measurable

A. – Achievable

R. – Realistic

T. – Time based

When you think about those goals that I just had you shred, and look at them in this format, how inspired were you? How visionary did you feel? Did they excite you and get you out of bed in the morning? My hunch is they didn’t.
It’s a subtle difference, but what you should do instead is set SMART milestones. Your goals, though? Make them audacious. Make them exciting. Make them a vision so grand that when you think about them, you get so damn excited that you can’t help but go and work towards them. Your steps along the way? Yeah, make those bite-sized. But they aren’t your goals. They are just the stairs you have to climb up to your unrealistic, un-measurable, impossible, unrealistic, timeless aspirations. Go ahead, get to burning.

Don’t Blink, or You Might Miss It

 

Chapter Three of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink is titled “The Warren Harding Error.” For those of you who don’t know, Warren Harding was tall and very distinguished looking, what in some modern circles would be called, if I’m not mistaken, a “dreamboat”. Often, he was described as “Roman” looking. He had heavy black hair and bronzed skin. He had a resonant, masculine voice. In short, he looked and sounded presidential. Political forces of the time used these features to take him from a relatively unknown lawyer and lobbyist in Columbus, OH into the Oval Office of the White House. However, unfortunately, Warren Harding was not particularly bright or presidential and has been recognized by many historians as one of the worst presidents in history. Whoops.

This is the backdrop for a chapter that goes on to explain how our snap judgements about people – both positive and negative – can get us into a lot of trouble. Later, the chapter speaks about the height of male CEOs in America. Gladwell polled half the companies on the Fortune 500 list. In 2005, 58% of male CEOs were over six feet tall. General male population over six feet tall? 14.5%. Over 33% of the of the CEOs were 6’2” or taller. General population? 3.9%. Difficult to argue that is pure coincidence, but also easier to accept. Height does not stir the same controversies as race and gender.

This is just one of the many studies Gladwell cites regarding unconscious bias among the general population. Taller men are seen to be more commanding, confident, etc. If you were to poll the boards that appointed these men as CEO, however, and asked them how important height was in their determination, you would have been laughed out of the room. No one in their right mind would consciously say that height is important in the decision making process of choosing someone to run an organization. Right? Somehow, though, it is.

The point of these studies that Malcolm Gladwell cites is not to show that everyone is sexist, or racist, or heightist (if that’s a thing), but more to display that what we consciously say and believe is sometimes at odds with how we act. And this has nothing to do with hypocrisy. It is not a conscious act. Based on your upbringing, your gender, the type of news you consume, etc., your brain has made automatic connections between people, places, and things with positive and negative thoughts or feelings. Harvard has done a number of studies and tests on this, the most interesting of which is the IAT test with a link below if you are interested in trying it:

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/selectatest.html

 

Having implicit or unconscious feelings or beliefs is about as natural as it gets. It’s part of being human and is in fact an advantage that has evolved over time to help us make decisions in the blink of an eye. Understanding these unconscious leanings, however – and casting them aside when necessary – is the next evolution in human development that can make you a better salesman or saleswoman, better leader, or simply a better person.

 

*This post contains affiliate links. But the book is still amazing. If you know anything about Malcolm Gladwell, you will agree.

 

How Shooting Free Throws Can Help Your Business

As many will know, Wilt Chamberlain is considered one of the greatest basketball players to ever live. He even once accomplished the unthinkable, scoring one hundred points in a single game! However, like many seven-foot-tall basketball players, he was a horrendous free throw shooter, averaging one season at about 38%. His career average was also abysmal at 51%. How in the world can one of the best basketball players to ever live only hit 51% of his shots from just fifteen feet away while no one was attempting to block him? Clearly there are some mind games at play, but not all of them follow the rules you would expect.

What will likely didn’t know is that Wilt Chamberlain actually knew how to improve his free throw shooting. He had even proven it worked, too. He just chose not to do it. Surprised?

In order improve his free throw percentage, Wilt Chamberlain took the advice of Rick Barry (another NBA all-time great) and shot the ball underhand, the same way you may have seen done in the movie Hoosiers. This drastically improved his percentage and eliminated a major weakness in his game for almost an entire season, which turned out to be his career best at 61% (This season also included that 100 point game, a game during which Chamberlain hit 28 of 32 free throws. However, the very next season, he decided to go back to shooting overhand, resuming his awful performance. What world class performer would do this?

Later, Wilt agreed he should have kept shooting underhand but just didn’t. He knew what was best for him. He knew what was the right choice. He simply didn’t make it. Shaquille O’Neal, another famously bad free throw shooter, said he would rather shoot 0% on his free throws than ever shoot underhand. These players were more worried about peer pressure and perception than they were about their results.

How often do we make the same decisions in the workplace and in our business? We know that making an extra sales call will yield better numbers. We know that engaging our employees hearts and minds will improve turnover and retention. We are fully aware that attention to detail and transparency with both customers and employees will create healthier business.

But sometimes, even though we are fully aware it does not make sense, we simply don’t do these things. There are myriad reasons why, but the most common is that we don’t want to make a decision that we perceive in our heads to be unpopular or difficult. We take the easier road. I challenge you to make the decisions that will get you greater results, not what will make your life easier.

When you look back at the careers of Rick Barry and Wilt Chamberlain it is unquestionable who was the better basketball player. However, what is most striking, and somewhat sad in retrospect, is that you could convincingly argue that Rick Barry was the best basketball player he was capable of being, underhand free throws and all, while Wilt Chamberlain, as good as he was, never lived up to his full potential. Unrealized potential is one of life’s great tragedies. Can you say the same about your business career?

 

***To end this post, I want to begin with a simple recommendation. If you don’t listen to the podcast This American Life, you should. I am saying nothing groundbreaking as it is one of the top downloaded podcasts in the country, but for those of you that have not yet discovered the wonderful world that is podcasts, go check it out, as that is the source of the material for this post. This American Life featured the story from Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History, another gem.

 

The Leadership Tool Belt: Use Your Wrench and Your Mirror Before Your Carving Knife

“This just isn’t working,” you say, and you see the your employee’s face fall and their gaze drop. Or maybe you see a fire light in their eyes. Employees will all react to your carving knife a little differently. But if things aren’t going well, you have to cut the fat, right?

Well, maybe. Too often leaders are not getting the results they want or expect and go straight to the people who are not achieving those results and start carving away. Is this effective? It certainly can be. I’m a strong believer in two principles of successful management: Hire good people and then develop them. Everything else can go haywire, but if you stick to that, chances are you will succeed.

However, once we have good people on board, don’t go straight to the knife to improve results. There are a couple tools in your tool belt to pull out first.

Wrench: If you do not have a strong process your business will struggle. Sometimes, it is a simple process holding up one task, and other times it is a fundamental way your business is run. Regardless of the scope, however, your process is the first place to look when results are failing. Each process should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. You should have milestones along the way to measure success, to ensure the process will not fail. Your processes also have to be ones that you will grow into, versus ones that you will grow out of. Too often we create a “new” process that is going to be a game changer. We then fail to measure success with vital milestones, and ensure that it is a process that we will not grow out of. If you find yourself saying, “This will work for now,” then reevaluate. If you can look at the process and see that its success relies on the strengths of the person executing it, then the process itself is not strong.

Mirror: As leaders, we typically look in the mirror last, and we need to look here sooner. At times our approach, our demeanor, our personal bias, has a larger impact on our business and employees than many of us realize. If your process is strong, but your results are poor, are you doing something to inhibit your team? Are you acting as a decision making bottleneck that is stifling your employees’ productivity and creativity? This is self-awareness, and this is where you identify your blind spots as a leader. You will also need to seek feedback from others as you look in the mirror… oftentimes others will see something that you do not.

Carving Knife: Your business is as good as your people. Even if your product or your technology is world class, its success will be magnified or diminished by the quality of the people who sell and support it. We are only as good as our people. You need to increase your expectations of your people. It is a privilege to work on your team, and with that privilege comes a responsibility. It is a responsibility to live your culture, exceed your customers’ expectations, and operate with honesty and integrity in all that you do. If you have a person on your team that is not living up to this responsibility, then you need to change the employee, or change the employee.

Culture Above All

Why do so many damn talented people fail? I see intelligent people with incredible ideas constantly failing at leading groups in the direction that their vision is telling them to go. These people are not stupid. I don’t think so at least. They simply cannot get their strategies off the ground. They make videos of early airplane designers look positively hopeful.

When most people take a look at a business and want to improve results, they often take a look at processes, procedures, and strategies. They create a game plan to change or improve and then go about enacting what they have planned. Sometimes these plans work and sometimes they don’t. There is however, something that can be focused on daily that will always driver better results. It will work each and every time. That magic pill is culture. The best quote that illustrates this has been attributed to Peter Drucker, a business and management consultant:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

No matter the strategy you create or the plan you come up with, it will not work if your group or organization does not have a strong culture – or even worse has a poor one. If you walk into your office everyday and not only do people not want to be there, but they actively voice it, then you have a culture issue. If your coworkers complain about hard work, then you have a culture issue. Cultivate a strong culture and you will cultivate a strong business. Here’s a hint as well: You don’t have to be a manager to do this.

People in a group need to understand the direction of the organization and work to get it moving that way. Otherwise whatever strategy you have created is destined to fail. If you create a strong culture, truly believe in it, and act it out every single day, it will become contagious and spread like chicken pox through a Kindergarten classroom. If you neglect culture, then I don’t care how smart you are. Your ceiling is barely above your head.

So next time you want to improve one of your numbers, instead of thinking of a new process or strategy, take a look instead at your positivity, at your competitive urgency or your professionalism and work to improve those instead, both personally and within your organization. You will be amazed with your results.