Are You “In” or “Out” of the Box?

I’ve been reviewing concepts from one of the best books written on leadership and self-deception. This is a common problem that leaders find they must confront with each promotion to greater responsibility. It’s something we work hard on in our executive coaching sessions.

Leadership and Self-Deception, a book written by the Arbinger Institute, features a story about an executive who is facing challenges at work and home. His exploits expose the psychological processes that conceal our true motivations and intentions from us and trap us in a “box” of endless judgment and self-justification. Most importantly, the book shows us the way out.

When you’re “in the box,” you’re speaking with your interests and goals in mind. Through the lens of self-justification, you’ll find external factors and other people to blame. You’ll deny responsibility for problems and fail to identify your part in perpetuating them. In your interactions, you’ll try to change other people and convince them to do what you would do.

When you’re “out of the box,” there’s room for openness, authenticity, and interest in and empathy for other people. You’ll seek the true basis for problems, including your own participation. You’ll be less interested in assigning blame or judgment, or being locked into unproductive battles. You can let go of any delusions that trap you and force you to defend yourself. You can channel your energy into becoming self-aware, identifying needs and achieving results.

This struggle between being in or out of the box is exacerbated by the fact that our brains are hardwired to zero in on our strengths and needs and to aggrandize them.

The Lake Wobegon Effect

In Garrison Keillor’s fictional community of Lake Wobegon, “the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

As it turns out, this depiction is not limited to Lake Wobegon. One of the most documented findings in psychology is the average person’s ability to believe extremely flattering things about himself. We generally think that we possess a host of socially desirable traits and that we’re free of the most unattractive ones.

Most people — some high-achievers, more than others — deem themselves to be:

  • More intelligent than others
  • More fair-minded
  • Less prejudiced
  • Better drivers

This phenomenon is so common that it is now known in social-science circles as the “Lake Wobegon Effect.” Because of this natural human tendency to see ourselves as above average, we fall into the self-deception trap. The question remains what to do about it. While there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with high self-esteem, when it’s based on delusions, the amount of energy required to defend it creates problems. My next post explores these issues further.

Creating What You Dream About for Your Life (Part 2)

Clarity
Before getting what we dream about we must first know what that is. This may seem obvious but it trips up even the most intelligent people right out of the gate. Take out a blank sheet of paper and write “My Dream Life” at the top. List everything you want to have, do, be and share. From this list generate goals to help set you back on course.

Avoid the “Shiny New Object Syndrome”
It’s easy to lose momentum by getting distracted with new, exciting opportunities. Having clarity makes it easier to distinguish those opportunities that help move us forward from the ones that distract us from the ‘work’ of creating the life we want..

The next time a new opportunity arises ask yourself, “How will this help me achieve my dream of “x”? If it doesn’t, you probably want to dismiss the opportunity and move on.

Redefine Failure
People who focus on the destination as opposed to the journey also tend to be more critical of their failures. When you enjoy the process along the way, it’s easier to appreciate the end result — whether you consider it a “success” or “failure.”

The next time you do experience failure, however, reframe it. Consider that you have just learned how not to do something, and then acknowledge yourself for what you’ve learned.

Give in to Your Primal Instincts
Craving new challenges is hard-wired into our DNA. If it weren’t, we never would have left the cave, invented the wheel or flown to outer space. Ignoring this primal code over the long term can lead to complacency. So how do you happily succumb to this urge? With more clarity and structure.

Create a list of things you haven’t done yet, but want to do. Be specific and remember the three, guaranteed “no fail” rules when it comes to goal setting:

1. Write it down. 2. Write it down. 3. Write it down.

Putting your list in writing transforms it from a desire into a personal contract with yourself.

Go Guilt-Free
Taking time to care for ourselves, guilt-free, is difficult for many people. Sometimes it feels as though things will fall off the rails if we “let go.” But when we do let go, taking time to reflect and dream something amazing happens: the earth still spins — people find a way to manage without us. Taking time off leaves us feeling refreshed and makes us better workers, parents, spouses and citizens.

Plus, going guilt-free can be contagious.

As with anything worthwhile, there is no quick fix when it comes to designing and building the dream life you want. However, these steps can help guide you along your path to living the life you want…and loving the life you live.

 

Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications

Creating What You Dream About for Your Life (Part 1)

We all have dreams to live the life we really want. If that’s the case, why does it seem that so few people actually do?

Creating the life we want seems like it should be easy, but for many reasons it isn’t. Sometimes we’re too busy working, paying bills or picking up kids to give it much thought. Sometimes we believe it is just a wish or a fantasy.  Sometimes we don’t know how to get clarity so we put it off until “later.” Or, perhaps, we have ignored what we really wanted and, instead, created a life that others wanted for us (or themselves) — ouch.

How to Create the Life You Dream Of

If you aren’t living the life you dream of, how do you get back on track? How do you get clear on what you want? And how do you stay committed to it?

In my next blog: Steps that can help you get started.

Energy and Creative Flow

Having a purpose provides context for all of one’s efforts, and it’s a chief criterion for “flow”—the energy state that occurs when one’s mind, body and entire being are committed to the task at hand. Flow turns mundane work into completely absorbing experiences, allowing us to push the limits of skills and talents.

Flow and commitment also create healthier, happier employees, while driving innovative thinking. To tap into full engagement, leaders must clearly identify and articulate what truly matters to the company:

  • Why are we in business?
  • What difference do we want to make in the world?
  • What’s our most important purpose?

On some level, everyone wants to live a purposeful life, yet we are distracted by societal pressures to achieve wealth and status. There are indications, however, that this is changing. Just as GNP fails to reflect the well-being and satisfaction of a country’s citizens, a person’s net worth actually has little to do with personal fulfillment.

It is difficult to impossible to truly inspire the creators of customer happiness — the employees — with the ethic of profit maximization…It is my experience that employees can get very excited and inspired by a business that has an important business purpose. ~ John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market

Leadership starts on a personal level and permeates one’s function in a company, community and society. While countless books address the importance of finding personal purpose, how does it play out within an organizational context? How do you link your personal purpose and values to those of your company?

It may seem that parts of your job are mundane and insignificant, you do not see your contribution to the greater purpose. Perhaps your organization hasn’t articulated their purpose, vision and values clearly enough. I see this happen frequently in the organizations where I’m called on to contribute workshops, work with teams and coaching.

What’s been your experience? I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment.

Do You Find Your Work Fulfilling?

In a company without purpose, people have only a vague idea of why they are do what do. There’s always activity and busyness, but it’s often frenetic, disorganized and focused solely on short-term goals or finances. There is often a lack of direction and commitment without purpose or ‘we are doing this for the sake of what?’.

Top executives erroneously look to the competition when making decisions, rather than making up their own minds about what really matters. Their lack of clarity leads to poor business decisions, failed product launches and disengaged employees.

“Across organizations, nearly every survey suggests that the vast majority of employees don’t feel fully engaged at work, valued for their contributions, or freed and trusted to do what they do best,” reports Tony Schwartz in a recent  HBR.org blog post. “Instead, they feel weighed down by multiple demands and distractions, and they often don’t derive much meaning or satisfaction from their work. That’s a tragedy for millions of people and a huge lost opportunity for organizations.”

Absence of Full Engagement

Simply put, satisfied and engaged employees perform better. In a Towers Watson study of roughly 90,000 employees across 18 countries, companies with the most engaged employees reported a 19% increase in operating income and 28% growth in earnings per share. Companies whose employees had the lowest level of engagement had a 32% decline in operating income and an 11% drop in earnings.

People take pleasure in being engaged in meaningful work. Humans, by nature, are a passionate species, and most of us seek out inspiring experiences. Companies that recognize this and actively cultivate and communicate a worthwhile corporate purpose become employers of choice.

A major Gallup Organization research study identified 12 critical elements for creating highly engaged employees. About half deal with employees’ sense of belonging. One of the key criteria is captured in the following statement: “The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.”

After basic needs are fulfilled, an employee searches for meaning in a job. People seek a higher purpose, something in which to believe, to contribute to the greater good. If, in your role as a leader, you aren’t articulating what you care about and how you plan to make a difference, then you probably aren’t inspiring full engagement.

In the work I do, this is a major concern for people: they either aren’t sure what it is that their own true purpose is, and/or their not sure what their organization’s is. Coaching is designed to help people find the connection between job requirements and fulfillment and meaning.

If you aren’t clear, ask your coach for help in finding answers. And if you need help in finding the right coach, let me know.

Why Are You Here? Connecting to What Truly Matters

Knowing why you’re here, and who you want to be, isn’t a part-time job. The challenge is to live out what you stand for, intentionally, in every moment. ~ Tony Schwartz, author

Purpose and values are more than touchy-feely concepts touted by motivational speakers. They  have been identified as key drivers of high-performing organizations.

  • In Built to Last, James Collins and Jerry Porras reveal that purpose- and values-driven organizations outperformed the general market and comparison companies by 15:1 and 6:1, respectively.
  • In Corporate Culture and Performance, Harvard professors John Kotter and James Heskett found that firms with shared-values–based cultures enjoyed 400% higher revenues, 700% greater job growth, 1,200% higher stock prices and significantly faster profit performance, as compared to companies in similar industries.
  • In Firms of Endearment, marketing professor Rajendra Sisodia and his coauthors explain how companies that put employees’ and customers’ needs ahead of shareholders’ desires outperform conventional competitors in stock-market performance by 8:1.

Leaders who have a clearly articulated purpose and are driven to make a difference can inspire people to overcome insurmountable odds, writes Roy M. Spence Jr. in It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For.

“Life is short, so live it out doing something that you care about,” he writes. “Try to make a difference the best way you can. There’s an enormous satisfaction in seeing the cultural transformation that happens when an organization is turned on to purpose.”

This author makes some very good points backed up with real examples of some of the most effective companies in the world. In the work I do with people in organizations, so often I find that there’s confusion over what’s really important.

While a well-designed strategy and its effective implementation are required for business success, neither inspires followers to sustained engagement. Purpose speaks to people’s hearts and helps them contribute their best when the chips are down.

Don’t ever take a job— join a crusade! Find a cause that you can believe in and give yourself to it completely. ~ Colleen Barrett, president emerita of Southwest Airlines

It’s up to leaders to find that spark that can light up the hearts and minds of employees at all levels. And, it’s also up to each of us to find that inner purpose that’s the guiding light for our energy. Coaching can help find it if you haven’t already identified and articulated it for yourself.

5 More Strategies for Successful Goals

I’m following up on the great strategies Heidi Grant Halvorson writes about in her book Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. Most people don’t take goal setting seriously and never get beyond just thinking about them, rather than writing, planning and implementing.

In my last post I explained the first four strategies for effective goal setting [link to previous post]:

  1. Be specific (for both goals and obstacles)
  2. Seize the moment
  3. Accurately gauge the distance
  4. Be a realistic optimist

Here are the next five goal-setting strategies that successful people use:

 

  1. Focus on Getting Better, Rather Than Being Good. When faced with a new and difficult project, budget the time needed to get a handle on it. It’s OK to make mistakes. Take advantage of others’ expertise and ask for help. Don’t compare yourself to others — only to your past performance. Are you improving? 
  2. Have Grit. Grit is the willingness to commit to long-term goals and endure in spite of difficulties. Improvement is alwayspossible. Successful professionals understand that their abilities are far from fixed. They believe they can improve through practice. 
  3. Strengthen Your Willpower Muscle. Willpower is depleted with use. Rest helps you recover quickly and remain positive. Reinforce your willpower muscle with small tasks: Take the stairs, make your bed, and show up on time. 
  4. Don’t Tempt Fate. If you hang around a barber shop, you’ll eventually get a haircut. Stick with the winners. Avoid thinking you can cheat “just a little.” 
  5. Focus on What You Will Do — Not on What You Won’t Do. Many goals involve not doing something. Framing them in this way strengthens self-sabotaging impulses. Substitute if/then planning: “If I feel the urge to ________, then I will_______ instead.”

I think one of the smartest suggestions is using “if/then” scenario planning. When you’re prepared in advance for obstacles and setbacks, you jump right back in with your plan B.

What do you think about these strategies? Which of them are you already using? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

4 Strategies for Successful Goals

I’m following up on successful goal setting tips from the book Nine Things Successful People Do Differently by Heidi Grant Halvorson. These nine strategies are based on decades of research on the key factors that influence performance. They are relatively straightforward and easy to apply, but the trick is to avoid skipping them because they seem “obvious.”

Few people set goals, use goals effectively or take them seriously. In fact, only 1% of today’s professionals actually write down, track and review their goals, according to author Dan Zadra in 5: Where Will You Be in 5 Years from Today? Here are the first four strategies from Halvorson’s book:

  1. 1.      Be Specific. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve keeps you motivated. Outline what you must do on a daily basis to realize your desired results. Which actions must you take to be a better manager/spouse/parent/friend or perhaps eat more healthfully? What will success look like when you’re there?

Thousands of studies show that specificity is one of the most critical, yet overlooked, steps for reaching any goal. Also be specific about the obstacles in your way and how you will respond to them.

  1. Seize the Moment. Predetermine when and where you’ll take action to avoid the traps of distractions and other competing commitments. The best tactic is “if/then” planning: If X happens, I will do Y.

    Studies show this approach works because it uses the brain’s language: contingencies. The brain excels at remembering and using “if/then” language. You can execute your plan without consciously thinking about it because you’ve decided in advance how to proceed.

  2. 3.      Accurately Gauge the Distance. Decide how often you’ll evaluate your progress. Determine where you’ll gather information: Can you self-assess, or will you need others’ feedback? Create reminders to perform your assessments. To stay motivated, remind yourself of the tasks that remain for goal completion.

  3. Be a Realistic Optimist. If you’re full of self-doubt, recall some of the goals you’ve achieved in the past and what it took to pull them off. Visualize how you’ll deal with looming challenges. What’s your Plan B? Use if/then planning.

What Successful People Do Differently

Why do some people succeed and others flounder? Over the years, in my experience coaching various people, I’ve often asked myself that question.

How do successful people set the stage for the ‘what’s next’, next promotion, best results, or stellar performance? One might wonder does it take:

Research shows that measures of innate ability (like IQ) poorly predict who succeeds or stumbles. A recent book by Columbia Business School Professor Heidi Grant Halvorson summarizes Nine Things Successful People Do Differently.

“Being successful is not about winning the DNA lottery; it’s about reaching goals,” she writes. “It’s about making smart choices, using the right strategies and taking action.”

Decades of research on achievement suggests that successful people reach their personal and professional goals because of what they do not because of who they are. Luckily, everything they do can be learned, practiced and mastered.

All About the Goals

Implementation of effective strategies and persistence ultimately determine who’s more likely to succeed. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. Your ability to set specific goals, see and seize opportunities and take action primes the accomplishment pump.

Success comes to those who believe they can succeed, but it also requires a specific plan that won’t be abandoned, even during tough times. Winners also know that success may not come easily, but they remain focused on progress, monitor milestones and recognize what still needs to be done. They don’t let up.

True Grit

High performers have grit. They know obstacles are inevitable, a part of the process and find a way around them. They develop their abilities by finding solutions to setbacks. They build willpower by using it like a muscle—anticipating when they’re vulnerable, avoiding temptations, and preparing contingency plans and coping strategies.

They focus on what they will do, rather than what they won’t do — a tactic that fosters positive energy. They know success depends on adapting to challenges and persisting, even when they’re ready to wave the white flag.

Now, you may think that some people are born lucky and naturally have what it takes, but I say no, not everyone. I’ve seen enough people come into coaching and leave with positive outcomes to know you can learn to successfully complete goals, with the help of coaching.

If you haven’t tried it, you don’t know what you’re missing. Let me know if I can help.