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.

Wisdom in Action

Prudent decision-making lies at the heart of wisdom but it’s not the whole story. In order to make a smart decision, a wise leader must draw upon intellectual, emotional, and social comprehension.

Over many coaching sessions with my clients, we discuss what goes into wise thinking.  Here’s a partial list of some of the things people describe as important. To make wise decisions, one must:

  • Gather information
  • Discern reality from artifice
  • Evaluate and edit the accumulating knowledge
  • Listen with both heart and mind
  • Consider what is morally right
  • Weigh what is socially just
  • Consider others as much as self
  • Think about the here and now
  • Consider future impact

In times of crisis, however, wisdom sometimes demands the paradoxical decision to resist action or judgment.

Some of the wisest and most devout men have lived avoiding all noticeable actions.” ~ Michel de Montaigne, French philosopher

There are no workbooks that, if you buy and read them, will turn you into an outstanding leader. Reading about wisdom will certainly open your mind to many possibilities, but to read about it without taking action is a fruitless endeavor

When called upon in any challenging situation, no matter how trivial, if you slow down long enough to ask yourself the question, “What would be the wisest thing to do?” you will already be moving closer to making a more appropriate and apt decision.

The question allows you to slow down the sense of urgency long enough to consider other people, other issues, and future implications. Instead of reaching for immediate solutions to take away the burning problem, you have an opportunity to consider future needs down the road.

The Contradictions of Wisdom

What are the elements that comprise wisdom? Here are recurrent themes and common qualities:

  • Humility
  • Patience
  • Clear-eyed, dispassionate view of human nature
  • Emotional resilience
  • Ability to cope with adversity
  • A philosophical acknowledgment of ambiguity
  • Recognizing the limitations of knowledge

And here’s where it gets challenging. Action is important, as well as inaction, at times. Compassion is central to wisdom, but so is emotional detachment. Knowledge is crucial, but often wisdom deals with uncertainty.

These inherent contradictions are embedded in any definition of wisdom. In fact, they are the essence of what makes wisdom so critical to leaders.

What else would you include as an important element of wisdom?

Finding Wisdom at Work

Fortunately, every time we think about wisdom and make an effort to pause and contemplate a potential role for true leadership in whatever we are about to say or do, we move a step closer to achieving it. But unfortunately, many leaders don’t take time to consider the larger issues when short term profits are at stake.

Whenever I’m working with a coaching client, we discuss some of the ways they think wisdom comes into play for them. While individual answers vary, most people find decision-making to be most challenging.

Wisdom in the workplace typically implies two distinct areas of wise behavior:

  1. The wisdom of decision-making.
    1. Knowing what information to use in decision-making.
    2. Creating a culture of knowledge in order to acquire that information in a timely fashion.
    3. Assessing it in both short- and long-term frameworks.
  2. Reaping the financial rewards that come with shrewd financial choices.

In many cases, business wisdom involves plain hard work, coupled with intelligence in several domains: knowledge, social intelligence, emotional regulation, compassion and concern for the common good.

Wisdom is more an ideal aspiration than a state of mind or a pattern of behavior that we customarily employ. The mere act of thinking about wisdom nudges us closer to it.

When you encounter a problem or dilemma, if you ask yourself, “What would be the wisest thing to do here?” you increase your chances of making a judicious choice.

Yet it’s rarely that simple. How do we make complex, complicated decisions and choices in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity? What makes some of these decisions so clearly sound that we intuitively recognize them as a moment of human wisdom?

Ultimately, without an understanding of the elements that comprise wisdom, it eludes us. In what ways do you have an opportunity to use wisdom in your work? I’d love to hear from you.

The Snowball Effect:Start Change Now (part 2)

To read Part One – Click Here

The Problem with Problems

Focus on what’s broken, and you’ll come up with a long list of things that need to be fixed. In reality, you can’t always fix everything. Sometimes there’s simply no time, budget or realistic deadline for a major overhaul.

Some things may never be completely fixed, and you’ll have to tolerate them – but this doesn’t exclude picking one key behavioral change that can vastly improve both short- and long-term results.

Marcus Buckingham, author of Go Find Your Strengths, urges readers to make the most of their strengths, rather than obsessing over their weaknesses. Despite our natural human tendency to focus on the negative, we can make an effort to override it.

Follow Your Bright Spots

Start by identifying what is working, and do more of it. Clone the behaviors that get optimum results, and set new goals that continue to up the ante.

Many people believe change is hard and must be complicated. Psychotherapy, as originally designed, involved three to five weekly sessions, during which people discussed their thoughts over several years. But people rarely made behavioral changes; they just began to understand why they behaved in certain ways.

More recently, through techniques like Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, people are defining their key strengths, identifying what’s working and following action plans.
By doing more of the little things that work, they create better relationships and successful behavioral changes. When you ask, “What’s working, and how can you do more of it?”you enjoy better results in less time.

Start with the Beginning in Mind

Perhaps the famous Stephen Covey maxim, “Begin with the end in mind,” needs to be revised: Start with the beginning and the end in mind.

Both are important. Without a destination goal, it’s harder to stay motivated and on track.

In researching their classic business book Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras discovered that solid companies with sustained success had BHAGs: big, hairy, audacious goals.

Goals need to be specific and evoke emotions. Use both your rational and emotional brain when setting goals so they make sense and connect to strong desires.

Unleash the Snowball Effect

  1. Identify which behaviors work better than others.
  2. Investigate and then clone successes.
  3. Start with a small change, and make it specific.
  4. Give yourself direction by providing your start and finish.
  5. Energize yourself by identifying the feelings of the finish.
  6. Cultivate a sense of identity that reflects your new growth.
  7. Change your situation; tweak your environment, as needed.
  8. Build habits. When something works, repeat it.
  9. Get support. Behavior is contagious, so help it spread.

5 Biases That Lead to Bad Decisions (Part 4 of 4)

From the introduction: Each of us is susceptible to irrational behavior’s irresistible pull. Only when we gain insight into our irrationality can we see the extent to which it affects our work and personal lives. Fascinating patterns emerge, and we can master our behaviors and decisions when we connect the dots.

Too Much Information

Today’s 24/7 connectedness to information streams can prevent us from paying attention to what really matters. The brain’s prefrontal cortex can handle only limited facts and figures.

More information doesn’t always lead to better decisions, but gut feelings and emotions do. We must learn to sort out patterns in the most significant data.

Decision Effectiveness

Decisions are the lifeblood of action, and little gets done without them.

A recent Harvard Business Review article recommends a decision audit to identify key organizational needs:

“Ultimately, a company’s value is no more (and no less) than the sum of the decisions it makes and executes. Its assets, capabilities, and structure are useless unless executives and managers throughout the organization make the essential decisions and get those decisions right more often than not.” (Blenko, M., Mankins, M., & Rogers, P., “The Decision-Driven Organization,” Harvard Business Review, June, 2010)

Bain and Co. surveyed international executives from 760 companies with revenues exceeding $1 billion in 2008. Researchers found that decision effectiveness and financial results correlated at a 95% confidence level or higher for every country, industry and company size.

Companies that were most effective at decision-making and execution generated average total shareholder returns nearly six percentage points higher than others.

Rate Your Company

The HBR authors urge leaders to examine their own companies for decision effectiveness, using the following short survey:

How do your organization’s decision abilities stack up against the competition?

  • Quality: When looking back on critical decisions, how often have you chosen the right course of action?
  • Speed: How do you rate the speed of your critical decisions in comparison to your competitors’?
  • Yield: How often do you execute critical decisions as intended?
  • Effort: How much effort does your company put into making and executing critical decisions?

Leaders Can Improve

Decisions can be complex, and we are never going to get everything right. We can improve decision effectiveness by becoming more aware of traps, subconscious biases and logic flaws that lead to errors.

We must also improve our awareness of common judgment errors, which occur when we’re under the influence of the subconscious. These include our biases, commitment to the status quo and counterproductive personal agendas.

Leaders who continue to view strategic decisions as purely rational analyses should seek ways to better position themselves to meet core objectives.

The Certainty Bias

Leaders forget the mind’s fallacies. They believe in their people and senior team. They are generally confident that colleagues are well-intentioned, with the company’s best interests in mind.

After gathering as much information as possible and weighing all of the arguments, leaders must make decisions and embrace an attitude of certainty and confidence. Persuading others to execute the plans is the next step.

Certainty, however, can lead to other errors, such as failure to adjust plans, when required, and shutting out conflicting information. The only way to counteract the certainty bias is to encourage dissonance.

Perhaps Alfred P. Sloan, president of General Motors in its prime, said it best. After adjourning a meeting shortly after it began, he announced:

“Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here … Then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.”


This blog post was part 4 of 4.  If you would like to read from the beginning, click here.

5 Biases That Lead to Bad Decisions (Part 3 of 4)

From the introduction: Each of us is susceptible to irrational behavior’s irresistible pull. Only when we gain insight into our irrationality can we see the extent to which it affects our work and personal lives. Fascinating patterns emerge, and we can master our behaviors and decisions when we connect the dots.

Value Attribution

It takes enormous energy to consciously work through all possibilities and risks when weighing important decisions, so the brain looks for shortcuts. We use unconscious routines, known as “heuristics,” to cope with complexity – and they normally serve us well.

But these shortcuts also present traps because they largely occur without our awareness. Value attribution serves as a quick mental shortcut to determine what’s worthy of our attention. When we encounter new objects, people or situations, the value we assign to them shapes our future perceptions of them.

If, for example, we see a poorly dressed street performer playing music in a subway station, we assume he’s a struggling amateur with little talent, even when the music is good. These assumptions were proved true when Joshua Bell, one of the finest violinists alive, participated in a field study for the Washington Post.

While Bell, dressed in jeans and a baseball cap, played a $3.5 million Stradivarius, subway travelers rushed by without paying attention. While he certainly sounded far from mediocre, he looked the part – and commuters attributed the value they perceived (appearances) to performance quality.

The Bell experiment illustrates why we may turn down a pitch or idea based on appearances, rumors or any other peripheral value. It also explains why we may blindly follow the advice of someone who has been highly recommended.

Our expectations change our reality, as the “placebo effect” demonstrates. Once a doctor or advertisement tells us a drug will relieve pain, the medication has a greater chance of working – even if it has no healing properties whatsoever.

Becoming aware of our brain’s tendency to make assumptions can help us prevent disastrous mistakes and missed opportunities.

Diagnosis Bias

When we encounter new people at a party, we quickly diagnose them by placing tags on them, such as “approachable” or “standoffish.” This helps us quickly decide if we want to engage them in conversation.

By employing this mental shortcut, we fail to see a person’s good qualities. Nowhere is this clearer than in job interviews.

A meta-analysis of data found there is little correlation between unstructured job interview success and job performance in new hires. The marks given to job candidates after a first date-type interview have little to do with how well those hired will actually perform on the job.

Nonetheless, companies are drawn to this interview format. Managers form impressions by asking questions they hope will ensure a person is a good fit:

  • Does this candidate share my interests?
  • How’s the chemistry between us?
  • Is there a connection?

Managers value their intuition and think they have a refined ability to truly see and understand an applicant. They overestimate their ability to form objective opinions and underestimate their subconscious’ biases.

Managers should, instead, forego unstructured interviews and focus on a candidate’s past experience and responses to hypothetical scenarios.

This blog post was part 3 of 4.  If you would like to read from the beginning, click here.   Bookmark us and come back tomorrow for the conclusion!

5 Biases That Lead to Bad Decisions

Part One

A growing body of research reveals that our behavior and decisions are influenced by an array of strong psychological undercurrents, all of which are more powerful and pervasive than we realize.

Like streams, they converge to become even more powerful.

By charting these undercurrents and their unanticipated effects, we can identify our faulty thinking that lead us to make irrational decisions.

Despite a great need for them, judgment and decision-making skills are only beginning to appear in better business schools’ curricula. But studies show we still don’t know enough about how good decisions occur.

Rational versus Emotional?

Psychologist and political scientist Herbert Simon in 1957 laid the groundwork on the limits of rationality when he attacked classical economics and game theory. Simon’s work made it clear that we must take the real world’s messiness and irrationality into account when making decisions.

“Research indicates that people are myopic in their decisions, may lack skill in predicting their future tastes, and can be led to erroneous choices by fallible memory and incorrect evaluations of past experiences” wrote psychologist and Nobel Prize laureate Daniel Kahneman.

Neuroscientific research also proves that the brain is influenced by subconscious emotional reactions from its more primitive centers. We’re not in control of our reasoning capabilities as much as we’d like to think.

Scientists have identified several flaws in how we think when making decisions. Because they’re hardwired into our thinking process, we often fail to recognize them. This means they can undermine everything from new product development to acquisitions and divestiture strategy to succession planning.

These hidden currents and forces include:

  •  Loss aversion, our tendency to go to great lengths to avoid possible losses
  • Commitment, our tendency to stick with the status quo
  • Value attribution, our inclination to imbue a person or thing with certain qualities based on initial perceived value
  • Diagnosis bias, our blindness to all evidence that contradicts our initial assessment of a person or situation
  • Certainty bias, where overconfidence leads us to discount inconvenient truths

Each of us is susceptible to irrational behavior’s irresistible pull. Only when we gain insight into our irrationality can we see the extent to which it affects our work and personal lives. Fascinating patterns emerge, and we can master our behaviors and decisions when we connect the dots.

Over the next few blog posts, we will discuss each of these currents and forces.  Bookmark us and come back tomorrow!