A Series: Learning From My Epic Failures (Part 1)

Respect

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Key Point: Why would I waste my many failures by keeping them to myself? Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my work and many accomplishments over the span of a 40+ year career. I will leave the evaluation of my success to the judgment of others, and the archives of history, if anyone is really interested. My failures, however, are mostly mine to share and expose. I wish my working career was a big “Facebook fairy tale” filled with one perfect picture after another, but you and I know that would be an incomplete description. I won’t bore you with my mundane failures. Instead, I will stick to several of my “epic” goof-ups, what I’ve learned from them, and what I might encourage you to do to avoid repeating. I must note that I hope you get the chance to create your own big screw ups. Like the phrase goes, “you only trip when you’re moving.”

Frankly, I may have been one of the fastest rising executives in a Fortune 50 company, ever. I started as a 38-year-old director in a division, and less than three years later, I was one of seven execs reporting directly to the CEO and Chairman. During my first career planning session with the CEO, he said to me, “it may be a little early to talk about you rising to my job, but we want to make sure you have all the right steps to get there.” I was head of World Wide Quality, lead facilitator of the global strategy, and coordinated all of my bosses meetings. I was “golden.”  Four years later, I left the company, burnt out and confused as to what the hell happened.

Of course, my view and assessment is only one perspective, and I’m sure other characters in this “play” might see otherwise. The punchline is that I believe I lost my way on the personal value I was providing my boss, and political naivety put me at odds with leaders who were much more powerful and skilled than I was. Because I had risen so quickly, I hadn’t established a loyal tribe and ended up being too dependent on my own insights to navigate. As the corporate leader of quality in the company, our biggest domestic division suffered material deterioration to customer service. While I wasn’t responsible for the action that caused it, I lacked the political strength and/or skills to countermeasure it. And my boss, the CEO, became disenchanted that people weren’t listening to my advice. The problem became bigger than me. The Japanese have a wonderful saying that in loose translation states, “better to button the shirt from the bottom up. If you start too close to the top, you might miss a button hole and have to start over again.” Hmm.

Personal Leadership Moves:

1. Remember that potential and past work means very little going forward. You have to constantly be reassessing the value you bring. Your boss has one vote and usually gets input from others. However, that’s a giant vote and if you aren’t helping your boss big time, loyalty will diminish. It can happen over night. Don’t be paranoid, and don’t be naive.

2. When you find yourself faced with one tough, big ass problem, don’t go at it alone. Do not act helpless either, and never point your finger elsewhere. Bring the stakeholders together as effectively and quickly as you can to move things forward. Don’t wait!

3. Remember that your career will have ups and downs. Very few of us get a free ride or catch the perfect wave time after time. Accepting this precept means that when things change, we put ourselves in a position to say: “Thank you… I can hardly wait to see what fate has in store for me next.”

Failing up in Personal Leadership,

Lorne

One Millennial View: This is a great idea for a series. This reminds me of the Jocko Willink clip, “Good.” I’m not sure if I’ve shared this on the blog before, but, it’s always “good” for a refresher. This is a very eye-opening look at failure, and quite a kick-in-the-pants if you haven’t seen it yet: 

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

The ‘Other’ Angle in Our Daily Life?

Respect

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Key Point: The other day, a thought leader I respect suggested that the first order of enlightened leaders is to continuously help others progress/succeed. It got me thinking about how much organizations and the work lives of people would change for the better if we ALL came to work focused on how we might help “others” succeed everyday. This does not mean that we would avoid our own objectives, accountability or obligations. However, what if the lens we looked through was primarily aimed at helping others succeed while we advanced our own causes?

Let’s walk through the mundaneness of a “normal” day to consider how many of us might work through the premise of doing everything we could to achieve this.

  1. Inbound emails/texts: With every email/text we received, what if we asked ourselves what we thought the other person really was asking for and did everything we could to advance their cause by our response? Even if the email was the dreaded sales “spam,” we would understand that there was a real live salesperson with targets at the other end and would respond with the thought process of “how might I help this person,” including perhaps directly saying “no” so they might not waste their time with you in the future. A delete or non-response would be unacceptable.
  2. Outbound emails/texts: What if when crafting an email we questioned “how might this advance and help the receiver to be more successful?” Even if we had to say “no” or disagree with someone, we asked how might we help them find a way towards future success.
  3. Meetings: What if at every meeting our ambition was to help make sure every person in the meeting was listened to and understood. And we did everything we could to make others feel that they successfully contributed to the meeting.
  4. Interactions: On every personal interaction through the day we sincerely challenged ourselves to help the other person succeed in some way or another. (This doesn’t mean we have to pander, be a pushover, or be naive).

I am a deep believer in the following formula to move relationships forward: Personally Connect, Really Understand what the other wants, THEN determine the Right Action to Take. The “AND” to this equation is to ALWAYS find a way to help the person succeed and move forward. Of course, this does not apply when the other person’s intent is harmful. Thank goodness that perspective is rare.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. Challenge yourself to help every OTHER person be successful or move forward through every action, every day. Even if we do not feel like donating to the homeless person with the cardboard sign on the corner, we can smile and “see them.”
  2. If you think this is mush headed goofiness, challenge yourself between now and the end of December to better work and live this way. Will you notice any difference in others? In yourself?

Applying the “other” angle in Personal Leadership,

– Lorne

One Millennial View: There’s no denying the month of December has many people inherently thinking in more of a “giving” way. Whether it’s due to the holiday season,  colder climates, or food-oriented occasions, everyone’s just tuned into the idea of helping others “succeed.” Of course, this fades out as quickly as most New Year’s resolutions, but considering our co-workers are a constant that don’t fade away after Jan. 1, this is an attainable goal with reminders at every cubicle.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Positive Pride and Hunger to be Needed

Abundance Contribution Thought leadership

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Key Point: The hunger to be needed and positive pride are very good emotions, and powerful motivators. On the other hand, insecurity can drive heuristic pride and that’s problematic because arrogance and egotism overshadows. The following is from a thought provoking op-ed by the Dalai Lama, published in the Nov. 4 New York Times:

“Many are confused and frightened to see anger and frustration sweeping like wildfire across societies that enjoy historic safety and prosperity. But their refusal to be content with physical and material security actually reveals something beautiful: a universal human hunger to be needed. Let us work together to build a society that feeds this hunger… A small hint comes from interesting research about how people thrive. In one shocking experiment, researchers found that senior citizens who didn’t feel useful to others were nearly three times as likely to die prematurely as those who did feel useful. This speaks to a broader human truth: We all need to be needed… Being ‘needed’ does not entail selfish pride or unhealthy attachment to the worldly esteem of others. Rather, it consists of a natural human hunger to serve our fellow men and women.”

Pride is an emotion that I believe is related to our hunger to be needed and is positive when it motivates us to work hard and achieve. It can also be negative if it’s is based on insecurity and unbridled egotism. Jessica Tracy, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, looks at both sides of pride in her book, titled — Take Pride: Why the Deadly Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success. She notes the following:  “What we found is that pride is a positive. It is what motivates us to work hard and achieve. I like to think of it as the carrot, this thing that we want to feel in our sense of self. We feel it when we’re doing or working or putting in the effort to become the person that we want to be… It’s a long story to say it’s the awareness that there’s a sense of pride I’m not getting in my life that I want to get, that’s what causes people to change their behavior and perform better.” 

I am in the process of leaving one executive role for another. Those of you who read my blog know how much I have loved being the Chief People Officer of our company. Being asked to do something else has put me in front of the mirror. That has been both unsettling and uncomfortable at times. Questions like, “why am I really resisting?” and “what am I really fearful of?” made me squirm a little and wrestle with the dark side of confronting insecurity and hubristic pride. Hmm. On the other hand, confronting those questions is when I came to learn more about myself. I have a healthy hunger to give, be needed and an authentic pride to do great work. If I keep that at the forefront, the world will unfold as it should. How fortunate I am to be fully alive and feel that way. If I start to respond to unfounded fear and insecurity and it becomes about “me,” I will lose my way. 

Character Moves:

  1. Allow yourself to accept that the hunger to be needed is a wonderful human attribute. The following Buddhist teaching is so simple and powerful: “If one lights a fire for others, it will also brighten one’s own way.”
  1. The pride of doing something well helps us create the best sense of self. It’s what we’ve heard from our wise elders forever: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” No one needs to validate us when we do good work. We know it. That is authentic, positive pride. Apply that prideful work to the benefit of others, and looking in the mirror will invite a well-earned smile. 

Needed Pride in The Triangle, 

Lorne 

One Millennial View: If you’re not taking any pride in what you’re doing, then what’s the point? How sad would that be? Sounds like a pretty miserable existence. I think we can all see how “negative pride” could transform into arrogance, cockiness or other ugly traits, so… You know… Just, don’t cross that line. That’s where self-accountability comes in.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis.

Winning the Podium in Inches!

Be Accountable

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Key Point: It is important to understand how our business can be disrupted so we can become offensive rather than being on our “back foot” in the market place.  However, there is still much to be accomplished by focusing on all the “inches” of progress out there. It’s a parallel process: Look for inventive, even disruptive processes, while making continuous improvements everywhere.

I was interested in an Harvard Business Review article interviewing Sir David Brailsford, the successful, now legendary coach of British Cycling. Note the following from the HBR blog that outlines his thinking in more detail:

“When Sir Dave Brailsford became head of British Cycling in 2002, the team had almost no record of success: British cycling had only won a single gold medal in its 76-year history. That quickly changed under Sir Dave’s leadership. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, his squad won seven out of 10 gold medals available in track cycling, and they matched the achievement at the London Olympics four years later. Sir Dave now leads Britain’s first ever professional cycling team, which has won three of the last four Tour de France events.

Sir Dave, a former professional cycler who holds an MBA, applied a theory of marginal gains to cycling — he gambled that if the team broke down everything they could think of that goes into competing on a bike, and then improved each element by 1%, they would achieve a significant aggregated increase in performance.”

Within the blog, Brailsford goes on to say: 

“We had three pillars to our approach, which we called ‘the podium principles.’ The first one was strategy. The second was human performance; we weren’t even thinking of cycling, but more about behavioral psychology and how to create an environment for optimum performance. The third principle was continuous improvement…

For strategy we analyzed the demand of each event and spent a lot of time trying to understand what it would take to win. So as just one example — what is the power needed off the line to get the start required to achieve a winning time, and how close is each athlete to being capable of generating that power? For this and other metrics, we looked at our best athletes and identified the gap between where they were and where they needed to be. And if it was a bridgeable gap we put a plan in place. But if it was not a bridgeable gap we had to be pretty ruthless — compassionate, but ruthless. Not all athletes are destined for the podium and we weren’t interested in fourth place.” 

Notice that Sir Brailsford approaches cycling performance as a complete system. To achieve great results, the British team focused on all three of the “podium principles.” It takes relentless attention and progress in all three principles to WIN!! 

Character Moves:

  1. Strategy: Understand in detail what it takes to win. This involves very rigorous data science application. Then be compassionate, fair, and decisive in determining “house cleaning” if you have “athletes” that just won’t get you there. If gaps in people performance are unlikely to close or take too long, leaders have a responsibility to act accordingly! Have the courage to respectfully move people out if they can’t help you WIN in the system. 
  1. Human Performance: Learn in detail what it takes for “‘athletes” who have all the desirable skills and attitude, to then flourish and thrive. Create an environment that does just that.
  1. Continuous improvement: Kaizen, every day continuous improvement, was introduced by Japan Inc., and is at least a 30 year old idea. However, think how much progress an organization could make if every single person improved the processes they were involved with by inches everyday. As the British cyclist leader notes, it’s all about winning by inches.

Winning by inches in the Triangle, 

Lorne  

One Millennial View: A cycling team is a perfect metaphor for standard job progression because of course it takes that “rigorous data science application” to succeed. (Which, btw, also might be why it’s historically the most “cheated” sport on the planet). I don’t think people often “cheat” in the work place, but it’s tough out there and sometimes folks don’t want to take all the steps! You’re not exactly throwing “Hail Mary’s” for wins. Success as a cyclist is measured through this simpler, but more difficult question: Are you fast enough or not? And frankly, I think most of us would like to live in a more “Hail Mary’s can win” world, where sometimes you can just wing it and get lucky. But real work is more annoying. It might be headache inducing to face the task of data analysis, meticulous but steady continuous improvement, and slowly winning by numbers. But we’re in the race already, so might as well pedal for the podium, and we likely know what type of efforts we need to get there. Like a big hill on a bike ride, it’ll burn, but it’ll be worth it. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Dancing with ‘Enough,’ and ‘More’

Be Abundant

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Key Point: One element emphasized by the performance psychologists of Olympic athletes is this: If you weren’t good enough before you win the gold medal, you won’t be good enough after you win it. Winning to prove “you’re good enough” is a dead end journey. I have seen this with people at work quite often. I may have even behaved this way myself. The primary motivation connected to forward movement can sometimes be around the judgmental voice of our ego. We may say things to ourselves like, “If I get this promotion then I will finally be good enough,” “when I make this amount of money then I will finally be good enough,” “when I lose the 30 pounds then I will finally be good enough.” And of course, when they get “there,” it’s never enough . 

I recently discussed this notion with a very wise performance consultant and she talked about the conundrum and paradox surrounding personal contentment and development. She noted: “At a fundamental level personal acceptance is critical for wellbeing and high performance. No matter where we are on our life journey it is important to trust that we are whole – that we ARE enough, and ensure that our esteem not be determined by achievements. This reality, however, must coexist with another aspect equally present in people – the desire to grow, develop, aspire, be creative and curious about one’s potential. It thus begs a question… ‘How can I feel that I am enough AND want more out of life?’ It takes an open and reflective mindset to hold both as truth.” 

In my career, I have seen the most confident and humble people come from a place of deeply believing in themselves as “good enough.” However, these same people are relentlessly curious and adventurous . They come from an abundant place of always contributing, creating, building, adding,  and personally growing. They are content in the moment regarding who they are and yet relentlessly restless in giving to themselves and others the very joy associated with “more.” It is possible for “enough” and “more” to wonderfully co-exist. It is ok to be enough and not done. 

Character Moves: 

1. I am inviting you to join me in a recommended exercise if the above topic resonates with you in any way. On a blank page draw a line through the middle. On the left hand side, write “content and I am enough” as a heading. On the right side of page, write “more and not done yet.” Then for each side, ask yourself and write your reflections: 

When and in what ways do I feel content? When and in what ways do I desire more?

* How will I live in ways that reflect that I am content? How will I live in ways that acknowledge my potential?

* How will I communicate to others that I am content? How will I communicate my eagerness to develop and grow?

2. This exercise may help us better discover and live the dual path of contentment and more. At the root however, must be the belief: I AM enough! 

Relentlessly content in the Triangle 

Lorne 

One Millennial View: I’ve come to the realization that my least favorite phrase is likely one I’ve used before, but now diligently try to avoid. I dislike saying, “it is what it is.” To me, it’s a phrase that suggests stopping, being stuck, or unable to progress in a favorable direction. It’s a way to justify brushing a difficult issue under the rug. Not believing you’re “enough,” seems to lead to anticlimactic conclusions like “it is what it is.” 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis