By: Lynn Carnes
Do you ever start your day with great intentions and before 9:00 am, it’s nothing but putting out fires? Ok, don’t laugh. It might very well be every day that the distractions, texts, phone calls, and bad news seduce you away from doing the great work you had (operative word HAD here) planned for the day.
Look, your job requires you to be responsive. When an important client calls or something breaks, you want to be able to handle it. But are you handling it with a frustrated, anxious mindset or a receptive and prepared mindset?
Beating yourself up for not exercising this morning? Ripples of that thought are echoing in your voice when you answer the phone.
Worrying about how you are going to prepare for that presentation or agonizing over what to do about the team member who’s suddenly performing below par? Your anxiety surrounds your very being – and covering it up just telegraphs that you are covering something up.
Whatever your mindset at these moments of truth, like it or not, it’s leaking into your interactions.
Where does this mindset come from? And how do you change it?
Racing into a busy day seems like the best answer – after all, it feels smart to get to work when there is a pile of work to be done.
However, racing into the day just creates a racing mindset – and when have you ever had a great performance when your mind was racing?
Recognizing this issue, for many years, I meditated most mornings. I also followed a pretty regimented routine to get out of bed, turn on the news, stretch, do several rounds of sun salutations, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, make my tea and THEN meditate. Only after doing all of this did I start my day.
The problem was this: many of those days would still get away from me. If I were to divide my time spent between being reactive and responsive, it skewed heavily towards the reactive .
So I took a look at my daily architecture, focusing most carefully on the morning routine.
Why the morning routine? This is where I could stack the deck in my favor.
It’s one of those lessons I’ve learned from water skiing. In a lesson I will always remember, Corey Vaughn was in the boat coaching, and he was really focusing on my “gate”. The gate happens in the first few seconds of the 20 seconds in the course. I expressed some annoyance at working so hard on something that seemed so basic.
Here’s what he said to me: “Your gate is the place where you have the most control, and where you can repeat the same process every single time to set yourself up for success. Once you turn in for the first buoy, all hell can break loose. A good gate can make up for a lot of errors in the course.”
And danged if he wasn’t right. A good gate has helped me more in the course than any single other area of focus. The same principle applies to my day.
So what would a “good gate” look like in the morning?
My usual morning routine had a toxic component that involved a habit of over 20 years: watching the news before I did anything else.
That external input influenced my mood in so many ways. It certainly diluted my ability to capture insights gained from “sleeping on it” and it simply set me up to be frustrated more often than not.
So I tried an experiment: I meditated and journaled FIRST and then did my stretching. What a huge difference it made. I was able to set my intention for the day and get clear on what I would need to DO and how I would need to BE before having the talking heads set the conditions for my day.
I also just got much more intentional about creating a daily architecture that set me up for success. No more allowing my day to run me; with a solid framework, I have become much, much more productive. Plus my inner experience is much more calm and centered.
What is your daily architecture? Where have you allowed external inputs to influence your internal state of being? In what ways is your internal state of being serving you. And where is your mindset getting in your way?
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In order to help you stack the deck in your favor, I’ve built this “Daily Architecture Tool.” It’s a fairly quick review of your routines with suggestions that develop your internal locus of control. My clients have found this practice hugely helpful and I hope you do to.
Let me know how it goes for you!
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Here’s the question I hate more than any other: “Will you do me a favor?” This question is especially tough when it comes from someone I’m close to, because, well, yes, I would love to do you a favor. So my reflexive answer is “yes”, or “sure”, or something affirmative like that.
Now I’ve made a promise. With my yes still ringing in the air, here comes the request: Can you drive me two hours to the airport? Or will you lend me $100? Or will you come over and spend 8 hours helping me figure out my computer? My preferred answer to all of these requests is NO. All of these requests are really outside of my abilities or time available or better judgment.
At this point, I have a couple of choices. Weasel my way out of the promise or just do it because I said I would. I did all of these because I said I would. Groan. There must be a better way.
Think about how you make promises for a minute. How often do you make a promise that you would rather not fulfill or cannot fulfill once you realize the entirety of the situation? How far have you gone to “keep your word”? If you are like most people, making a promise can be an almost sacred contract.
You will do anything to keep your word.
But what if keeping your word is ultimately the wrong thing to do?What happens if you discover that things have changed, you did not have all the information or you made the promise in error. That happens.
What if you are keeping your word simply because you don’t know how to break a promise? Now what?
This is almost the exact situation one of my clients recently experienced. He had decided to leave his company for a new one, and was ready for a move to a new city and exciting job. The day he was to sign a lease on a new apartment, his existing company made him an offer to stay.
He had not played one company against another, so the offer was a huge surprise to him. His original employer had done a reorganization and realized he was the most qualified person for a newly created role. Having him stay was far and away the best solution. When he heard the offer, he was delightfully surprised--- and then he remembered all the consequences.
His biggest dilemma was dealing with the string of promises that he had made, the biggest of which was to the new employer, who was counting on having a position filled. (In a nice job, but not his dream job.)
He also had to talk to his wife and of course, there was that apartment expecting to fill an empty unit. He is such a man of his word that he almost declined. Breaking promises is not in his repertoire. Keeping his promises meant he would have missed the exact job he would create for himself in a perfect world.
So we talked about how to break a promise. Without having to “weasel.”
Our first step was to clear his conscience. Could he honestly say that he was not angling to play one company against another? No – but he feared that it would LOOK that way. It was important to just be honest and stay grounded.
The second step was to look at what changed his mind. Was it cold feet? Nope. He was dealing with a completely different set of facts than the ones that drove him to seek the new job.
Then we looked at the scenarios. Yes, he could keep his word, move his family, start working with a new team and then what? How much would he wonder what could have been?
Or he could break his promise and stay with the newly created position. The decision was clear: he needed to break his promise, and it was very important to him that he not “weasel his way out” of it.
So we explored his approach. The first question: What could he do to minimize the damage done by him not fulfilling his promise? He came up with several thoughts on how he could leverage his network to help them fill the position.
With those questions completed, he was ready to have the conversation, with a clear conscience and a position of strength vs feeling like he was “weaseling”. He also was aware that he was not the first person ever on the planet to step away from a job acceptance.
The conversation went so much better than expected. The second employer was both gracious and committed to staying in touch with him.
And there was more. The second-choice candidate had REALLY wanted the job and was sorely disappointed in not being chosen.
This broken promise paved the way for two people’s dreams to be realized.
Sometimes promises must be broken. When the facts change, when the situation gets rearranged, when our capabilities change or sometimes, when our clear thinking finally comes on-line.
Breaking promises doesn’t make us a weasel – as long as we do our part to own the decision and ameliorate the damage.
And before we make that bold promise to do our friend or loved one a favor? Get more information on the request. It will save you countless hours of fulfilling the automatic yes!
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Virtually every time I facilitate a program, whether for team looking to improve their alignment and performance or a variety of leaders transforming their lives through self awareness, one word comes up almost every time. Communication. Lack of it has killed more deals and relationships than you can count. Too much of it…well, I’ve never actually seen that.
Even what we call “over-communication” barely gets the job done. It’s not that we are not trying. We just have learned indirect ways of talking to each other. Most of the time, our communication is muddled, unclear and confusing. Yes, we are using a lot of nice words – they just aren’t taking us anywhere.
We get somewhere by making and following through on promises. Not like politician promises – like real promises.
Promises are the kind of statements we make that say “I will.”
It’s actually quite difficult to evoke (and make) real promises. There is another level of commitment in a promise. Asking for that level of “yes” from myself or someone else gets into territory that gets very uncomfortable very fast.
So what do we do instead? We hint, assume or just make statements.
Statements that assume someone will take action are the death of clear communication. Here’s an example. I was having dinner with a client team and the guy in charge of everything turned to me and said “I’m going to have you come next month to work with our team to XYZ.” Before I started noticing this stuff called promises, I would have said to myself inside “Oh, goodie! I get more work!”
In this case, I noticed that he made a statement assuming that I would come do the work, that I was the right person to do this particular kind of work (I wasn’t) and that I would do it on his terms (I couldn’t travel there the next month.)
In the months leading up to this encounter, I had started paying attention to promises as a management practice.
Even just thinking about the question “where are the promises?” tuned me into seeing things a different way.
So in this encounter, my client failed to evoke a promise. We did end up talking through what he wanted and came to the conclusion I was not the right person for the work he wanted. It was a very different conversation backing him away from his unequivocal statement than it would have been had he started with a request.
What his statement revealed to me was this: many of the breakdowns we were working with on his team started with his communication strategy that skipped critical steps and most importantly, did not seem to include room for someone to say no to him.
Had I done a reflexive yes in response to his statement – and believe me, it was tempting – we would have both ended up disappointed.
The muddled communication that gets us in so much trouble is full of assumptions that don’t generate promises. “I’ll try” is not a promise. Maybe, ok, or just a nodding head are also not promises. It’s very hard to get a committed “yes!” unless we ask. And we often don’t ask directly because we don’t what to hear “no.”
When we don’t permit ourselves to say “no”, we will fill our lives with “fake yeses”. It creates a level of busy that no one can sustain.
Important work doesn’t get done because we are fulfilling obligations we agreed to.
Some obligations need to be done – and many, many more need to be declined or reworked. The magic is learning to distinguish between the two.
What do you do to evoke promises from others? Do you avoid situations where people might say no to you? Do you avoid saying no sometimes to prevent conflict? What are your best strategies for making sure people are truly committed to the work they are doing on your behalf?
As always, I would love to learn from you in the comments!
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“I’m going to do it all – and I’m going to do it perfectly.” While few say that out loud, their actions say it for them.
Know anyone who thinks (and acts) that way? I see it all the time, whether in a small business - where doing it all seems a necessity - to teams in giant corporations. The very same people who treat money as a scarce resource are willing to spend their energy doing tasks that provide a low business payoff.
Trying to do too much and trying to do it perfectly will lead you to mediocrity and drain your energy faster than it drains your bank account.
Many years ago, when I was working with Norm Smallwood of Results Based Leadership, he introduced me to the “anti-perfectionism/strategic clarity” model he called “Types of Work.” It changed my life, the way I approach work and how I make trade offs. And in that timeframe, this new awareness guided me to say no to some very exciting global work with – you guessed it – Norm Smallwood.
Norm’s point of view on strategy could be boiled down to this: What you say “no” to defines you more than what you say “yes” to. In other words, being opportunistic causes you to saying yes to more things than you can do well. Being strategic means saying no to anything that doesn’t fit your distinctive core business.
Having the backbone to have a strong portfolio of “no’s” develops a stronger business than saying yes just because you can do it.
This is a simple concept that is extraordinarily difficult to actually do. Walking away from work that might be lucrative because it isn’t your core value proposition seems crazy – but let me make the case for why you should do just that. After all, everyone has more to do than they can possibly do well. How great would it be to have a logical way to say “no” when you have more than you can handle?
The logic starts with this premise:
Not all work is created equal.
The work that distinguishes you (and that you get paid for) deserves a different kind of priority and attention than your basic business work.
Trying to do everything well means you do nothing well.
Watch this very short animation to understand the basic idea, and I will see you on the other side:
Here’s the thing: striving for best-in-class-performance is worthwhile only in about 10-20% of the work you do – your distinctive and enabling work. The other 80% or so needs to be good enough. This doesn’t mean you buy a house in “slackerville.” It’s just that extreme excellence in Business Essential work just brings you more work than you should handle – and it’s work you don’t get paid for. Just remember: do worse than par and it can cost you your reputation and maybe your business.
Here’s how Tim Ferriss, author of the 4 Hour Work Week said it: “I’m not against hard work. I’m against hard work on stupid things.”
Distinctive work is what makes you special. You want to be unique and distinctive work forms the core of your business or reputation. Why didn’t I do global work with Norm Smallwood all those years ago? It would have impacted my ability to be effective with my clients AFTER the trips. I need my sleep. Jet lag impacts my ability to be a clear and present coach and facilitator. I was very aware that while doing the global work might look good on my bio, it would negatively impact my ability to perform and would ultimately hurt my goals. So I said no.
Distinctive work is why people choose you or your company. It is worth your time and effort to be crystal clear on what makes you special in the eyes of your clients, customers or employers.
How do you decide where your time, attention and energy go? What are your guardrails for making sharp trade-offs? Are you clear on the work that makes you distinctive? Where are you tempted to take on customers or work because of the money instead of it being a fit for your business? What kind of non-strategic projects are you doing?
Next time you are feeling overwhelmed, thinking you can’t do it all, or find yourself agonizing over a simple detail, re-prioritize your work into the three buckets: Distinctive, Enabling, or Business Essential.
Struggling to say no even though you know you should? Wondering what’s the difference between Distinctive and Enabling work? Connect via Social or here.
Sign up for our newsletter and get more details on how to implement these ideas with a copy of our infographic “The Pyramid of Distinction”.
Know someone who would love this article? Email or share below!Lynn Carnes accelerates change and unleashes leadership performance in organizations, especially in context of challenges without easy answers. She loves to hear about how your experiments with these ideas turn out. To contact her or share your experiences email here.
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He turned to me and asked “Do you think I am too vague when giving someone an assignment?” Just as I started to answer we got interrupted, so it was the next day when I brought up his question, with a question of my own. “What are you hoping to learn by asking that question?”
His answer plays out thousands of times a day in offices across the world: “Even if I’m good at it, I want to get better. In my position, it’s very tough to get real feedback. I don’t want people to shield me from the truth. I want real feedback.”
This is one of the most common conversations I have with clients operating at all levels of the organization, and especially at the top, whether in a C-Level role, as the owner of the business or as a solo entrepreneur. How do they get real feedback and more importantly, complete and true information? In what ways do messages get watered down before getting to the top? The hierarchy in organizational responsibility becomes a hierarchy in truth telling – and not necessarily in a useful way.
If you are at the top of an organization, getting real information is the difference between effective decisions and disastrous ones.
If you are trying to advance in your career, learning to tell the truth to the higher ups is a game changer.
Leaders who have significant authority, responsibility and decision making scope also tend to have people who look up to them, respect them, are intimidated by them or even fear them. The dark side of this kind of power is often the tendency for people to shield them from unvarnished information for lots of “good” reasons. It’s a dilemma that deserves to be resolved and, yes, it is tough to get real data.
One of the most telling experiences I’ve had about this dilemma happened in a room of 100 plus people, while facilitating a multi-faceted working session. When the subject of decision-making came up, someone alluded to “the answer you want to hear or the real answer.” Interested by that thread of conversation, we opened Pandora’s box (or in Texas, we call that a big, ole can-o-worms). I went from being the facilitator to the co-facilitator. The senior executive for that division stood up and began dive into the subject of setting the conditions for people to have the courage to say what he might not want to hear. We teased out the different ways he was getting filtered information. Some of the filters were useful – no executive at the top of an organization wants the full data dump. Yet as we explored, there was a very real sense of him being shielded from critical information or countervailing opinions.
That day, the executive opened himself up to real feedback about what he could do to get better information and he made a very specific request: “Please tell me the truth as you see it.” He also made a promise: “I won’t kill the messenger.”
Interestingly enough, he later shared the flip side of this dilemma. He had made his own career by taking the risk to speak truth to those higher in authority than him. It distinguished him enough to spend his entire career ten to fifteen years ahead of his career age group.
Are you being shielded from truth? Are you getting real feedback? What is your response to bad news? Do you praise those who agree with you and show less favor to those who don’t? What mechanisms do you have in place to get the best information possible, including countervailing opinions? How do you distinguish between data and opinion? How do you encourage people to speak their minds?”
One of the greatest flaws in decision-making is thinking you have all the information when you don’t. Getting better at anything depends on getting real feedback. Lacking the truth, both decision-making and learning suffer. And keeping quiet when you have something important to say is just as grievous.
There are the tactics to make all of this happen and then there reasons why you don’t. If you are interested in better understanding yourself and what makes you speak up or be quiet, or what makes you “shoot the messenger” or unconsciously suppress information, set up an OnDemand Coaching call with me.
Know someone who would love this article? Email or share below!Lynn Carnes accelerates change and unleashes leadership performance in organizations, especially in context of challenges without easy answers. She loves to hear about how your experiments with these ideas turn out. To contact her or share your experiences email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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When he knocked at my door asking for a few minutes, the resentment rushed from head to toe. I was gleefully buried in a budget spreadsheet, playing the annual game to beat the system, keep everyone on staff and avoid layoffs. “Can’t he see I’m busy?” I thought while slowly turning a fragment of my attention to him. (The rest was stuck in the computer screen, where my identity as the “spreadsheet queen of the universe” resided.) He would have had to be dull – and he wasn’t – to miss the fact that he was dealing with a half a boss in that moment. Soon we were deep in conversation, bouncing ideas back and forth on how to solve a sticky problem, the specifics of which I’ve long since forgotten.
What I do remember from that conversation is the breakthrough in my thinking that day, as he had my full attention in solving this sticky problem – guilt free.
Surprisingly, I was enjoying our challenging conversation. More importantly, I laid down the “guilt” of ignoring the budget spreadsheet. Having this conversation WAS my job at that moment. (And seriously, how was I to be an effective leader with my head constantly buried in "work"?) During our intense session, somewhere in the back of my mind, I realized something that changed my approach to leadership for the rest of my life. It went something like this: “My job is not spreadsheets and project plans; this is my job - having conversations.” Little did I know how much that mental pivot would become the cornerstone of my approach to leadership, and eventually change the trajectory of my career.
Within a week of that meeting, I asked another member of my team to take on preparing the budget for my review. This was a developmental assignment for that person that eventually led to new and better things for him. I began looking away from my computer screen (let me tell you, this was very difficult) and making time for critical conversations.
In the many years since that mental pivot, I have come to recognize that the DNA of leadership resides in conversation. It’s not that leaders never do the actual “work” of the organization. They do. However, for leadership to occur, conversation is essential. There are a variety of conversations that leaders are carrying on all the time. Awareness and deliberation around those conversations makes them more effective.
Most leaders understand their role in managing resources. The best leaders recognize the powerful resource of conversation. Some of the conversations we have as leaders are like adding water and nutrients to the soil in order to grow a bountiful garden. They are necessary, yet sometimes neglected. Others are more action-driven, like asking people to take on assignments, holding them accountable (now there’s a rich set of conversations for you) and making decisions. These conversations correlate to the harvest. Anyone who has ever farmed or gardened recognizes that the quality of the harvest starts early with soil preparation, well before planting. Throughout the growing season, farmers contend with a series of controllables and uncontrollables. Master farmers and gardeners utilize a wide range of actions to deliver an abundant yield, working with the climate and variables in their part of the world. Farmers are acutely aware that in order to reap abundantly, they must first provide resources – ie, they till, nourish, sow, and water wisely. (Not to mention weed, prune, mulch and so forth.) A lot goes into generating a good harvest!
The analogy works well for leadership, because so much of what makes a great "harvest" of results happens well before the money hits the income statement. All too often, leaders neglect to cultivate and set the conditions for growth. Conversation infuses resources into the organization, and ultimately impacts the quality of the results. These conversations either add something to the system or take it out. Every conversation you have sets into motion a different impact to the system – and not having certain conversations can also impact your long-term effectiveness. Think back to that “tiny” conversation I had so many years ago that set into motion an entirely different approach to leading my team.
Take a look at your world. What types of conversations you are having on a regular basis? What conversations are you avoiding? What makes one conversation go well and another get off track? What conversations have you started and then failed to carry forward? Have you made your own distinction between conversations that generate action vs ideas? Or those that feed or starve relationships? How does your state impact the mood of any given conversation?
Becoming mindful of the different conversations that cultivate a business can take your leadership game to a completely new level.
Know someone who would love this article? Email or share below! Lynn Carnes accelerates change and unleashes leadership performance in organizations, especially in context of challenges without easy answers. She loves to hear about how your experiments with these ideas turn out. To contact her or share your experiences email email@example.com
Washing windows during spring cleaning, I was feeling all happy and proud that I found a perceived shortcut using my new microfiber rags. Cleaning the windows seemed as simple as wiping them down. No visible streaks at all. Until there was light. Once the sun shown on the “clean” windows the next morning, streaks and spots covered the entire surface. In the light of day, it was evident that the windows fell far short of clean. It simply took the feedback of the sun to reveal the shortcomings.
It became apparent to me that the only way to truly get windows clean is to have the feedback of good light. No matter the technique, if you can’t see what you are doing with the sun shining through, the windows will always have some spots and streaks. Now I am not some clean window perfectionist. But I did come to the conclusion that cleaning windows without truly looking at them will leave me with windows no one wants to look at-especially in the light of day.
There was a time when I wanted only one kind of feedback. It looked something like this: “That was great!” or “You were wonderful!” When I first learned to facilitate programs in my banking days, we handed out evaluation sheets where participants could rate us 1 to 5 on a variety of factors. I liked getting all “A’s”. My schooling had programmed me to want “A’s” and a 5 rating brought back lovely memories of being a good student.
When I decided I wanted to be better, however, the “good grades” left me wanting. What exactly could I do better? Where could I have been clearer? What would have helped the people in the room better grasp the topic? How could I be more effective in achieving the goal? As a result, I began to crave real feedback. Growth could only happen if I learned what was effective and what was still lacking. Like my windows, I needed the light to be shown on my “streaks and spots” in order to continue getting better.
Since that experience, I’ve begun to seek real feedback…light of day feedback… the kind of feedback that helps me perform better even if it stings at bit or reveals the streaky spots. What made this possible? What if someone “hurts my feelings?” Inch by tiny inch, I’ve come to realize that I am not my skills, actions or even thoughts. I can choose not to get my feelings hurt. I can choose to assume positive intent. My performance can become better; who I am as a person is off limits to feedback or comment. That part of me is just fine, thankyouverymuch.
I’m still learning that feedback helps me improve, and that I don’t need to take things personally. It sounds so simple in theory. It’s the journey of a lifetime in practice.
Know someone who would love this article? Email or share below!Lynn Carnes accelerates change and unleashes leadership performance in organizations, especially in context of challenges without easy answers. She loves to hear about how your experiments with these ideas turn out. To contact her or share your experiences email firstname.lastname@example.org
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