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Do You Know This?

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Do you know where you are? Not geographically speaking but in life?

If you don’t know where you are it can be pretty tough to figure out where you are going. In 1976 Diana Ross recorded the theme song for the movie Mahogany. It was one of those songs that made people think… here are a few of the lyrics:

Do you know where you’re goin’ to?
Do you like the things that life is showin’ you
Where are you goin’ to? Do you know?

Now looking back at all we’ve planned
We let so many dreams just slip through our hands
Why must we wait so long before we see
How sad the answers to those questions can be

Do you know where you’re goin’ to?
Do you like the things that life is showin’ you
Where are you goin’ to? Do you know?

So… do you know?

Hopefully you’re exactly where you want to be in life, if not, the rest of this post is for you.

I may not know where you are but I do know how you got there. It was a decision, or more likely, a series of decisions that put you where you are. The choices you made, about where to work, where to go to school, what to study and perhaps most importantly, who to associate with, have conspired to put you exactly where you are in life.

You may not like that, you may even want to disagree with it. If you’re not happy with where you are in life you may have excuses and reasons for being there but know this: getting where you want to go will require you to accept responsibility for where you are.

Here is another bit of news you may not like: the people you associate with are almost as responsible for where you are in life as you are. Most people, there are exceptions but most people, do not achieve a greater level of success than their peer group.

I’m just not going to sugarcoat this; if you’re consistently hanging out with low achievers then it’s unlikely that you’ll reach your full potential. Your “friends” could be the nicest, kindest, most fun people on earth but if they have no desire to excel then the odds are overwhelming that they will pull you down to their level of achievement.

I know that is not a nice thing to say but it is what it is.

Successful people surround themselves with other successful people. They push themselves to succeed. They learn the habits of success from their successful peer group and it makes succeeding much more likely.

As I’ve written 100 times the most successful people also have mentors. I have been fortunate to have several incredible mentors of my life… but it wasn’t by accident. I made a decision to put myself in the presence of those people. I did that intentionally, it was a choice I made.

Believing something doesn’t necessarily make it true. Mentors, good ones anyway, will help you be honest with yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve convinced myself something was true (and therefore okay to do) until I was confronted by a mentor who forced me to look at the facts.

Mentors don’t have the same level of emotional attachment to the people and things in your life that you do. They can provide you with the crystal clear logic required to balance out the emotional choices that you naturally make.

A good mentor will be honest with you when you’re not honest with yourself. Mentors are especially useful when you make a wrong turn or make a bad decision and are no longer certain exactly where you are in life.

If you don’t have a mentor then find one. Regardless of your age or level of success you’re better off with a mentor. Period!

Don’t let one more dream slip through your hands. Don’t wait another minute to see the answer to this important life question.

You simply must know where you are before you can know where you’re goin to… do you know?

Don’t Stress Over Stress

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Do you believe that all stress is bad? That all stress has a negative impact on your performance and life?

Maybe you’re one of those people who believes that some stress is positive. You could be one of those who believe that a bit of stress is actually good for you and actually improves your performance and productivity.

If your mindset on stress is negative then you likely stress over being stressed. If you believe that stress can be positive then you’re likely better able to handle everyday stress inducing events.

Let’s talk first about people with a mostly positive mindset about stress. This is a bit of a generalization but as a group they tend to be the people most willing to ask for help and feedback on their performance. They also are the most likely to have mentors to coach them through the stressful situation.

They gain confidence from “surviving” the stress-inducing event and as a result they have even less stress in the future.

The lesson here appears simple, if you want to be more effective at managing stress then at least consider the possibility that not all stress is negative.

The lesson might appear simple but it is not. You can’t just will stress away.

Here are some concrete actions you can take to help reduce everyday stress in your life:

Know your stressors.
This is the most important step of all, because identifying the things that cause stress in your life is the first step towards eliminating them. Take 15 minutes to think about what stresses you out during the day. What people, activities, and things cause stress in your life? Make a Top 10 list, and see which of them can be eliminated, and start to weed them out. For those that can’t, find ways to make them less stressful.

Remember, successful people don’t complain about the things in their life that they can control. If there are stressors in your life that you can control and you choose not to then stop complaining about too much stress. You must actually like it.

Eliminate unnecessary commitments.
Learn to say no! The most successful people under-commit and over-deliver. Personal commitments can be just as stressful as business commitments so examine your entire life to determine where and when you over commit. Be brutally honest with yourself and eliminate commitments that bring no real value to you or those important to you.

Stop being late.
Being late always stresses us out. When you have to rush to get ready, rush to get there, and worry the whole time about looking bad and being late you stress yourself out. Learn the good habit of being early, and this stress disappears. Make a conscious effort to start getting ready earlier, and to leave earlier. Time yourself to see how long it actually takes to get ready, and how long it actually takes to get somewhere. You’ve probably been underestimating these times. Once you know these times, you can plan backwards so that you show up a few minutes early each time. You’ll enjoy the feeling.

Manage your calendar.
Don’t fool yourself into believing you’re highly productive by filling your calendar each day from sun-up to sun-down. When you leave yourself no time to deal with the unexpected you allow the stress of dealing with the unexpected into your life. If you have a negative mindset about stress then you’re actually less productive when you’re stressed. Give yourself some time on your calendar each day to breath and you can exhale some of the stress from your life.

Be grateful. Learn to relish and appreciate the stress inducing events in your life. Consider the opportunities that come with stress. When your job causes you stress be thankful for it. If it was easy then your company might be paying somebody else less qualified to deal with it.

When your family causes you stress just consider life without them. Be grateful for what you have, for the people in your life and the blessings that come with them. That mindset will help some stress disappear and make living with the stress that remains easier.

The cemeteries are full of formerly stressed out people who I’d bet would be the first to tell you that none of their stress inducing events really mattered at the end.

Take a lesson from them and relax a bit, enjoy the stressful parts of life because even the most stressful day is better than no day at all.

The Vital Importance of Conflict Resolution

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I am not a fan of conflict. I’d prefer to have zero conflicts in my life, both my personal life and my professional life.

My preference however is unrealistic because conflicts are a part of life. They happen! As a matter of fact, if you have a pulse and interact with other human beings then you will have conflicts too.

Some people will go to extreme lengths to avoid conflict. I think they avoid them because they believe all conflicts lead to poor outcomes. They have so little confidence in their own communication skills that they fear losing control of their emotions and making the situation that originally caused the conflict even worse.

That’s a challenging way to go through life for anyone. If you have that challenge and you’re in a leadership position then it’s far more than a challenge, it can be a disaster.

Unresolved conflict leads directly to unreached potential. Let me repeat that in case you missed it… unresolved conflict leads directly to unreached potential. Directly!

If you’re a leader who avoids conflict then you’re a limited leader at best. You can make great decisions, hire the right people, build solid products, and be liked by everyone. What you can’t do is lead your people and your organization to their full potential.

It’s like seeing $40 on the ground and bending down to pick up $20, hoping that somebody else will pick up the other $20 and put it to use. You just left half of your potential “find” lay there. Hope may sound nice in a speech but I’m sorry to say, it’s a real crappy business strategy.

Leaders cannot simply hope the conflict resolves itself. Conflicts seldom disappear, they just simmer below the surface causing havoc in your organization. If you don’t care enough about your people to proactively, compassionately resolve conflicts then you likely don’t care enough to truly lead.

Conflict resolution is a vital skill that leaders need to learn.

If you view conflict as dangerous, it tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you go into a conflict situation already feeling threatened, it’s tough to deal with the issue in a healthy and productive way. Instead, you are more likely to shut down or blow up in anger.

Conflict elicits strong emotions and often leads to hurt feelings and disappointment. When handled in an unhealthy manner, it can cause irreparable harm, resentments, and long-lasting distrust. When conflict is resolved in a healthy and productive way, it increases your understanding of the other person, builds trust, and strengthens relationships. This is true in both your personal and professional lives.

Effective leaders possess the capacity to recognize and respond to the things that matter to the other person. They respond in a calm, non-defensive, and respectful manner. The are ready to forgive and forget if necessary and they are able to move past the conflict without holding on to resentment. Effective leaders know that compromise is not a dirty word and that while accountability may play a role in conflict management, punishing does not.

Authentic servant leaders hold the belief that facing conflict head on is the best thing for both sides. When dealing with conflict they care enough to listen with more than just their ears. They “tune-in” to the other person to completely understand what they are saying and why they are saying it.

When people are upset, the words they use often don’t convey the real issues at the heart of the conflict. When you listen for what is felt—as well as what is said—you have the opportunity to truly understand where the other person is coming from.
When you’re in the middle of a conflict, paying close attention to the other person’s nonverbal signals may help you figure out what the other person is really saying, This lets you to respond in a way that builds trust, and get to the heart of the problem. A calm tone of voice or an interested facial expression can go a long way towards relaxing a tense exchange.

Here are a few more points to consider before attempting to resolve a conflict:

Think resolution rather than winning or “being right.” Remember, if you win then somebody else loses. If somebody feels like they have been defeated then they may withdraw for a while but the conflict still exists.

Focus on the now. If you’re holding on to grudges based on past resentments, your ability to see the reality of the current situation will be impaired. Resolve the current conflict, don’t rehash old ones.

Let something go. If you can’t come to an agreement, agree to disagree. It takes two people to keep an argument going. If a conflict is going nowhere, it is okay to disengage and move on.

I firmly believe the worst thing you can do when it comes to conflict management or hopefully, conflict resolution, is nothing. If you actually intend to lead then you must face this challenge head-on, in a caring and thoughtful way.

It’s how Authentic Servant Leaders deal with conflict!

Can You Predict the Future?

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Your future might be an extension of your past. Emphasis on might!

One of the key reasons that successful organizations and individuals eventually fail is that they assume their future is an extension of their past. They assume that because they are a success today that they always will be.

They take their foot off the gas, their eye off the ball and they decide, at least subconsciously, to leave the fundamentals to other, less successful people and organizations. They have already succeeded and they fall into the trap of thinking that fundamentals are for those still trying to succeed.

It’s the mistake of mistakes.

Today’s success merely gives you a head-start on tomorrow’s. It provides you with a foundation, a roadmap to future success, but it guarantees nothing.

It makes little difference how long you’ve known success, the moment you stop doing the things that made you a success is the same moment that your success begins to fade.

In 1968, Switzerland dominated the world of watchmaking as they had for the previous 60 years. They had more than 65% of the world unit sales and over 80% of the profits. They not only made the best watches in the world, they were continually improving them.

The Swiss were so far out in front in the watchmaking industry that no one was an obvious second.

Then, something shocking happened that laid waste to the Swiss Watch industry.

In less than 10 years, the advantage the Swiss watchmaking industry was built upon was demolished. Between 1979 and 1981, 50,000 of the 62,000 watchmakers in the country lost their jobs. Imagine a downturn so severe that 80% of the employees were gone in a matter of two years. That is an amazing but true statistic.

It was not that the Swiss were lazy, on the contrary, they were constantly innovating and improving their standards.

A paradigm shift occurred. One of the fundamental rules of watchmaking had been abolished.

Watchmaking shifted from mechanical to electronic.

In that one change, the entire competitive advantage of the Swiss watchmaking industry was lost.

The irony is that the Swiss were not only aware of this paradigm, they practically invented the technology that created the shift. In 1967, Swiss researchers invented and patented the electronic quartz movement. Yet, when the idea was presented to the Swiss manufacturers it was rejected.

While it is not certain specifically why the new watch was rejected, it was probably linked with the fact that it didn’t look like a watch. It didn’t need bearings, it required almost no gears, it was battery powered and it was electronic.

It simply couldn’t be the watch of the future because it had so little resemblance to the watches that already existed.

The entire Swiss watch industry assumed that their future was absolutely an extension of their past. They assumed that because of their long-term huge success that they would always be a long-term huge success.

You could say they got big headed and maybe a little arrogant. The problem is, big heads don’t think clearly and there is never a good time to be arrogant, even if you make the best watches in the world.

The lesson here is simple: when you take your success for granted your success won’t take you very far.

Never assume that a good today guarantees a good tomorrow. You may not be able to predict the future but that doesn’t mean that you cannot create it.

Create the future that you desire by keeping your head small and your mind open. Remember, your past success provides you with a roadmap to future success, not a promise. The best way to ensure your success is to continually earn it.

Decisions, Decisions

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Decisions are the fuel of all successful endeavors. If you’re a person who strives to succeed you’ll need to make many decisions in your life. Try as you might, some of them will be bad decisions.

Some will be very bad.

I’ve written before about my thoughts on the importance of sound decision-making. Success requires not just decision-making but GOOD decision-making. Skilled decision makers use what I call judgecernment, the combination of judgment and discernment, to make the best decision possible. The most successful people don’t always make the best decision possible but they get many more “right” than “wrong” and the “bigger” the decision the more likely they are are to get it right.

But sometimes it’s the little ones, the quick ones, that when wrong, haunt you.

I’m truly fortunate to be trusted to speak in front of groups, often. It is an honor to be considered skilled enough and thoughtful enough to share my opinions and thinking with an organization’s people and in some cases, their customers.

Sometimes while “on stage” I’ll share some jokes too. I have this theory that if you’re in front of hundreds of people and you’re telling jokes then you are most certainly going to offend someone. No matter what you say, if somebody laughs then somebody else, at least one somebody, will be offended. No matter how “safe” the joke is, somebody will always be offended. I’m perfectly okay with that. So long as it’s not too many “somebodys.”

Last week in front of a very large group I shared a joke more suited to a barroom than a ballroom. I’d love to claim poor judgment but there would need to be at least a bit of judgment displayed in order to claim that it was poor. It was actually just a very bad decision.

I’m sure I disappointed some people with my decision. While I don’t want to seem cavalier about the feelings of other people because they do matter, I’m really not overly concerned about that.

Here’s what really made it a bad decision… I disappointed myself. I forgot for a moment the honor of being trusted in front of a group. While many people laughed (well, maybe not actually
many but some) and some more were even still laughing about the joke the next day.

Truth be told I’ve received little negative feedback from the joke but it doesn’t really matter because I was offended. I was offended by the fact that I failed to model the behavior I speak and write about every day. I got lazy and failed to look for a better, more appropriate joke. It’s a decision that will haunt me for awhile and frankly, it needs to. It’s good to be reminded that despite my skill and experience I can still make bad decisions that negatively affect other people.

Like I said, some decisions will be very bad.

So, you know what I did about that? I learned. Immediately. I committed to myself to make better decisions next time and then I made a whole bunch of decisions the very next day. They were all better decisions than the one from the night before though admittedly, I’d set the bar pretty low.

Successful people cannot allow bad decisions to prevent them from making decisions in the future. The failure to make any decisions, or to make decisions too slowly, can cost companies just as much as making poor decisions, sometimes even more.

Successful people learn from every decision, good and bad and they know that a person cannot learn from a decision that they refuse to make.

Making no decision is in fact a decision, it is a decision to do nothing and that is almost always a wrong decision. You can’t “fix” a decision until it is made. If you think you can avoid problems by not making a decision then you’ve just made the biggest mistake a decision maker can make.

So learn from your poor decisions, better yet, learn from the poor decisions of others and use the experience to grow as a leader and make better decisions in the future. It’s what successful people do.

And no, I won’t share the joke with you, you won’t be hearing that one from me again anytime soon!

Essential Qualities of Leadership

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I write from time to time on the essential qualities of leadership. There are so many truly essential qualities required for Effective Leadership that I could write a book on the subject. But until I do, here’s another blog post on just a few of them.

An effective leader absolutely needs the confidence to make decisions and set a clear direction. Effective leaders also know that one of the best ways to instill confidence in others is to display their own confidence. They do not however allow their confidence to cross the line into arrogance. A leader who humbly shows their confidence encourages others to step up and lead.

Effective leaders must be able to think on their feet and make sagacious and quick decisions. One of the biggest “separators” between leaders is the size and range of the “picture” that they see. Lesser leaders see how the next two dominoes will fall, the most effective leaders see how the next 20 will fall. Good decisions come from considering not just the consequences of a decision but the consequences of the consequences. Effective leaders are not afraid to make the tough decisions.

Effective leaders also take responsibility for those decisions and actions. Mistakes are a part of life, and effective leaders own their mistakes. They do not blame others, even when there may be some blame to share. They learn from their mistakes and do not allow today’s mistake to hinder tomorrow’s decisions.

Effective leaders experience stress in their lives. It’s just a fact of life as a leader. The reality is that the more effective a leader is, the more stress they are likely to endure. During times of stress, effective leaders remain calm and focused. They know that the people they lead look to them for strength in challenging times.

Effective leaders know that leading by example isn’t just the best way to lead; it’s actually the only way. Leading by example shows followers what is expected of them and what is or is not acceptable. Effective leaders know they are the model for how others are expected to behave and perform.

You’re people are watching you, your role as a leader is to help them see what they need to see in order for them to succeed. Your own success depends on it!

Do You Talk or Do You Communicate?

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Communication is an essential element of leadership.

Authentic Servant Leaders know that talking and actually communicating are two very different things. Talking generally requires only one person but communicating always requires at least two.

As a leader you must know that that no matter how well you choose your words if no one is listening then you’re just talking, not communicating. Talking is about the person saying the words, communicating is about the person or persons hearing them.

Abraham Lincoln was the second speaker on November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg. Lincoln was preceded on the podium by the famed orator Edward Everett, who spoke to the crowd for two hours. Lincoln followed with his now immortal Gettysburg Address.

On November 20, Everett wrote to Lincoln: “Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Lincoln used 268 words in barely 2 minutes to express his thoughts on one of the greatest battles of the US Civil War. With 268 words in 2 minutes he motivated a nation to carry on and persevere. His speech that day is often considered to be among the best ever delivered by a US President. Most American kids still learn about it in school.

I’m sure Edward Everett had great things to say that day but he talked, Lincoln communicated.

The next time you’re preparing to speak just stop for a moment and ask yourself this question: is what I’m about to say for my benefit or the benefit of the person I’m speaking with? If what you’re about to say is solely for your benefit then it’s likely your talking, not communicating.

Great communicators talk with other people, not to them. Great communicators don’t count their words, they weigh them. I have no way of knowing this for sure but I’d bet my last dollar that President Lincoln had no idea how many words he spoke during the Gettysburg Address, but he knew with certainty what he wanted to say and what his audience needed to hear.

He choose his words accordingly. You should too!

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