This article first appeared in my business column at AMEX.
To be a successful leader or entrepreneur, we need to become intimate not only with our strengths but also with our blind spots, those aspects of our personality that can derail us. John C. Maxwell defines a blind spot as “an area in the lives of people in which they continually do not see themselves or their situation realistically.”
All of us have blind spots. A Hay Group study shows that the senior leaders in an organization are more likely to overrate themselves and to develop blind spots that can hinder their effectiveness as leaders. Another study by Development Dimensions International Inc. found that 89 percent of front-line leaders have at least one blind spot in their leadership skills.
When we’re in a leadership position, our blind spots can cause a great deal of damage, not only to our career but to the people who depend on us. How can you avoid this potential pitfall for yourself and your business? These eight tips can help.
1. Raise your awareness of the top blind spots. This Executive White Paper shows the 10 blind spots that are most risky to personal and organizational success. The top three are: under-communicating strategic direction and priorities, poorly communicating expectations, and waiting for poor performance to improve.
Leaders are often surprised when stakeholders complain that there isn’t enough communication about the business’s vision and strategy. There is a communication gap between what leaders think is enough and what stakeholders need. Communication also extends to one-on-one leadership conversations. Leaders often fail to see the harm that is done to the organization when they consistently avoid having the difficult conversation with a non-performer, hoping the issue will resolve itself.
2. Don’t hire in your own image. In the Top Ten Mistakes that Entrepreneurs Make, Guy Kawasaki includes one of the most pervasive blind spots that leaders often have: Hiring people who are like them instead of hiring individuals who have complementary skills. Hiring people who are similar results in organizational weaknesses. As Kawasaki puts it, “You need to balance off all the talents in a company.”
3. Establish a peer coaching arrangement. Every leader can benefit from peer coaching with leaders in other organizations. As a business owner, consider peer coaching with a noncompeting business that’s the same size. In Five Ways To Find Out What You’re Doing Wrong, Les McKeown says, “Most organizational blind spots are size-related, not industry-specific. In other words, your blind spots will have more in common with other businesses of a similar size and age than they will with other businesses in the same industry.”
4. Examine your past history. To gain insight into behaviors that may not serve you well, think back on your past successes and failures as a leader. This kind of introspective inventory can yield some powerful insights. What do you need to stop doing? What do you need to do more of? What do you need to start doing?
5. Understand your habits. Blind spots are not necessarily weaknesses—they can also be habits or instinctive reactions to situations. For example, do your workload and stress cause you to interrupt people in meetings in order to speed up things? As Tom Peters shows in this video, most managers are 18-second listeners. If this describes you, work on developing more patience. It will enhance your interpersonal skills and improve your leadership effectiveness.
6. Place a high priority on relational skills. In Winning With People: Discover The People Principles That Work For You Every Time, John C. Maxwell states a simple, but powerful truth: People can usually trace their successes and failures to relationships in their lives. Every time something good or something difficult has happened to you, you can most likely point it back to some relationship you had. Studies show that only 15 percent of a person’s success is determined by job knowledge and technical skills, and 85 percent is determined by an individual’s attitude and ability to relate to other people. As Maxwell observes, many leaders have big relational blind spots. For example, some individuals may come across as arrogant, stomping on people in their quest to achieve results. They may not be aware of the need to curb their arrogance until it’s too late. Others may not show much warmth and fail to pick up on the emotional clues that others give them. Make it a priority to develop healthy interpersonal skills.
7. Consider the downside of your strengths. It’s a known fact that our gifts, taken to the extreme, can be liabilities. For example, one of your strengths might be that you are prudent in your decision-making. But what you view as caution, taken to the extreme, might result in fear of risk taking. In the long run, this can work against you. You may pride yourself in being a visionary, but taken to the extreme, you may bounce off in too many directions, frustrating others on the team by switching gears too often. List all your strengths, and reflect on how they manifest themselves in your leadership style. If you need help in this area, work with a mentor or coach. Consider asking your constituents for feedback. We rise as a leader when we have the courage to ask, “How are my actions affecting performance?”
8. Take an assessment to identify your blind spots. The Reiss Motivation Profile is a comprehensive, psychological assessment of what motivates us. It identifies 16 basic desires that will give you insight on why you do what you do and will help you identify your blind spots. For example, the desire for independence can end up being a blind spot when a leader refuses to admit that he can’t do it all by himself. A quick, online assessment can be accessed at Find Your Blind Spot Now.
“Personal productivity is a key differentiator between those who succeed in their chosen field and those who do not,” says bestselling author Brian Tracy. Leaders and entrepreneurs who are at the top of their game know how to achieve what they want in less time than others. We can learn a lot from the tactics of these successful, and incredibly busy, individuals on how to better organize our own days. Here are 12 top tips worth trying out:
1. Have a single purpose focus. One thing many successful entrepreneurs have in common is the ability to focus on what matters most. Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, says, “I keep things focused. The speech I give every day is: ‘This is what we do. Is what we are doing consistent with that, and can it change the world?’” Jason Goldberg, CEO of Fab.com, has this piece of advice: “Pick one thing and do that one thing—and only that one thing—better than anyone else ever could.” We can derive a great deal of power from developing a laser focus on our top business priorities. It’s one of the attributes that sets apart the average businessperson from the more successful one.
2. Ruthlessly block out distractions. Tennis legend Martina Navratilova says, “I concentrate on concentrating.” For those of us who don’t have the willpower to be self-accountable, there are several technology solutions for blocking out distractions. For example, Rescue Time is an application that runs in the background of your computer and measures how you spend your time so you can make better decisions. Get Concentrating is another useful tool that will help you focus on important tasks by temporarily blocking social media sites. (Are you easily distracted? If so, here are six more popular programs to block distractions.)
3. Set a strict time limit on meetings.Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault and Nissan, is strict on the timing allotted for single-topic, non-operational meetings: He allows a maximum of one hour and 30 minutes. Fifty percent of the time is for the presentation, and 50 percent is for discussion. Gary E. McCullough, former U.S. army captain and now CEO of Career Education Corp., gives people half of the time they ask for a meeting or appointment. This forces them to be brief, clear and to the point. “By doing that, I am able to cram a number of things in the day and move people in and out more effectively and more efficiently,” McCullough says. People generally don’t need as much time as they ask for. Meetings are time vampires. Be ruthless in managing this endemic productivity drain so you can focus on high value tasks.
4. Set up productivity rituals. Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, provides four tips for setting up rituals to automate behaviors that will make us more productive, without depleting our energy reservoir. One of them is prioritizing one key task to accomplish per day, and starting your day focused on that task. “Force yourself to prioritize so that you know that you will finish at least that one critical task during the period of the day when you have the most energy and the fewest distractions,” Schwartz says.
5. Get up earlier. Research shows that mornings can make or break your day. It’s not uncommon for successful CEOs to start their day well before 6 a.m. In 27 Executives Who Wake Up Really Early, we see how incredibly busy people—from Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, to Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo—use their mornings to seize the day. Use the mantra “mind over mattress” to motivate yourself to get out of bed to pursue your goals. As Laura Vanderkam says in What Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide To Making Over Your Morning—And Life, while many are sleeping in, successful people are already up and getting a lot done. If this is not your preference, Vanderkam advises to start with small steps, such as getting up just 15 minutes earlier every day and gradually increasing the time.
6. Group your interruptions. This idea comes from restaurateur Danny Meyer. He has his assistant group all questions that come up during the day in one list so she doesn’t have to interrupt him repeatedly during office hours. Take a cue from this and see how you can ask others on your team to group questions, requests and other non-urgent inquiries so you’re not distracted by interruptions that don’t add value.
7. Outsource personal chores. Highly productive people are selective about how they expend their energy. They don’t waste it on tasks that others can do. For example, Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit, uses services such as Fancy Hands, an army of virtual assistants. Others automate grocery shopping with sites such as Amazon’s Subscribe and Save, or services that deliver groceries to your doorstep. Others even use services such as Plated, which delivers perfectly measured ingredients for chef designed meals at home. Do a cost/benefit analysis of how you spend your time and see if it’s worth offloading some repetitive tasks so you can focus on what will bring value to your company.
8. Set up email rules to maintain sanity. Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna, founders of Birchbox, insist that team members indicate when they need a response in all emails. This simple tip helps with prioritization. Designer Mike Davidson has set up an email policy that limits any email he sends to five sentences. As he explains, many email messages in his inbox take more time for him to answer than they did for the sender to write. Analyze your email habits and institute time-saving policies that work for your particular situation.
9. Capture all creative ideas. The world renowned scientist Dr. Linus Pauling once said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” Most leaders and entrepreneurs are visionaries who generally don’t lack good ideas; however, capturing all these ideas is often a challenge for busy people. Evernote is a popular, free program for collecting ideas. (Here’s a list of other tools to consider.)
10. Increase your effectiveness through technology. There’s a wealth of programs to make a small-business owner more effective in increasing productivity. A few popular tools—some of which are free—include Dropbox to store files online; Any Meeting to host a webinar; Basecamp for project management; Trello for keeping track of projects and deadlines, and Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule your social media postings.
11. Don’t lose it: Read it later. Don’t miss out on important information because you’re in a rush and have no time to read. Two programs help you scoop information to read later. Get Pocket allows you to put articles, videos and any other information into a virtual pocket, saved directly from any site. Another worthwhile program is Instapaper, which allows you to save long Web pages to read later when you have time.
12. Learn from others. Consider subscribing to Lifehacker’s How I Work series, which asks highly successful people to share their best time-saving tips. For example, Eric Koger, founder of ModCloth, shares his nerdiest way to save time: His keyboard layout is Colemak. Learning Colemak is a one-time investment that allows for much faster typing. This site provides an abundance of advice on how super busy, successful entrepreneurs salvage time.
Journalist and entrepreneur Mitch Racliffe said, “A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history—with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila.” Even when you haven’t made any mistakes, the unexpected can, and usually will, occur at the most inopportune time: when you’re delivering a high-stakes presentation to a prospective client, or at an event such as a trade show.
Don’t be caught off guard. Here are some helpful tips and tools to help you deal with these potential problems so you can focus on your company message.
1. Know how to recover a corrupt PowerPoint file. Just before your presentation, you might discover that you’re unable to open your PowerPoint file. This can easily happen with very large files. Echo Swinford, Microsoft MVP, provides step by step guidelines on what to do if this happens to you. Print the article and keep it with your presentation material, as you never know when you might need it. There are also third-party recovery tools that can help you if you’re unable to recover a corrupt PowerPoint file, including Kernel PowerPoint Repair Software, Stellar Phoenix PowerPoint Repair, and Unistal PowerPoint Repair Tool.
2. Pack a PowerPoint Viewer. If you’re not using your own laptop for the presentation, make sure that the presentation laptop supports the version of PowerPoint you used to create your presentation. A simple way to avoid any unpleasant surprises is simply to download the free PowerPoint viewer onto a flash drive to take with you.
3. Don’t rely on Internet connectivity. Internet connections aren’t bulletproof. If you need to display information from your website, or any other website, be prepared in case the Internet connection is interrupted during your presentation. A simple solution is to create a few slides with screenshots of all the pages you need for the presentation. One of the easiest ways to capture screenshots is by downloading Skitch, a powerful, free program. Skitch will even allow you to annotate the pages to add useful information (and it provides a video demonstrating how to use the program).
4. Know which movie file formats to use. It pays to become knowledgeable about which file formats don’t work with PowerPoint so you can convert your video file to avoid a nasty surprise. This list from Microsoft tells you which video file formats will work with PowerPoint. If the file format is not there, you will need to convert your movie file to a format that PowerPoint supports. One quick way to do this is to use a free file converter such as Zamzar. Upload your movie file and convert it to an acceptable format such as MPG.
5. Eliminate color illegibility. You may be surprised to discover that the font color you used for your presentation doesn’t display well on a projector. This is often the case when marketing departments use, for example, pale color fonts to match the color of the logo. You can use the Color Contrast Calculator to find out if the colors you’re planning to use on your slides provide enough contrast to be clearly seen by the audience.
6. Avoid animations. You may find yourself running out of time and having to speed up your presentation. In that case, the complex, slow animation you had planned will slow you down. We look foolish standing there watching for an animation to take its course. Better to limit the use of these animations or avoid them altogether.
7. Use your own remote. It’s surprising how many people still advance slides by using the down arrow on the computer. A remote gives you power to move around and focus your eyes on the audience rather than on your laptop. Invest in a remote you can carry with you. When they rely on whatever remote is at the venue, speakers often fumble, go backward instead of forward, and fiddle with it until they get used to it. This chips away at your presence. Don’t forget to pack extra batteries for your remote.
8. Know the electrical voltage and outlets used abroad. If you’re presenting abroad, come prepare with the right adapter or plug. Electrical Outlet gives you a handy list of electrical outlets used worldwide.
9. Disable notifications and sleep mode. Even though we’re all aware of this, it’s easy to forget this step. Deactivate screen savers, Skype, instant messages, email alerts and other pop-up windows. They make you look unprepared. Also, disable the sleep or standby mode on your laptop. This WikiHow article will show you how to disable automatic sleep. If you’re using Windows 7, you can also use the Windows Mobility Center to adjust your settings to Presentation Mode. With one click, you’ll prevent your laptop from going dormant in the middle of a presentation and all system notifications will be turned off.
10. Beware of labels on DVDs. If you plan to show a DVD that you borrowed from the library, don’t. The adhesive label is more than likely to create problems. The same applies to a DVD you create. Use appropriate markers for writing on DVDs and know where to write to avoid problems.
11. Use several backup methods. It pays to be paranoid when it comes to backing up your important presentation: Don’t rely on just one backup method. Use two flash drives to back up the PowerPoint file, as these devices aren’t infallible. Consider also backing up your presentation online by using an online storage program such as Dropbox, iCloud or SlideRocket.
Murphy’s Law of Thermodynamics tells us that “things get worse under pressure.” We can relieve this pressure by knowing how to stop presentation demons in their track.
There is a growing body of research in behavioral economics which shows that we use an irrational approach to decision-making. What exactly is behavioral economics? One of the best definitions comes from British economist, Dan Evans, who said: “Put simply, behavioural economics argues that human beings’ decision-taking is guided by the evolutionary baggage which we bring with us to the present day. Evolution has made us rational to a point, but not perfectly so. It has given us emotions, for example, which programme us to override our rational brain and act more instinctively.” A lack of understanding of how we choose can have profound consequences on our behavior.
Here are some tips on how we can avoid falling into irrational traps so that we can be more successful in both our personal and business life.
1. Understand the pull of partial ownership.
A popular book on behavioral economics is Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. Ariely reports on the influence of ownership in our decision-making. It turns out that we begin to feel ownership even before we actually own something. Let’s say we have a basic cable television service and we are offered a trial version of the “digital gold service” package. Ariely found that in “free trial” packages, owning something even temporarily makes it difficult to give it up later. This also taps into our aversion to loss. The emotions of ownership make us unconsciously decide that the “loss” of digital gold is more painful than spending more money. Understanding the phenomenon of temporary ownership on our psyche can help us approach temptations with greater awareness and caution.
2. Preempt customer revenge.
In his subsequent book, The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic At Work And At Home, Ariely explores the need for people to seek revenge for poor customer service and other annoyances. For example, when a customer rep interrupted an explanation to take a personal phone call, and returned to the person without an apology for the interruption, it significantly increased the odds that the person who was treated discourteously did not return an overpayment. Ariely provides a formula for neutralizing the desire for revenge: “1 annoyance + 1 apology = 0 annoyance.” For more insights on customer revenge, see Ariely’s video: “The Case For Revenge.”
3. Choose carefully between social norms and market norms.
Ariely talks about the difference between social norms (which are friendly requests not requiring instant payback) and market norms (which deal with wages, prices, rents, interest, and cost-and-benefits.) A day care center decided to fine parents who didn’t pick up their children on time. The fine violated a prior social contract between the day care center and parents that allowed for being late. When a fine was charged, parents viewed the situation in terms of market norms: since they were paying for being late, they frequently opted to be late. When the day care center decided to remove the fine, the parents continued to pick up their children late. Later pick-ups even increased. We cannot switch from establishing a warm relationship with a customer one day—treating them as family—and the next day, switch to an impersonal relationship because it suits us better. When a social norm collides with a market norm, the social norm disappears, and will more likely never return. In other words, it is difficult to reestablish a social relationship.
4. Reconsider your first impressions.
In Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, Ori and Rom Brafman report on experiments involving “value attribution”—one of the hidden psychological forces that cause us to make pre-emptive judgments. Value attribution is defined as our inclination to attribute to someone or something qualities based on initial perception of their value rather than on objective data. In an experiment, Joshua Bell, one of the nation’s greatest violinists, wore a baseball cap, and went to a sub-way station, where he took out his $3.5 million Stradivarius and played some of the most challenging pieces of music ever played for a violin. Value attribution caused more than a thousand people to view Bell as just another street musician and to stream past him. First impressions can often narrow our perceptions. It’s smart to catch yourself after you have made an assumption about the value of someone or something based on superficial appearances. Much as this is hard to do in the moment, work on cultivating your ability to have a discerning eye—in other words, reconsider hasty evaluations of others.
5. Know the hidden effects of price discounting.
In an experiment, Ariely assembled a group of students, and offered them a can of SoBe Adrenaline Rush drink, prior to their taking an IQ test. He told them that the drink has a positive effect on their mental acuity. He charged the students $2.89 for the drink. Students performed slightly better on the test than those who didn’t have the drink before the test. He then offered another group of students the same drink for 89 cents and told them that it was heavily discounted. The scores of the students who drank the discounted SoBe dropped significantly. Here again, we see the power of value attribution: It is so compelling that it causes us to alter our perception of a product or service after they have been discounted off their regular price. We now unconsciously value the product or service less than if we had paid full price for it. Does this mean that you should never discount the price of your services? No, but you should carefully consider when it might not be prudent to do so.
6. Offer less options.
In North America, we are accustomed to think that when we are given more choices, we are likely to make a better choice. In a now famous study, Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing, presented consumers at a supermarket tasting booth six different jams and a $1 off coupon to encourage them to buy jam. Every few hours, new groups of consumers were offered 24 jam options with the same $1 coupon. It turns out that 30% of consumers who had seen the smaller assortment were able to quickly pick a jam from the store isle and continue shopping. The ones who were presented with a large assortment took longer to decide and only 3% ended up buying jam. While there is no denying that we value having choices, it is also true that choices cause stress and may lead to our inability to choose. In A Better Choosing Experience, Iyengar offers four tips to help businesses with the choosing process:
Cut the number of options.
Create confidence with expert or personalized recommendations.
Categorize your offerings so that consumers better understand their options.
Condition consumers by gradually introducing them to more-complex choices.
7. Beware of those who say: “It will set a precedent.”
All of us have at some point decided not to adopt a decision because someone said: “We can’t do this. It will set a precedent.” This is the wrong reason for abandoning a decision. Whether or not it sets a precedent is irrelevant. As Stuart Sutherland, British psychologist and author of Irrationality, says: “The decision should be made on its own merits.” Guard against discarding what could be a very good decision because of faulty reasoning. Setting a precedent may be a legitimate reason for not adopting a certain course of action, but don’t allow it to sway you before carefully examining the value of the decision.
We need to rethink how we and others around us make decisions, and recognize which repeated decision-making processes don’t serve us well, so that we can start to learn how to avoid them. As Albert Camus said: “Life is the sum of all your choices.” Gaining insights into irrational motives that affect our personal and work lives is a good place to start.
Samuel Butler said: “Fear is static that prevents me from hearing myself.” We all have an inner voice that tells us when we need to have a difficult conversation with someone—a conversation that, if it took place, would improve life at the office for ourselves and for everyone else on the team. But fear drowns our inner voice. It induces us to procrastinate having the conversation for fear that it might elicit a negative reaction. Meanwhile the offending individual continues to provide substandard performance, missing deadlines and the like; or having interpersonal conflicts, and exhibiting toxic behavior.
The consequence of not facing these issues head-on is costly. A CPP Inc. study of workplace conflict reveals that employees in the U.S. spend roughly 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict. 33% of employees report that the conflict led to personal injury and attacks, and 22% report that it led to illness and absence from work. 10% report that project failure was a direct result of conflict. A similar study by Psychometrics in Canada, showed that 32% of employees have to deal with conflict regularly. More alarming is a recent study by Accenture revealing that, even in this challenging economic climate, 35% of employees leave their jobs voluntarily because of internal politics.
Substandard performance and unmanaged conflicts will adversely impact your bottom line. Businesses are losing billions of dollars because leaders have not stepped forward to deal with these difficult workplace issues decisively before they get out of hand. One way to step forward is to have the difficult conversation early on before the problems escalate and damage morale, and the business.
If you are unsure how to best approach this crucial conversation, here are some tips to guide you:
1. Be clear about the issue.
To prepare for the conversation, you need to ask yourself two important questions: “What exactly is the behavior that is causing the problem?” and “What is the impact that the behavior is having on you, the team or the organization?” You need to reach clarity for yourself so that you can articulate the issue in two or three succinct statements. If not, you risk going off on a tangent during the conversation and end up having an unfocused discussion. The lack of focus on the central issue will derail the conversation and sabotage your intentions.
2. Know your objective.
What do you want to accomplish with the conversation? What is the desired outcome? What are the non-negotiables? As English philosopher, Theodore Zeldin, put it: A successful conversation “doesn’t just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards.” What are the new cards that you want to have in your hands by the end of the conversation? Once you have determined this, plan how you will close the conversation. Don’t end without clearly expressed action items. What is the person agreeing to do? What support are you committed to provide? What obstacles might prevent these remedial actions from taking place? What do you both agree to do to overcome potential obstacles? Schedule a follow up face-to-face meeting, phone call, or email to evaluate progress and definitively reach closure on the issue at hand.
3. Adopt the right mindset.
Spend a little time to reflect on your attitude towards the situation and the person involved. What are your preconceived notions about it? Your mindset will predetermine your reaction and interpretations of the other person’s responses, so it pays to work on approaching the conversation with the right mindset. The right mindset is one of inquiry. A good doctor diagnoses a situation before reaching for his prescription pad. This applies equally to a leader. Be open to hear first what the other person has to say before reaching closure in your mind. Even if the evidence is so clear that there is no reason to beat around the bush, we still owe it to the person to let them tell their story. A good leader remains open and seeks a greater truth in any situation. The outcome of adopting this approach might surprise you.
4. Manage the emotions.
Most of us were likely raised to believe that emotions need to be left at the door. We now know that this is an old school approach that is no longer valid in today’s work environments. It is your responsibility as a leader to understand and manage the emotions in the discussion. The late Robert Plutchik, professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, created a Wheel of Emotions to show that emotions follow a path. What starts as an annoyance, for example, can move to anger and, in extreme cases, escalate to rage. We can avoid this by being mindful of preserving the person’s dignity—and treating them with respect—even if we totally disagree with them. In some cases, you may have to respond to a person’s tears. In the video “How To Handle Tears At Work,” Anne Kreamer, author of It’s Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace, provides several strategies. These include acknowledging the tears rather than ignoring them, offering the person a tissue to give them a chance to gather their thoughts, and recognizing that the tears communicate a problem to be addressed.
5. Be comfortable with silence.
There will be moments in the conversation where a silence occurs. Don’t rush to fill it with words. Just as the pause between musical notes helps us appreciate the music, so the periodic silence in the conversation allows us to hear what was said. It gives us an opportunity to reflect. It lets the message sink in. As Susan Scott says in Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success At Work And In Life One Conversation At A Time, “let silence do the heavy lifting.” A pause also has a calming effect and can help us connect better. For example, if you are an extrovert, you are likely uncomfortable with silence as you are used to thinking while you are speaking. This can be perceived as steamrolling or overbearing, especially if the other party is an introvert. Introverts want to think before they speak. Stop talking and allow them their moment—it can lead to a better outcome.
6. Preserve the relationship.
A leader who has high emotional intelligence is always mindful to limit any collateral damage to a relationship. It takes years to build bridges with people and only minutes to blow them up. Think about how the conversation can fix the situation, without erecting an irretrievable wall between you and the person.
7. Be consistent.
Ensure that your objective is fair and that you are using a consistent approach. For example, if the person thinks that you have one set of rules for this person and a different set for another, you will be perceived as creating favorites. Nothing erodes a relationship faster than perceived inequality. Employees have long-term memories of how you handled situations in the past. Aim for consistency in your leadership approach. We trust a leader who is consistent because we don’t have to second-guess where they stand on important issues such as culture, corporate values and acceptable behaviors.
8. Develop your conflict resolution skills.
Conflict is a natural part of human interaction. Managing conflict effectively is one of the vital skills of leadership. Have a few, proven phrases that can come in handy in crucial spots. For more tips on how to handle conflict, read my article: No Batteries Required: 8 Conflict Resolution Tips.
9. Watch your reaction to thwarting ploys.
In a Harvard Business Reviewarticle, Sarah Green lists nine common mistakes we make when we conduct a difficult conversation. One of these mistakes is how we handle thwarting ploys, such as stonewalling, sarcasm, and accusing. The best advice is to simply address the ploy openly and sincerely. As the author says, if the ploy from your counterpart is stubborn unresponsiveness, you can candidly say: “I don’t know how to interpret your silence.” Disarm the ploy by labeling the observed behavior.
10. Choose the right place to have the conversation.
Calling people into your office may not be the best strategy. Sitting in your own turf, behind your desk, shifts the balance of power too much on your side. Even simple body language such as leaning forward towards the person rather than leaning back on your chair, can carry a subtle message of your positive intentions, i.e.: “We’re in this together. Let’s problem solve so that we have a better workplace.” Consider holding the meeting in a neutral place such as a meeting room where you can sit adjacent to each other without the desk as a barrier. Don’t exclude the coffee shop.
11. Know how to begin.
Some people put off having the conversation because they don’t know how to start. The best way to start is with a direct approach. “John, I would like to talk with you about what happened at the meeting this morning when Bob asked about the missed deadline. Let’s grab a cup of coffee tomorrow morning to chat.” Or: “Linda, I want to go over some of the issues with XYZ customer and some concerns that I have. Let’s meet tomorrow morning to problem-solve.” Being upfront is the authentic and respectful approach. You don’t want to ambush people by surprising them about the nature of the “chat.” Make sure your tone of voice signals discussion and not inquisition, exploration and not punishment.
12. Train other leaders on how to handle the difficult conversation.
Handling the difficult conversation requires skill and empathy, but ultimately, it requires the courage to go ahead and do it. The 19th century American politician, William Jennings Bryan once said: “The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you.” The more you get into the habit of facing these issues squarely, the more adept you will become at it. It will take your leadership skills to the next level.
Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world’s leading executive coaches said: “I regard apologizing as the most magical, healing, restorative gesture human beings can make.” In his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall lists the refusal to express regret and to apologize as one of the top 20 transactional flaws performed by one person against another. These apply equally at work and at home.
More and more today, we are seeing the value of moving away from the Teflon type leader to a leader who can summon the courage to say “I am sorry.” Leadership is fundamentally a relationship, and an apology, when it is warranted, is an investment in the future of the relationship—whether it is with a co-worker or a customer, a superior or a subordinate.
If you view apologizing as the equivalent of swallowing a bitter pill, consider the benefits. Apart from it being the right thing to do, apologizing increases customer loyalty and retention. The Nottingham School of Economics studied the effect of an apology on disgruntled customers after they were let down. They found that more than twice the number of unhappy customers are willing to forgive a company that issues an apology over one who offers them a monetary compensation. Other studies show that malpractice suits, for example, drop when doctors apologize. Even in bankruptcy situations, those who apologize to the judge fare better financially. The benefits of apologizing are evident in all spheres of our professional and personal lives.
Most people don’t know how to apologize effectively. A sincere, but perfunctory statement such as “Sorry about that” just doesn’t do it. Here are some tips for doing it right:
Follow the five-step apology process.
1. Say you are sorry.
2. Clearly state what you did wrong.
3. Acknowledge how the receiving party must be feeling.
4. Express your sincere regret.
5. Promise not to repeat the behavior.
Here is an example of how this might sound: “Bob, I am so sorry I abruptly cut you off at the director’s meeting. This was very rude on my part and I know it angered you. You have every right to be angry with me. I regret this. I assure you that this will not happen again.” Spoken from the heart, this type of apology can go a long way towards repairing a relationship that might otherwise be irretrievably broken.
Eliminate the word “if.”
We have all heard, and made, these types of apologies: “If I have offended you, I am sorry.” We might as well say: “I don’t see how I could have offended you, but if you are so sensitive to have been offended, then let me be a big man (or woman) and issue an apology.” This is most likely to be received as a second insult even though this is not your intention.
Don’t give any excuses.
Much as it is tempting, refrain from giving an excuse for the offending action. Excuses dilute the strength of your genuine regret and shift the focus away from the needs of the aggrieved party to your own need to save face.
Make it brief.
Belaboring the apology is a natural effect that stems from our anxiety in having to confront an unpleasant issue. Be aware when this happens so that you can stop yourself. When you express genuine regret, you don’t have to use too many words. The longer you talk, the more you are likely to weaken the impact of your apology.
Don’t delay an apology.
Apologies have a “best-before” date: delaying an apology spoils its positive impact. Those who apologize even before a situation is discovered, boost their authenticity in the eyes of others. Transparency is a trustworthiness meter, especially in our low credibility zeitgeist.
Sometimes, our need to be right may cloud our decision-making process. Consider the price tag of being right in relation to its effect on the relationship. Is it worth it? In that regard, one of the best definitions of what an apology is comes from Kador. As he puts it: “I define an apology as a willingness to value the relationship more than the need to be right.”
Institute a policy for handling apologies to customers.
Train your employees to understand the value of effectively dealing with angry or disgruntled customers. Take an inspiration from Starbucks LATTE Method for dealing with complaints. As reported in Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, Starbucks baristas are trained to respond to complaints by listening (L), Acknowledging (A), T (Taking Action), Thanking (T), and Explaining (E). Note that the emphasis is first on listening and only lastly on explaining what happened. Can the LATTE method, or a variation of it, help you ensure that a disgruntled customer will want to continue to do business with you?
Apologizing is the simplest of skills to acquire and yet, the one that is rarely taught. It’s about learning and practicing emotional literacy. It should rank high up in importance with financial literacy as prime training for everyone.
Frank Barron, professor of psychology, said: “Never take a person’s dignity: it’s worth everything to them, and nothing to you.” Preserving one’s dignity is the implied meaning in the expression: “to save face.”
The phrase originated in China where it is referred to as “lose face.” Simply put, a person who loses face feels that his status is diminished and that he has lost the respect of others. In our harried schedules, it is easy to unwittingly cause someone to lose face in front of their peers. This can be caused by a dismissive gesture from a senior person, public criticism from a stressed boss , or derision from a colleague, even if meant in jest. These are dispiriting incidents to the person on the receiving end.
In A Leader’s Legacy, James Kouzes and Barry Posner state: “We will work harder and more effectively for people we like. And we will like them in direct proportion to how they make us feel.” Treating others with dignity and respect is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do. A lot of productivity is lost with employees being consumed for the rest of the day after they have received a condescending email, or have been treated offhandedly in a meeting.
Being respectful lies at the heart of collaboration. Here are a few tips to ensure that treating others with dignity and respect is more than lip service:
Don’t hijack a subordinate’s presentation.
When you attend a subordinate’s presentation, don’t butt in and take over the conversation. If you must provide your input, do so but be mindful of the person standing there. At some point, turn the focus back on her; at a minimum, allow her to provide the concluding remarks to her presentation. To you, these actions may seem insignificant, but they are not to the person who spent days preparing for the presentation. Many people feel vulnerable when making a presentation to peers or in front of their boss. In these anxiety-prone situations, the threat of losing face looms large.
Be mindful of the “Red Pen Syndrome.”
This is the irresistible urge to correct someone’s work, even in insignificant details. One of your team members submits a report that they spent the entire weekend working on and you return the draft with a bunch of red marks for commas, or a rewritten sentence that could have easily stayed as is. This is unnecessarily deflating to the individual.
Stop using sarcasm.
I once saw a bumper sticker that said: “I am not good at empathy. Will you settle for sarcasm?” There is a kernel of truth in this humorous sticker: It is impossible to be both empathetic and sarcastic at the same time. Empathy is valued currency in any relationship. When you set out to make a sarcastic remark, consider the effect it has on the person at the receiving end. A laugh at the expense of another is a cheap laugh.
Make “respect” a corporate value.
Whether you are managing a flower shop or a team of engineers, let everyone know that respecting others is a non-negotiable. Better still, add it to your performance review process—what gets measured, gets done. Above all, model the way yourself. As Michael Hyatt puts it in Leadership and the Law of Replication, “Like it or not, you will replicate yourself. Your followers will adopt your behaviors, habits, and—if you have a strong personality— even your mannerisms.” Bad behavior at the top has a contagious effect.
Know how to give feedback.
A good leader lets his people know what they did wrong without causing them to lose face. John W. Gardner gives us this insightful advice: “If you have some respect for people as they are, you can be more effective in helping them to become better than they are.” Provide corrective feedback that does not diminish the person and you will achieve greater results in changing someone’s behavior. (For tips on how to take the sting out of critical remarks, see my article: The Criticism Sandwich: A Stale Idea.)
Allow those who lost an argument to save face.
Neuroscientist David Rock states that “Many everyday conversation devolve into arguments driven by a status threat, a desire not to be perceived as less than another.” When you win an argument, let the other person exit with grace. Be inwardly content that you won the round and move on. Watch out for the irresistible “I told you so” when someone fails because they didn’t follow your counsel or adopt your proposal. In victory, especially, being magnanimous shows generosity of spirit.
Arrive to meetings on time.
If you habitually show up late for meetings, you are sending a not-so-subtle signal to the person running the meeting that you don’t respect them enough to be there on time.
Align your actions to your promises.
Research shows that over two thirds of customers leave a business, not because of price or quality, but because of service: How a customer is treated when things are not going well is remembered long after the issue itself is forgotten. For example, if you have a policy that you accept returns of merchandise, is this done gracefully or in a begrudging manner? Be vigilant, in particular, of the classic response to a customer complaint: “This has never happened before.” It’s the type of response that can result in the customer walking out the door for good.
Assess your employees’ behaviors towards all stakeholders.
Take some time during your day to quietly observe how your managers treat their direct reports. If what you see gives you cause for concern, consider having everyone take a 360-assessment that can raise awareness. An example is The Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) which assesses 30 behaviors, one of which is “Treats others with dignity and respect.” Research shows that employees of leaders who score high on the LPI are significantly more engaged in their work than employees of leaders who score low.
Research at the Department of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University discovered that social or emotional pain is as real and intense as physical pain. The same brain networks are activated when a person experiences a physical injury as when they go through a painful emotional experience, such as feeling humiliated, or losing face. While a physical wound can be stitched and repaired, a social wound can linger invisibly for a long time. It can have adverse effects on employee morale and motivation, without your even being aware of it.
Some employees rest before they get tired. Others perk up in the parking lot, at 5:00 o’clock. Some have quit long ago, but have forgotten to tell you. All of these employees show up to work every day and give you the minimum effort to stay afloat. Some eventually leave, taking with them their knowledge, experience, and on the job training. We call these employees “the disengaged.” A study shows that disengaged employees cost United States businesses $11 billion annually. The global situation is not much better: fewer than 1 in 3 employees worldwide are engaged.
Many business owners and enterprise leaders try to cope with the disengagement by sending employees to accountability training. Accountability training typically focuses on important topics such as creating SMART goals, clarifying expectations, empowering employees, establishing regular progress reviews, and giving appropriate feedback. But a year later, even though everyone is now well trained on the accountability cycle, the needle of engagement has not moved. Why is that?
That’s because leaders need to look behind the curtain at the more prevalent causes for disengagement which may have little to do with lack of accountability training. Gary Hamel, professor at London Business School, and one of the world’s top 50 Thinkers, puts it this way: “By far, the greatest untapped source of wealth and potential in any organization is all those people who have chosen on that particular day not to bring their imagination to work, not to bring their passion to work, not to bring their initiative to work. . .and the capabilities that we need most of our employees, their imagination, initiative. . .are exactly the capabilities that are most difficult to command. You cannot tell someone to show initiative or to be creative. . . those are literally gifts that people choose to bring into work every day or they don’t.”
As Hamel says, the question a manager needs to ask himself is not “How do I get people to serve my company?” but rather, “How do I create the work environment and a sense of purpose that literally merits the gifts of creativity and passion?” Hamel provides several tips, which include dramatically reducing the level of fear in organizations; depoliticizing decision making (so decisions are the result of good ideas and not political power); democratizing information (so information is not used as a political weapon), and reducing the power of traditional hierarchy.
If you struggle with disengagement and a lack of accountability, here are few other tips to help you:
Take a good look at all the leaders in your organization. Research shows that one of the most important factors that impacts employee engagement is the relationship with one’s immediate manager. Evaluate all of your leaders, from the back office supervisors to the Vice Presidents—everyone who is directly in charge of others. There is no doubt that people flee bad managers. So, what do good managers do? A worldwide study of engagement showed that the managers who fuel engagement exhibit these specific behaviors: they are personally involved, they delegate and utilize their employees’ talents, they don’t withhold recognition, they actively foster a sense of community and belonging, and they provide feedback and coaching. Does every manager in your company do this?
Institute a reverse accountability program. This idea comes from Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, a global provider of IT services. The company is recognized as the number one best employer in India. One of their core values is the belief that all managers are equally accountable to their employees. To put this into practice, all 5,000 leaders in the company undergo a reverse 360 assessment. This gives employees a chance to evaluate their managers, for development purposes. All 80,000 employees worldwide can access the results on the web. You can hear more about the success of this approach in Nayar’s video interview with Karl Moore, Associate Professor at the University of McGill.
Answer these 12 questions. The Gallup Organization developed a 12-point gauge of conditions that best predict employee engagement. These are 12 simple but powerful questions that every manager should consider. They include questions such as “At work, my opinions seem to count” and “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.” Would everyone in your shop be able to answer “yes” to these questions? The full 12-point list is available in Feedback For Real, a Gallup Business Journal article.
Understand what drives people. If you are an old school manager, you may be thinking that the carrot and stick approach is the best way to control people and push them to be more accountable. As Daniel H. Pink discovered in Drive: The Surprising Truth of What Motivates Us, once basic financial needs are met—that is, once people are paid adequately for what they do—what truly motivates people is Autonomy–the need to direct our own lives, Mastery—the urge to continue to get better at something that matters and Purpose—the desire to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. Get to know your people on a human level: focus not only on knowing their strengths, but also on what their unique drivers are so that you can tailor your approach for best results.
Offer a cafeteria of motivators. If tight budgets due to current economic constraints prevent you from offering the compensation that people require, consider offering other motivators. A recent survey of employees showed incentives that can work for some people. These include a flexible schedule, an opportunity to make a difference in their jobs, telecommuting, challenging work, academic reimbursement, and even having their own private office. All of these are low cost incentives to consider.
Eradicate unfairness. Fairness is treating people equitably without favoritism or bias. A sense of fairness is hard-wired in us—nothing de-motivates us faster than working in situations where getting ahead is not a function of what you know, but who you know. A recent study shows that the number one reason people get sick is perceived unfairness at work. The emotional hurt associated with unfairness triggers the same neurophysiologic pathways present in physical pain. My article Monkey Business: Fairness in the Workplace provides seven tips to help you promote fairness in your team.
Does all of this mean that accountability training doesn’t count? On the contrary, knowing what constitutes accountability in your workplace is important; however, accountability training on its own is not the panacea for what is wrong with the engagement scores in an organization. For that, leaders need to step back and build a great place to work. They need to pay attention to a fundamental, and often overlooked truth about people: How people feel, profoundly impacts whether or not they will go the extra mile for you.
How successful we are at selling ourselves, our products and our services depends on our ability to stand up and be heard. What often prevents us from telling our story successfully is not our inability to articulate what we do, or how strongly we believe in the value of what we offer. Instead, it is simply the fear of speaking in front of an audience. Being nervous while presenting can put a dint in your credibility and have an adverse effect on achieving your business goals.
To manage the fear of speaking in public, you need to first understand the root cause of the fear. One of the best explanations comes from Scott Berkun, in Confessions of a Public Speaker. Berkun says: “The design of the brain’s wiring—given its long operational history, hundreds of thousands years older than the history of public speaking . . . makes it impossible to stop fearing what it knows is the worst tactical position for a person to be in.” That worst tactical position is standing alone, in an open place, with no place to hide, without a weapon, and facing a large group of creatures staring at you. As Berkun puts it: Being in this situation, “meant the odds were high that you would soon be attacked and eaten alive. . . Our ancestors, the ones who survived, developed a fear response to these situations.”
Understanding that our brain can’t tell the difference between a real threat (a pack of wolves about to attack you) and an imagined threat (a group of your peers watching you present) is the first step to overcoming the fear. This awareness can help you manage the “false alarm” that happens in the absence of real danger. How so? As you feel your heart racing when you first start your presentation, you can consciously and deliberately interrupt the fear response with a quick deep breath and a rational thought: “This is just a false alarm.” The more you get into the habit of interrupting the fear response as soon as you feel it happening, the quicker you will prevent it from being your default response every time you present in front of a group. You must ingrain in your mind the thought that the fear of public speaking is simply a misfiring of the caveman “fight or flight” fear response and that you can overcome this.
Here are some practical tips to help you manage performance anxiety so that you can focus on your key messages:
Re-frame the questions you ask yourself. When you worry before a high stakes presentation, you may have a tendency to ask yourself negative questions, such as “What will happen if I forget my material?” or “What if I mess up?” This form of self-talk is like throwing gasoline in a room on fire. All it does is heighten your anxiety. Replace these negative questions with positive ones. Take an inspiration from Seymour Signet, a specialist in helping people overcome public speaking anxiety. He advises to ask yourself: “What will happen if I knock it out of the park?” You can view more of Seymour’s tips in his video “Ask Yourself Good Questions.” Give this a try; it will calm the noise in your head.
Practice as if you are the worst.When you know your material well, there is a tendency to get sloppy when practicing a speech: you might flip through the slides, mentally thinking about what you are going to say, without actually rehearsing out loud exactly what you plan to say. This results in a presentation that is not as sharp as it could be and might cause you to be nervous once you have 100 pairs of eyes staring at you. You can also forget some important sub-points and key sound bites. Avoid this by practicing out loud and verbalizing your complete presentation. For a high stakes presentation, do this at least five times, at spaced intervals, to encode your material in long-term memory.
Practice your transitions. It is also crucial that you practice your transitions—the words that link one idea in your presentation to the next. These are easy to forget if you don’t practice them and you end up with a staccato presentation. Transitions are the silken thread that guides your listeners through your story. Here are some examples of transitions: “Now that we have established. . .”; “This leads us to. . .”; “My next item is particularly crucial. . .”. If you don’t practice correctly, you will end up practicing your imperfections from one presentation to the next.
Memorize the sequence of your slides. Knowing the sequence of your slides so that you can anticipate and announce a slide makes you look in control. This will increase your composure as you know where you are going next. Nothing erodes your credibility faster than having to look at a slide to know what you have to say next. Being perceived as credible boosts your confidence and reduces your anxiety and the fear of failing.
Create a back up slide for some of your answers. One reason people often experience anxiety before a presentation is the fear that they will be asked questions that might be difficult to answer. Don’t get caught off guard. Think carefully of what potential questions might arise and rehearse your best answers. Go one step further by creating slides for some potential questions about complex issues. You can include in your slide important information, numbers, stats, or even a pertinent graph or pie chart that would be helpful to the audience. If such a question arises, it is quite okay to say: “I anticipated that you might be asking this question. Let me display a slide that will clearly show. . .” Rehearse some of your answers to questions with the same care as you rehearse the presentation.
Visualize Your Presentation. A study at Harvard University showed the value of visualization in developing a skill: Two groups of volunteers were presented with a piece of unfamiliar piano music. One group was given a keyboard and told to practice. The other group was instructed to just read the music and imagine playing it. When their brain activity was examined, both groups showed expansion in the motor cortex, even though the second group had never touched a keyboard. Visualization is a powerful mental rehearsal tool that peak sports performers use regularly. Einstein, who is credited with saying that “imagination is more important than knowledge,” used visualization throughout his entire life. Take advantage of this tool and visualize yourself successfully delivering your presentation. Concentrate on all the positives of your presentation, and visualize the entire talk, in detail, from your introduction to your conclusion.
Stop seeing your presentation as a performance. Instead, as Jerry Weissman puts it “. . . treat every presentation as a series of person-to-person conversations.” The more you remind yourself of this, the more you will be able to shift your focus away from the fear-inducing thought that you are required to perform.
Take some deep breaths. This simple advice cannot be emphasized enough. When you are nervous, you breathe rapidly and shallowly. This is telegraphing to the audience that you are not confident. Slow and measured breathing is a sign that you are in control. Before you go to the front of the room, concentrate on taking a few, slow breaths. Repeat this a few times. When you start to speak, remember to pause and breathe after you make a point. Psychiatrist, Fritz Perls, said it powerfully: “Fear is excitement without the breath.”
Try ‘power posing’ before the presentation. Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy discovered that simply holding our body in an expansive pose for as little as two minutes results in a higher level of testosterone in our body. Testosterone is the hormone linked to power in both animals and humans. At the same time, the expansive pose lowers our level of cortisol, the stress hormone. In her TED video presentation, Cuddy shows a number of expansive poses, such as spreading your legs, placing your hands on your hips, or striking the CEO pose: legs resting on desk, and arms behind your head. You can apply this advice before a presentation to lower your stress level and give yourself a boost. Instead of hunching over your notes or Blackberry, find a spot where you can have some privacy and adopt an expansive pose: make yourself as big as you can by stretching your arms out and spreading your legs, or stand on your tiptoes with your hands in the air. Give it a try.
Pause Frequently. In “The King’s Speech,” a movie about the true story of King George VI, one of the successful strategies the speech therapist uses to help the king overcome his stuttering is the use of pauses. Pausing helped the king regain his composure whenever he was gripped by anxiety. The same strategy can help you. When you feel anxious while presenting, consider pausing more frequently. A few strategic pauses between points have a calming effect.
Come to terms with audience expressions. Your anxiety level is increased when you misinterpret the audience’s facial expression. In normal conversation, we are accustomed to getting feedback from the listener: a nod or a smile, here and there, that signal approval. But when we present, audiences listen differently. They are more likely to give the speaker a blank stare which does not mean that they don’t like what they hear; more often than not, it simply means they are concentrating on the message. This is especially true of members of the audience who have a preference for introversion.
You can access further tips for managing presentation anxiety in my book, Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques For Effective Presentations. There is a Japanese proverb which says: “Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.” Put your mind on developing your key company messages and crafting your story. Replace time expended on worrying with time spent on preparing thoroughly for your presentation by knowing your material cold, and practicing it beyond the point of pain. Then go out there and win them over.
Someone once said: “The greatest wastes are unused talents and untried ideas.” If there is one kindness you can do for yourself, it is to take a good look at which of your talents have been dormant for too long. What ideas you have been putting off? What worthwhile projects are languishing in dark corners? The unattainable is often the untried.
Talents that are not cultivated become corroded. The longer our talents stay concealed, the greater the chances are that they will be irretrievably lost to us and society. You may be considering starting a new venture, or expanding a current one. You may have been dreaming of writing a book, developing an app for the iPhone, or creating a blog of the best biscotti recipes in the world. What are you waiting for?
If you need a kick in the pants to get started, follow Seth Godin, an iconic figure for all of us, and for small business, in particular. Watch the video of his latest book, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? In it, Seth encourages us to make art. He defines art as what we do when we’re doing our best work, work that touches others.
This applies equally if you are wearing a business suit or a smock: whether you are a manager in a large enterprise or the owner of the corner stationery store; whether you are a doctor who treats patients with empathy, or a barber who takes a snapshot of his clients’ haircuts so that he can remember what delights the client. Seth’s book exhorts us to stand out, not stand in; that is, not settling for the easy, the comfortable, the safe. It’s the only way to do our best work. Doing our best work, as the author puts it “is available to anyone who has a vision that others don’t and the guts to do something about it. Steve Jobs was an artist. So were Henry Ford and Martin Luther King Jr.”
If you lack the courage to take the leap and accomplish what has been on your mind for a long time, here are some tips:
Don’t doubt your talents.
Some talents may be hidden because of an innate humility. We compare ourselves to others in our domain and wonder: Who am I to be playing alongside the giants? Comparisons are mental shackles that keep us imprisoned in the safety of the average. Don’t hide your talents. You have a responsibility not to waste your gifts. As Benjamin Franklin said: “What’s a sundial in the shade?”
Get comfortable with being wrong.
Sir Ken Robinson said: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come with anything original.” How many times have people advised us not to fear failure. Do we take this advice? Or do we retreat in the cocoon of safety? The price we pay for playing it safe may be too high.
Stop trading on old knowledge.
If we want to accomplish anything, we need to continually update what we do. An advertisement from The Boston Consulting Group reads: “There are no old roads to new directions.” We become stale when we continue to do the same thing over and over. A professor who uses the same lecture material every year fails to give his students the best of his cognitive abilities. A manager or business owner who prides himself on being “old school,” may deprive himself of the opportunity to learn the art and science of engaging a modern workforce.
Don’t refuse a job that was never offered.
Years ago,I was debating whether or not to attend a job interview as I wasn’t sure that this was the right position for me. At that time, I learned a lesson from a CEO I used to report to who offered this advice: He said: “Never refuse a job that wasn’t offered to you.” I attended the interview, was not offered the job anyway, but I made a human connection with my interviewer that later resulted in a consulting assignment. Don’t prejudge a situation. Go and explore. You can always say no later.
Give people an opportunity to blossom in their talents.
Do you make an effort to see the hidden talents in those who do the work in your shop? Do you give them a place to stand and shine? Do you allow them to sign their work? One way to shine the light on people is to give them some autonomy in the way they do the work. Take full advantage of the talents everyone brings to the table and make an effort to give people projects that they can knock out of the park. See what happens.
Practice ‘intelligent disobedience.’
I have written previously about intelligent disobedience, a term that describes the opposite of blind conformity: it’s about using your judgment when an established rule or policy hinders rather than helps your organization. It’s about allowing front line staff—those closest to the customer—to make a decision, on the spot, in order to right a wrong with a customer, even if doing so, goes against an established rule. If you run your own small business or lead a team in an enterprise, consider adopting some of the tips listed in the article so that you can create a place where people have more autonomy. It will make you stand out as a courageous and remarkable leader.
Write a book.
There is a saying that goes: “Everyone has a book in them.” What expertise or ideas do you have that can be turned into a book to help others? Writing a book can help you sell yourself. In 5 Reasons You Should Seriously Consider Writing a Book, Michael Hyatt says: “A book is the best marketing tool you could ever have. It makes an introduction. It opens doors. It prepares the market for the other products and services you offer.” If you don’t know how to get started to write your book, a useful resource is Guy Kawasaki’s most recent book, APE – Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book. This book will provide you all you need to know about self-publishing and selling your book.
Go on an inspiration binge.
If you need an extra nudge, carve out a few minutes daily, when you have a break, to read articles, or watch videos of people who did not waste their talents, but instead, put those talents to use—sometimes against all odds. Here are a few to start you off: Have a look at this powerful photo of two brave men of the Single Leg Amputee Sports Club of Sierra Leone chasing for the ball in Freetown. Watch this video about a group in Paraguay who found a way to create music from what we discard as garbage. And don’t miss this video of the late philosopher and author, Alan Watts, asking: What If Money Was No Object?