The 2010 rule

There are many reasons not to do something.  Particularly something that may challenge ourselves or may challenge others. 

With every opportunity and path to success comes some associated risk.  And often the bigger the opportunity, the bigger the risk.  2010

Even if you have a high appetite for risk, you can be sure the naysayers, doom and gloomers, or just the “safety committee” of those around you, will find the dangers lurking in you taking that next big step.

Although it is important to be aware of all possible dangers – either to prevent, circumnavigate, address or incorporate – it is far more important to keep your eye on the ultimate objective.  That way you will balance any risk against the greater reward and avoid being paralyzed in a safe, no-change/no-gain territory.

As we head into the next decade and set goals for the New Year, it might be good to add a simple tool to your think-box.  

I call it the 2010 rule.

For every reason you are given not to do something, find two for doing it.

If you find 10 cons against embarking on something new, set the task to find 20 reasons why you should pursue it.

By doubling the positives you will find the confidence to embark on your chosen path.  By not ignoring the possible cons you can plan to overcome them. 

Applying the 2010 rule requires a commitment to your new path or objective. It provides a process to move forward with your eyes wide open yet be powered by the motivation of keeping the much greater positive up-sides and potential rewards top-of-mind to keep you on track.  It allows you to focus on achieving your goals and be driven by a greater objective.

As Henry Ford once said “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal”. 

May 2010 see you overcome any fears, set off on your chosen path and achieve all that you desire.

The extinction of the technoignoramus

ROFLMAO tshirt from fortunecity“TITF” (pronounced tit-ef) my nearly 14-year old son said to me as I lectured him on his responsibilities. 

“What?”

 “TITF – you have Taken It Too Far” he said as he rolled his eyes and sighed again in frustration.

Well yes of course I have.  I used words not acronyms for one thing.

Within days of this experience my friend told me about her 17 year old daughter who looked deadpan at her as she completed a joke and said without a hint of sarcasm “lol”. Clearly using the abbreviated form of “laugh out loud” was more efficient then actually breaking into laughter or even smiling. 

Another friend told me of his son who had an intriguing t-shirt on – one with a picture of Chairman Mao on the front with a picture of Rolf Harris on the back and the word “ROFLMAO”.  Obvious to his son and his friends (and probably anyone under the age of 21) was the clever use of these images with a well-known instant messaging short-hand statement.  To the uninitiated, this stands for “Rolling On Floor Laughing My Arse Off”.

My six and ten year old daughter’s are learning mathematics through an online tool that not only provides relevant and prescribed homework activities, but allows them to “dual” with anyone at the same level who is online anywhere around the world. Assuming that they don’t want to just work to improve their personal best and total scores which allow them to move up levels and win prizes.  

If they play with their Nintendo DS’s together or with friends – they can link up, see each other virtually and send visual or text messages to one another. They learn through interactive smart boards and are encouraged to remember their security log-in and to email their “safe” friends at school.  Online G-rated games allow them to collect virtual points then shop for branded goods – often advertisements for the latest and greatest toy or gadget slyly marketed as movies. 

Don’t worry about spelling – they happily use and rely on auto-correct and voice recognition tools saving their minds for more creative pursuits.

And these are just a few examples of how, where and when technology forms part of their lives already at such a young stage.

It thus makes for an interesting time for any business who wants to appeal to and attract a younger audience – whether this is as potential customers or as employees.  Technology is deeply integrated in their lives and is considered as important to them as oxygen is to the rest of us.  This is regularly reinforced to me as I use the threat of technology bans as my preferred tool to generate positive behavioural change in my children. 

Technology is how they connect, communicate, conduct relationships, learn, evaluate, play, shop, design, share, promote, read, relax and even simply be a fan of their favourite band and brand.  They are able to read moods, decipher genuine and honest representations, find and filter quickly to relevant information and multi-task across multiple platforms.

They connect and share information through SMS, Instant Message, FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter, Linked in, Bebo, Orkut, QQ, or their personal blogs.  They share information in groups and communities all of which take precedence over checking their 1 to 1 email (most applications are not smart enough for the way they wish to engage when you can reach 1 to many through other mediums). 

They scan a web page, click and watch the first seconds of a video to see if they will give you the next 10 seconds of their attention.  Communicating your message quickly and succinctly is no longer an art, it is a necessity to get cut-through and engage this generation. 

In business, we increasingly rely on technology to manage most aspects of our customer and employee relationships and engagements.  While there is much value in face to face daily transactions, I have seen first-hand the smartest and brightest employees sitting a metre apart instant messaging each other rather than engaging in verbal communication. 

It is not that they can’t verbalize, it is just they find instant messaging a much more efficient form of communication.  There is much to be said and done, and abbreviating it, using shortcuts or forums to share solutions easily changes the scale of reach from 1:1 to 1: infinite. And this is able to be done much more quickly and efficiently than ever before. 

Sharing knowledge and thoughts instantly in forums and in collaborative enterprise wiki’s now forms the basis for other’s future education.  It can act as a referencing and training tool for employees, partners and customers.  It is easy to see how it has more potency and is far more powerful than communicating individually and sequentially.  Collaborative documentation tools make easy task of finding, reviewing and tracking of content that can be accessed by many.

Many years ago when I joined a progressive technology company, I joked about how I was the “technoignoramus” of the company.  I knew if I didn’t actively seek to understand, embrace and use the latest technologies I was going to become irrelevant, maybe even extinct. 

Recognizing that there was a gap in my knowledge regarding emerging technologies, I made it my business (and eventually helped me lead the business) in determining how, when and what were the best ways to leverage these new technologies within our products and our enterprise solutions.

This resulted in a growing of the product development roadmap and changing from heavy self-developed software applications to those that were available and supported in the internet “cloud” – much more accessible and beneficial to our moving global workforce. We were able to reduce communication costs through the use of Skype and deliver extended customer training programs using video and having it supported through YouTube.  

Today I still continue to seek knowledge and look to participate in using new and available technologies in order to better understand them. I will play with them, use them, observe others using them, read about them and link to them. This has formed an important element in the role I now play in assisting other businesses and individuals understand where technology fits into their overall business, marketing and customer engagement strategy and see how best they can be leveraged.

With all of this technology around us, it still surprises me how many baby boomers and generation X’s still resist embracing new technology and social networking platforms. 

They cite discomfort about strangers knowing something about them or the arduous chore of sorting through meaningless messages to find those of interest or value.

The one I have seen many shudder at is the concept of “follower” on Twitter.  Somehow this is equated as “stalker” to some.  Certainly in business if you have a bunch of potential customers and partners interested enough to stalk you, this can only be a good thing, right?  They actually tell you who they are, tell you they want to follow you so that they can hear what you have to say, and to whom and what you recommend.   And you can choose what it is that you share with them.

At a personal level it is about understanding the different available platforms, the controls you have and the intent of the people you choose to “friend” or “follow” and who you allow to follow you. You need to be comfortable about what information you provide and finding your comfort levels about reading and seeing information about others.  One of the rules I follow is one I was taught many years ago – don’t ever write anything you would not wish to show your grandmother or would not want published or have attributed to you on the front page of the national papers.

 Advantages of using technology are many – especially in being able to stay abreast of your own personal data and of others that you are interested in, their life successes, major events and challenges.  I recently easily organized and could keep track of both a common interest group and a family event using Facebook. 

I am able to take my office everywhere with me on my iphone which can double as my entertainment tool allowing me to watch the latest TED video or listen to my favourite songs.  I can publish my own blog through WordPress (which has surprised and thrilled me at the size of my readership).  I am able to easily keep in close contact with global friends and colleagues.  I have been able to meet people and new businesses and have opened up many new relationships or rekindled older relationships that previously were either dead or dormant through using a combination of online networking and communication tools.    

There certainly can be no safety in the expression “technology is not for me” or “technology is too scary” or “I delegate technology to others”.  I fear for those who take confidence in standing behind the good old days with statements like “I believe in personal, intimate face to face interaction and in protecting my privacy and those of others”.  In the past fortnight I have personally heard each of these statements.  And unfortunately, none of them for the first time.

I know I don’t know everything.  In fact I am far behind many leading technology pioneers.  But I make it my business to become an early adopter and stay abreast of technology trends and changes. This helps me understand how they are utilized, where they work and fit in to the bigger personal, social, product roadmaps and commercial pictures.  I see this as part of a strategy to help me stay relevant now and into the future and I urge you to do the same.

To be able to engage and be relevant to the broader population, especially the generations that follow us, both you and I can not afford to be a technoignoramus. 

If you choose to stay closed to embracing and using new technologies, your days of being relevant or being heard or understood by others may in fact be numbered.

Committing to your commitments

Pinky Swear PromiseHonesty in a Pinkie promise by Fiona Macfarlane of fishakaiHonesty in a Pinkie promise by Fiona Macfarlane of fishakaiWe have all made them.  We have all accepted them.  We have good intent when it comes to making or accepting commitments.

However we also know the feeling of disappointment when someone does not deliver something that they have committed to.  Sometimes delivered late or not as expected, sometimes with an excuse (including those quite plausible), sometimes without an excuse.  Just an expectation you would know that the best was done on the day. 

Years back when the first Quality Assurance certifications were being sought and I had to lead a business through the process of earning certification, the pursuit of quality was less about everything being the highest quality it could be.  It was more about setting a standard of quality and then always delivering to it.  Consistently, confidently and reliably. 

From a branding perspective, it was proven to be much better to choose a standard that could always be delivered, than to pursue the greatest and then only sometimes reach that.  Any form of inconsistency in the delivery of quality (goods or services) would plant a seed of doubt into the recipient.  No longer could they rely or have confidence in the standard you would deliver.  If there was doubt in the recipient, then your brand would immediately be impacted by feelings of distrust and uncertainty.

Lately I have been working with some executives on personal branding.  Thinking about what they aspire to represent and then considering how well they deliver it.  Identifying the behavioural gaps between what we hope to project, to what we are projecting.  Identifying the gaps between what we say we are and will do and what we really are and what we really deliver.

While the subject of personal branding is much broader than any one aspect, it is interesting to observe how often people fail to see the connection between the meeting or failure to meet a commitment they have made on their personal brand.  Many will make promises, or agree to deadlines, then fail to deliver or even worse, fail to reset expectations.  Not every time, not even often, just sometimes.  You only need to not deliver or not reset expectations once and an element of doubt automatically creeps in to the minds of those you are working or interacting with. 

The good news is, this is an easy personal quality to manage once you first value your word and your commitments.

Be clear about what it is that you will deliver, when you will deliver it, identify what risks may be associated with delivering it and mentally map how and what is required to deliver to your commitment.  

If anything changes in your ability to deliver what has been promised, then make sure you reset expectations.   Whilst it is always safer to underpromise and overdeliver, it is much better to be honest about what is the most likely scenario and then make sure that is what you deliver.  Associate reliable with trust and confidence.

If you want to be someone people trust, someone people rely upon, someone that people value and have confidence in , then really value and commit to the commitments you make.

More for Less for More

Earlier this year I was at a conference and was lucky enough to hear Dr. R.A. Mashelkar  present an inspiring address on Gandhian Engineering.  A concept that incorporates the principles of doing more (providing more features, more services, more  value) for less cost to make it more accessible and available to much larger numbers of people.  Hence the phrase “More for Less for More”.

Tata Nano Car WhiteAn example of this was the launch earlier this year of Tata’s radically innovative car, the Nano.

Speaking at the unveiling ceremony at the 9th Auto Expo in New Delhi, Mr. Ratan N. Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group and Tata Motors said, “I observed families riding on two-wheelers – the father driving the scooter, his young kid standing in front of him, his wife seated behind him holding a little baby. It led me to wonder whether one could conceive of a safe, affordable, all-weather form of transport for such a family”.  He challenged his organization to think differently about the problem and they did.  Only a few years later they delivered the Tata Nano, a “comfortable, safe, all-weather car, high on fuel efficiency & low on emissions” for approx US$2000.

Tata received more than 200,000 orders in the 3 week period following its launch in March. Today they can produce approx 3,000 cars per month.  A small number considering the demand . 

However with increased production capacity being addressed, we will see over time improvements in quality and consistency, and the addition of features likely to be provided at an even lower price.  And of course the competition will follow benefiting greater numbers of people.

Already there are announcements by a number of car manufacturers that they too will be entering this low end/low emission category including the bigger, more well-known names.   The Japanese car industry turned the car industry on its head once before.  They lead with price and followed with quality.  The same is happening with Korean cars now and we will soon see the same with Chinese and Indian automobile brands to follow.  Large-scale change can and will occur and accessible and affordable cars will be available to those who require a safe form of transportation, and who were previously locked out, in the near future.

The challenge is certainly there for businesses to think about how best to serve and care for the 6.8 billion people we have on this earth.  There are two aspects which drives the need for businesses to broaden their current thinking:

  1. The ubiquitous nature of the internet & wireless technologies – the increasing speed of technology for increasingly commoditized (and thus reduced) pricing is making it easy for people all around the world, including within developing nations,  to connect and transact with anyone, anywhere, anytime.  The flattening of the world opens up additional markets – more product choices for people, more potential customers for business. The greater the global demand, the more solutions will exist in logistically moving or upgrading goods and services around the world.
  2. The expanding social and environmental conscience – the ever-increasing pressure to evaluate our footprint on the world and the increasing gap awareness in wealth between nations.  This will continue to grow as the consequences of our current policies and actions continue to become better understood, and the forums for voting with your feet become more common.

With increased competition as the world continues to flatten, businesses will require greater creativity and innovation from their people.  Without a model for constant and differentiated innovation, businesses will suffer and ultimately become irrelevant.  Increased competition from the developing nations will continue to place pressure on value for money. 

And as price drops due to competitive and consumer pressures, so will margins.  Thus there will be a requirement (not just an opportunity) to sell to more people together with an increased requirement to build meaningful, personal relationships with customers.  This will drive the way organizations will think about their product or service offerings in the future.

A decision will need to be made by businesses. 

Do they cater for a few customers and charge a premium or do they rethink their business model and approach with the objective to do “more for less for more”?  Both models will require continuous innovation and competition will require them to define how they are going to keep doing it better than anyone else.

I applaud the technology, medical, science and engineering organizations who are already thinking this way.  Interestingly this approach increases profits for most of those organizations. But real revolution starts with awareness by a bunch of like-minded people that things need to change for the better.  Revolutionaries’ prophesize through education, communication and real example, encouraging more and more of the general population to follow and take action.

It poses an interesting question to every one of us:  What responsibility can we take in our every day decisions to stamp out oppression, poverty, hunger, poor health, and environmental damage?

 In every decision we make – either business or personal – how can we make an impact on providing equal opportunities for people to thrive no matter where they are located?  Can we offer more for less for more people?

The questions may seem big, the actions we make may seem little, but every one of them will make a positive difference.

Visible Vision

After just returning from a great adventure holiday throughout North and Western Australia which included 31 locations (and lots of driving in between), it struck me just how visible a vision could be.

From the first instance of driving into a town you could see whether the town shared a great vision – from the way it branded and projected itself, to deeper issues of what was keeping the town viable and commercial.  You could palpably see and feel the vision in distinct features like the architecture, engineering, environmental planning and the overall coherency of an area.

It could also be tangibly felt through a town’s people who would proudly communicate what their town was about – its history, its future and what made it in their eyes “world’s best”. Ord River, Lake Argyle, Kununnurra by Jim Hawthorne Photography

One of the best examples of this was Kununurra, a town near the border of Western Australia and Northern Territory.  Its leaders oversaw the engineering of one of Australia’s largest man-made lakes to take advantage of the huge rainfalls of the wet season. They created Lake Argyle by tapping the Ord River, resulting in the deliberate flooding out of some of the homesteads and properties of the area, and is now so huge that it’s classified as an inland sea.

Lake Argyle normally has a surface area of about 1,000 square kilometres and its capacity exceeds 18 times the volume of water of Sydney Harbour (a vision in itself), feeding some 150 square kilometres of farmland which provides the majority of fruit and vegetables to West Australia, supports cattle farming and a number of timber forests which provide good export earnings. The local economy is also helped by customs ordering you to dump all fruit, vegetables and honey at the border requiring you to re-stock with local produce as soon as you arrive in town.

For those who have been out in this country you will understand the great vastness and harshness of the area and why I marvel at the vision of the local people, including those farmers, who gave up their land to ensure long term economic viability of the town for its inhabitants and future generations.

On the flipside there were plenty of towns we visited that were devoid of vision.  The lack of vision ultimately tied to the lack of commercial viability of the town and an empty and unproductive feeling and sense of hopelessness one took away of its people. 

Seeing these differences along the way certainly reinforced the importance of having a strong vision. This is as important to the long-term economic viability of a business as it is to the long-term economic viability of a town.

Having a strong vision that everyone is working towards, planning to ensure long term viability and relevance, ensuring today’s activities are in harmony with the long-term view, engaging people to own the vision with everyone creatively fulfilling it in their daily business and decisions, can only propel an organization forward. 

There is some danger in today’s environment that by operating or continuously sending signals you are in a survival mode, that the future of your business can be put at risk.  Particularly in cases where your employees may have lost sight of the vision and can not articulate or see where the business is heading beyond a “make the buck today” mindset which can lead to lots of compromise.

It may well be timely to step back and really check what your business is projecting externally. 

From the first instance someone is in contact with your business, do they receive a strong sense of your vision – from the way you are branded to the way your business projects itself in all touch points, communications and interactions?

Do people understand what is keeping your business viable and commercial and what it is that you offer them?

Do your people communicate what you stand for, what they are representing, and how they can help the customer, the business and themselves be successful?

By ensuring your business vision is tangible and visible, it can turn it from being something you desire to something that you realize.

Returning that special gift you have been given…

As we progress through our careers we gain the benefit of experience.

The situations we find ourselves in become more and more familiar.  We meet the same type of personality profiles, we see the hidden opportunities in adversity, and the kind of traps or dangers in the decisions we need to make or in situations that we can create or avoid. 

Gift box by passitonplates photostreamWe also benefit from having a much stronger understanding of our own powers and limitations, having already navigated what it takes to progress, communicate, motivate or manage others.  Mostly we have the benefit of having a number of wins and failures on the board and knowing why and what results in success, and why and what lead us to experience failure.

This experience and knowledge is a gift.  Something we should cherish and relish.  It is also something we should share.

As the saying goes, it is much better to give than to receive.  And although it is not kosher to return the gift you have been given, there is something wonderful about returning the sentiment.  Adding your stamp of personalization, consideration, love and attention can create a lasting impression. 

The positive impact and empowerment you can generate by giving someone the time to help them with their particular concerns, queries or quest for knowledge, through sharing your experience can not be underestimated.

Looking back I can name a number of great people who “gifted” me their experience or who helped guide me along my way.  Some of my greatest mentors and guides were my managers, but more often than not the greatest counsel and sage advice I received (and continue to benefit from), was from wise and experienced colleagues, associates, contemporaries and friends.

It was from them that I learned how to navigate tricky waters, what to look for and what to avoid.  That mistakes and failures are to be considered great learning experiences, challenges to be explored and gained from. 
Some of the best lessons I learned early on was that mistakes don’t need to be fatal. That you’ll never know how far you can go and how much you can achieve if you don’t push yourself to the very edge.  That the biggest opportunities also come with the biggest risks and a fear of failure is really being cognizant of that fact. That it is silly to try to avoid mistakes which may result in having a risk profile so low that we don’t really move forward leaving the brave decisions to be made by others.

You also gain strength from others encouragement.  When may already know what the right thing to do is, but to have it reinforced and supported by an appropriate anecdote or example from someone else’s experience provides the much needed impetus to move forward.  It can help to have your strengths and talents reinforced to be applied in new situations. 

As our experience grows, so we should “gift” this to others.

There are many opportunities to positively impact.  To help those who are starting out, still green, still learning, who would benefit from a great dose of your encouragement and knowledge.

With each promotion or progression in our careers, can we dedicate time to give back and grow others?  To make time to mentor someone (or a greater number of people) that we identify as talented?

 To stop and help them find the answers they are seeking and to help them develop and perform to their potential.
From my experience, gifting others time and experience bring numerous benefits.  And not just the feel-good emotion it will surely generate. 

It provides an enforced discipline for us to synthesize our experience into insightful clarity.  Moments to mine the wealth by revisiting our working lives and review what really worked for us and why.  To turn the many grains of experience into valuable pearls of wisdom.

It also helps us to reflect and recognize where we still have room to learn or develop.

So I ask this question, how can you share more of your experience with others?  If you are already doing this consciously or unconsciously, can you do more of it? 

Whether you offer this through formal mentoring or coaching or through informal mentoring and genuine sharing, listening, advising others, there is nothing more rewarding than giving to others and to see them grow greater from the collective experiences. 

Not only can you help someone progress you may find in turn, you have gifted yourself another valuable experience.

Sharpen your focus

Life is busy.  We run from meeting to meeting adding additional items of things to do on our ever increasing list of items to be done.  In between meetings we check our email, facebook, twitter or LinkedIn accounts.  On the phone we multi-task by responding to the many instant “urgent” messages that are flashing via MSN or Skype. We race home to begin the juggle with family – cooking dinner, supervising homework, meanwhile respondiTarget! by hb19ng to emails, phone texts, writing reports and making new notes of the additional things we need to do the next day.

Target! by hb19We chase the sweet feeling of satisfaction as we tick each item off our list as “done” or as we extend our network, proving tangibly to ourselves that we are making progress. 

Yet at the end of the week we find the business development proposal, recommended organization structural change, the new marketing plan or policy [you can insert any key project you should be completing], has not really progressed in the way we wanted or in the way our business really needs. 

Our sense of satisfaction wanes as we see many items achieved but not together representing a milestone measure of true value, progress and success.  We know we need to do better…if only we had the time to plan?  Or more people to help?

Does this sound like you?  Or at least like you some of the time?  I know I have fallen into the trap of “busyness” before, spreading myself too thin, and have needed to consciously take steps to pull myself out, take ownership of my time again and reset my focus.

It certainly is a common problem and one that many of us face or fall into the trap of doing from time to time. This type of high pressured chaos may be felt like an unreasonable workload thrown upon us, but more than likely this will be a problem of focus, a problem of prioritization and a problem of learning to say “no” without feeling guilty.   

The person who owns and is responsible for managing your time and achieving the best outcomes with your time and your team is you.  And only you can change the way you approach your day and week to sharpen your focus and thus maximize your effectiveness. 

Here are some simple steps to sharpen your focus and start making greater progress:

  1. Revisit your business vision, strategy and goals. The more concise your business proposition is and who it is likely to help, the more likely your actions and those of others will help it stay on course.  Once this proposition and your business goals are clear and easy to articulate, it becomes easier to sharpen your focus on the most important elements and targets to ensure you get there.  If it is not clear to you or those who are leading, then it certainly will not be clear to those that are following.
  2. What do you need to do to ensure your business achieves what it is looking to do?  Be clear about your key responsibilities and the key things you should be doing to ensure you and your business achieve this. At any one time you should be focusing on no more than three major projects.  Build in time to reflect on your progress and that of your team’s against your business goals and revisit anything you know is not really working. 
  3. What is the overall plan project outline and what needs to be done by when? Make a conscious list of priorities and develop a weekly plan to give you the right amount of time to spend on each item. The more tangible your goals and timeframes are, the easier it is to know how to approach your priorities, resources, workload and keep everything on track.
  4. Identify how much can be delegated. What can be handed over and to whom?  Plan how many items can be handed over.  Spend the time with your team to help them also prioritize and see where they can make a major impact on the business.  The more focus they have, the greater the results you will see being delivered.  You also are creating an achievement culture where success motivates everyone and you will find even more can be achieved.
  5. Weigh up those list items you can say no to. If you see too many competing priorities within projects, pick the top three things you should be focusing and begin the process of weighing up each item further down the list with the question “what would happen if I did not do this?”.  If the answer is not fatal, then find the discipline to say “No” and make sure you reset expectations in your organization.  Saying yes to everything on your list is an easy thing to do but much harder to deliver. Practicing the art of saying no, remembering to help your manager and team identify what they too can say no to helps sharpen focus within your organization.  Focusing on the key things you should be doing will have a major impact on your business and will give everyone a chance to do those things well.
  6. Plan each day and approach it with discipline.  Set aside specific times to review and plan your day (first thing in the morning before heading to the office is a good time).  Set aside specific times to review and respond to emails, phone calls and messages as well as time to write your plan or proposal – making sure you are writing any plans or proposals at the freshest point in the day.  Identify who you need to speak to and allocate an appropriate time.  Don’t overschedule your diary.  It is easy to book every 15 minutes and there may be many times you need to, however it takes enormous discipline to keep to schedule. 

Sharpening your focus brings you much closer to achieving your business targets. 

As your targets change over time, you may need to also revisit the resources that are available to you.  As a manager, you need to ensure you are equipped to do your job and that of your team’s well.  To do this you will also need to set aside time to work on recruitment and your people development.  Remember that your people are your greatest asset.  By helping coach them to sharpen their focus, it will bring an enormous return on the power of what you as a team can achieve.

The King and I…(and a story of learning courage)

This is not the start of some fictional story or make believe anecdote.  Nor is it about my special memories of my mother, sisters and I all singing along to the Friday night movie special of The King and I, imagining what those days were like of impossible dresses and outrageous social expectations of women.  This story is about courage and how The King and I played a role in teaching me about courage.

Picture credit to Daily Mail UK - Deborah Kerr (in the King and I)There were many messages of courage throughout the movie – the courage to follow your dreams, the courage to stand up to a bully or to fight for better outcomes despite the conventions of the day. 

However my biggest lesson from The King and I came from having the courage to overcome your fears.  Although this may sound corny, it is a real story and I will tell you how I learned to develop courage.

About 3 years into the workforce, I put my hand up to take on a big project.  It involved doing some strategy work for a bunch of super smart, confident, talented, experienced – and as it turned out – extremely demanding people.  

The brief turned out to be much more difficult and challenging than I had first expected.  Certainly it was beyond my experience and knowledge of that time.  I felt out of my depth and felt all the physical signs that come with fearing the enormous task and expectations in front of me – heart racing, legs shaking, stomach knotting and mind racing.  At that moment of fear and crisis, in amongst thinking of all the reasons to not be able to say yes or to limit somehow what was possible to something more reasonable, somewhere out of the depths of memory, a song started playing in the back of my mind. 

It went like this…

Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune, So no one will suspect
I’m afraid.

While shivering in my shoes, I strike a careless pose
And whistle a happy tune,  And no one ever knows
I’m afraid.

The result of this deception, Is very strange to tell
For when I fool the people I fear,
I fool myself as well!

And sure enough by immediately changing my focus from fear to “I will find a way”, and when I showed confidence that what was being demanded was possible, I actually began to believe those project goals could be reached that it was just a matter of finding the way.  It allowed an immediate settling in my mind and an unwinding of my stomach so I could be free to focus on finding the solution and the “how”.  In the example I mentioned, I confidently stated what they briefed could be achieved and shared a rough outline of the strategy and a plan of action.  I included what the dependencies would be and set a new time to meet to present the more detailed strategy which bought me more time to work through the details. 

The result was extremely positive. The goals were reached and a great sense of satisfaction and respect was gained.

But the biggest positive for me was the lesson of courage that it taught me.  I was able to put the art of make believing I was brave, and focusing on the positives in every situation, and finding that I was actually brave and positive enough to face anything.  By finding a strategy to overcome my fears, it allowed me to find the courage to overcome barriers, find solutions and be confident to continuously look for and do new things. 

I have adopted this approach many, many times – whether it be walking into a new networking situation, addressing a large group of people, taking on what may seem to be the impossible brief or role.  Each time you find you can do something, it builds your confidence to explore and overcome any future challenging situation.  This strategy can be adopted as much in our personal lives as it can in our professional lives.

We can all achieve so much more if we allow ourselves to go as close to the edge of impossible as we can before we allow ourselves to feel limitations or constraints.  If we limit our scope to something that feels safer, more comfortable, more easy – we lose the possibility of breaking new ground and achieving something truly new, remarkable and special.

The more we believe we can do something, the more others will believe you can and that they can do it too.  As a leader, you will find that if you demonstrate believe, then you will have your people help you do whatever it is you need to do.

And so as the song continues…

Make believe you’re brave,
And the trick will take you far.

You may be as brave
As you make believe you are.

 

(Lyrics by Rodgers and Hammerstein, 1951.  The Movie “The King and I” starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr by 20th Century Fox, 1956.)

Leading your business to success

Written by Emma Lo Russo and as published in the July 2009 “Australian Businesswomen’s Network” newsletter:

Leading your business to success

Leadership.  Picture by Denis ColletteYou have the title, a team that reports to you and a defined business purpose and responsibility. The business environment and competition is tough and you are looking at new ways to ensure continued growth and success. You spend night and day wondering what else you can do, what extra advantage you can create…

It is likely you already hold that advantage. And the answer is your own employees. You can easily move from managing them to do their job (even if you do this aspect very well), to leading them to achieve something far greater – for themselves and for your business.

Understanding the difference between management and leadership

Management is about getting the best out of resources, mostly through defining responsibilities and processes, to further the goals of the company. ‘Leadership’ on the other hand is painting a common view of the future and inspiring and galvanising your team towards achieving it.

There are some key leadership characteristics and qualities to embody if you hope to achieve a powerful business advantage through your people. A key aspect is understanding that your people are entirely your business. They provide the moment of truth every time they interact with your customers, partners, suppliers, each other etc. It is important that they share and believe in the aspirations for your company. That they can see how to align their communications and activities they do every day to the greater picture you have of success, and how that can in turn help them enjoy and benefit from that success.

Acknowledging, encouraging, empowering your people to act in harmony with your vision and values is far more powerful than prescribing what you want and outlining precisely how they should be doing it.

Empowering your people

Regularly sharing your vision and plans for the future and encouraging your team to help visualise success will help stimulate growth. Looking to your people to help identify the best growth opportunities and providing regular forums for your employees to present their ideas can help grow your business. Acknowledge all good ideas, empower your people to own those ideas and reward them when they help you get to where you want to go faster. The more you can celebrate success with your employees, the greater the performance culture you are creating.

Tips to help you lead your organisation to success:

  • Paint a common view of the future and translate your vision and strategy into workable goals for your employees
  • Share your vision regularly, applying short and long-term frame of references for all projects and activities
  • Live and promote your desired culture and values
  • Model integrity in decisions, communication and treatment of people – always lead by example
  • Recognise others’ strengths and limitations – focus on building teams around individual employees'(and your own) strengths
  • Coach, mentor and develop your team – help your team members develop self-awareness and strive for personal development, helping them align their career aspirations with your business goals
  • Inspire, encourage and acknowledge action and commitment from your employees

When thinking about leadership, it is good to reflect on the line “follow me, I am right behind you”.

If you lead through inspiration, suggestion and example then your team will follow, encourage others and deliver you greater success.

To read the article in context and others on leadership go to:

http://www.abn.org.au/womeninbusiness/newsletterissue79/Leadership-Strategies-for-Women/index_landing.html

To follow Emma on Twitter: www.twitter.com/EmmaLoRusso

Attending to the elephants

How often have you seen or been in situations where everyone around you is busy discussing, dealing and deciding on the smaller, easiest issues to address, and the item that is most likely to be a showstopper is being overlooked or held-over to address at another time. 

elephant in the room by j_gargThe expression “ignoring the elephant in the room” is based on this very situation.  Just as an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook, we use it to describe those situations where we pretend the elephant is not there, concerning ourselves with smaller, relatively insignificant matters, shuffling around the bigger issue of what to do with the elephant in the room.

The “elephant” is usually a bigger issue we choose to avoid because we know it will be time-consuming, painful and uncomfortable to deal with.  So we take comfort in keeping busy with all the other things that can be done instead.

More often than not, it is the smallest things being left unresolved that prevents us from bringing to conclusion the projects we are working on. 

Just as we can rationalize ignoring the big elephant, it is even easier to rationalize ignoring the smallest of issues, wishing them away and dismissing them as insignificant or as something “easy to deal with later”.   

In reality we find that either issue – big or small – no matter how far forward we move the project or initiative we are working on, it can never be fully resolved and finished until the outstanding matter is resolved. 

Recently I was in discussions with a business.  They had engaged me to discuss their overall business proposition, position and product portfolio ahead of a launch.   There were many outstanding matters to be dealt with and decisions to be made and they were rushing through their list to get feedback on all of them.  However there was a starting showstopper, and no matter how much they wanted to cover all the later issues on the list, if they did not resolve the basic starting proposition, they were not going to be able to resolve anything else, nor achieve a successful outcome.

Through further discussions and exploration, it became evident that there was an issue of avoidance in dealing with perhaps the biggest fundamental showstopper (the elephant in the room).  There was clear conflict in the direction by two key principals of the business.  Each saw it differently, and the rest of the team was busy trying to avoid bringing these differences of opinion into focus let alone to a conclusion and final agreement.  Lots of busy work was being done on other facets, giving a false sense of progress, however it was evident there was no way this could work without getting a common agreement from the two conflicting principals.  And this agreement was fundamental to the success of the next stage of their business.  Once the elephant was attended to, the next stages of business could then move forward.

Discomfort of conflict is often the underlying reason of why issues will be left unresolved although there are many cases where it is avoidance of having to work through the difficult aspects of the project.  It is too easy to spend time on the sexier, easier, showier parts of a project or to spend time on the areas that we have greater confidence, expertise or experience in.  Meanwhile the clock races on towards the deadline.

No matter what the shape or size of it is – a show stopper is a show stopper.  You need to identify when you have a show stopper, and you need to deal with it immediately.  Ideally you would be proactively looking for the elephants or the show stoppers of any size.   

The beauty in attending to the elephants early is the quality of solution that can follow. The earlier you have to solve the issue, the more creative the solution.  And the solution may be very different from what you were first thinking or fitting the rest of the non-critical elements around. 

As I have seen firsthand and Edward de Bono is noted as saying:

“It is well known that “problem avoidance” is an important part of problem solving. Instead of solving the problem you go upstream and alter the system so that the problem does not occur in the first place.”

To get this benefit you need to first attend to the elephants.