Opportunities literally run by us like loudly quacking flocks of geese every day! Why don’t we see them? Why don’t we hear them? How do we embrace opportunities that we do not see or hear?
I would offer that the reason most of us do not see these flocks of opportunities is the conditioning inside our heads. Over the years the tough routines of life like making a living, paying the rent, raising kids, have set up like gray cement inside our heads. While routines are useful to get through life, these routines also crush the life out of life. Ideas die. Hopes wither. Innovation becomes inNOvation.
Have you watched a child lately? Nearly all kids possess a sense of wonderment. The smallest most insignificant inane thing fascinates them. Kids have no notion of what is possible or impossible. Next time you get a chance watch a toddler. Often something as simple as a bubble floating, bobbing and darting in the breeze will entrance a toddler for hours. Why is that?
Children have not yet been conditioned, or more directly beaten down, to conform to all the whims of the control freaks that surround them. For many of us, these control mutants act as our jailers whose self-appointed profession is to keep us from messing up (their world).
So how do we as leaders regain our lost, or at least quiescent, child-like wonderment about the opportunities that surround us? It is not an easy process but a step in the right direction, is to take a deep breath and a very long walk in the woods with a journal (and Yes, absolutely NO smartphone or connection to other distractions) and begin to try to remember what excited us in our oh- so-distant childhood memories. (The good stuff. Not getting a hauled out of the store by your Mom for becoming an uncontrollable little monster.) What do you remember? What caused you great wonderment? What fascinated you? These are the types of memories that we must recapture to begin to reconnect our adult I-have-it-under-control with the child within us. Unfortunately, this is not a quick fix. It is a process. It will take several periods of quiet time and perhaps several months to remember. Nevertheless the journey is worth it. Will you take it? Or will you continue to pretend that you have everything under control?
As Zig Ziglar wisely said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” Nearly everyone would readily admit that motivation is an indispensable component to successfully leading people.
Nevertheless, in the thick of the day-to-day pressure to perform, it is easy for a leader to choose a motivational ploy that produces very quick stopgap results but also produces lasting damage.
No one readily admits to using stopgap motivational ploys. However, I would venture that at one time or the other we have all used at least one of the following motivational ploys to get short-term results.
- Things Will Get Better I Promise – Offering an unattainable promise of a future reward.
- You Care About Me Right? – Direct manipulation of people’s innate desire to care.
- The Hawk – I trust you sort of but I am watching your every move to make sure you don’t mess up.
- A Deal You Cannot Refuse – A classic approach to I will hurt you if you screw up.
So what ploys have you used to motivate? Why did they not work?
Jack London (1876 – 1916), noted American author of The Call of the Wild, once said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” While many competitive athletes appear to make winning an Olympic gold medal seem easy, it is well known that this comes from countless hours and many years of lonely practice in solitude. Similarly inspirational leadership does not just happen but follows many years of focus and hard work – Or doing a lot of small things well in obscurity for a long time.
So other than focus and hard work what can a leader do to lay the foundation to evolve into an inspirational leader? Here are ten paths:
- Live with delight.
- Share your passions.
- Communicate your dreams with others.
- Be open about who you are and why you are who you are.
- Set uncompromising goals for yourself first.
- Show grace and above all be merciful to others.
- Show deep selfless compassion to those around you.
- Selflessly give to others — especially to those who can do nothing for you in return.
- Admit when you are wrong.
- Stay focused.
As Herodotus, a noted Greek Historian once said, “It is better by noble boldness to run the risk of being subject to half the evils we anticipate than to remain in cowardly listlessness for fear of what might happen.” It is funny how a long-dead historian from a millennia and a half ago can be so on point.
So if this is true why do we as leaders not take more risks? Why do we not stretch our wings and live on the edge a bit more? While many leadership authors freely acknowledge the need to take bold risks why do we seem to always hunker down? Perhaps it is as Herodotus wisely said, we are “being subject to half the evils we anticipate than to remain in cowardly listlessness for fear of what might happen.”
So what do we gain by not taking risks?
- Failing slowly rather than getting on with it.
- Creating a time swamp of over thinking, second and even third guessing.
- Pervading anxiety and needless worry.
- Weak-hearted followers who mimic their leader’s dilly dallying.
So what do we gain by taking appropriate risks?
- Failing fast. This gives us an opportunity for a quick do-over rather than a nasty reconstruction of what happened and who did what wrong.
- Saving time through right analysis. Putting off taking action leads to pervading anxiety and needless worry.
- Encompassing harmony as a result of getting things done.
- Courageous-followers who are set to take the hill.
George Lucas famously said, “Part of the issue of achievement is to be able to set realistic goals, but that’s one of the hardest things to do because you don’t always know exactly where you’re going, and you shouldn’t.”
As a leader we need to set realistic goals that are challenging but yet are achievable. No one likes to routinely fail. Setting a series of unrealistic goals that lead to a series of failures can be disheartening to a leader, as well as their team. Thus, setting unrealistic goals that are not achievable easily frustrates people. Not knowing what is possible or achievable adds another level of complexity to setting realistic goals. So how do we figure out what is a realistic goal and what is not realistic?
Here are five approaches:
- Use your gut. If the goal sounds unrealistic it probably is.
- Talk the goal over with your peers to see if they think your thinking is straight.
- Look at how your team has performed in the past. Have they stepped up when challenged or shrunk back?
- Socialize the goal with your team. How do they feel about the goal? Do they feel it is achievable or outlandish?
- Consider setting incremental goals that are more achievable.
Famed author Earl Nightingale once said, “A great attitude does much more than turn on the lights in our worlds; it seems to magically connect us to all sorts of serendipitous opportunities that were somehow absent before the change.”
Earl Nightingale talks about the ‘magic’ of serendipity. In some circles serendipity has been also been called a ‘happy accident’. So why do some people seem to accidentally have more ‘magic’ encounters with serendipity than you or I?
I would portend that it has nothing to do with accidents but with living our life’s at their boundaries or beyond. Leaders in particular need to live their lives at their bounds or beyond. Why? Pushing the boundaries is where the ‘magic’ of serendipity often happens. It is when we have tried everything possible and nothing seems to work. It is when we desperately need something to happen – Even if it seems implausible or even laughable.
So how do we get into this serendipity-zone where the ‘magic’ can happen? Here are 7 ideas:
- Actively create quiet space. Serendipity has little chance of happening when we are working at a frantic supersonic pace. Stop trying to do everything. Do less but do it better. What can you stop doing today?
- Do things outside of your normal. Too many people hang out with people just like themselves. It is nice. It is comfortable. Geeks tend to hang out with other geeks. Artsys tend to hang out with other artsys. Why not intentionally mix it up?
- Take a diversion. When you are stuck set aside a problem. Stop wasting your energy. Divert to something else and come back to the problem later for a fresh look. What diversion can you take now?
- Keep learning. Solutions to perplexing problems often emerge from seemingly unrelated disciplines. What can you Google that interests you?
- Merely expressing of a problem to another person helps to clearly define the edges of the problem. Vague-problems tend to create vague-solutions. Well-defined problems tend to create well-defined solutions. Who can you reach out to today?
- Try a novel approach. If something does not work, drop back, reevaluate the situation and try a novel approach. What have you got to lose?
- Fail fast. Fearing failure we often over analyze a problem, and fail anyway. Why not attempt several solutions in parallel?
Finally here is an interesting piece on happy accidents that is worth looking at. The Power of Serendipity http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-power-of-serendipity/
Fredrick the Great once said “L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace” or “Audacity, audacity, always audacity.” Many leaders today are simply too predictable. They lack audacity. To their detriment leaders who are timid and unnecessarily fearful lack the ability to be audacious. Unfortunately, it is not in their DNA. Their overwhelming desire to not ever, ever make a single mistake crushes them before they even inch toward the pathway to being audacious.
So what does audacity really mean? What defines an audacious leader? One view of an audacious leader is to having “chutzpah” or being fearlessness. Another definition is “the willingness to take bold risks.” However, these simplistic definitions leave much to be desired. For instance, what are “bold risks”? In reality audacity, or taking “bold risks”, means different things to different leaders. For one leader honestly soliciting their team for direct feedback might be considered audacious. For another leader it could be making a decision to exit a profitable multi-million dollar business because it does not align with the leader’s values. You see audacity is all from the perspective of an individual leader. Or said another way, one leader’s audacity might be considered another leader’s timidity. As such each leader must weigh out what taking “bold risks” is to them personally. This is simply not a one “bold risk” fits all leaders.
So in digging a little deeper what is the difference between leading with audacity versus stupidity? True audacity has the following five hallmarks:
- Audacity while bold understands the consequences if things do not work out.
- Audacity while courageous carefully weighs the risks involved.
- Audacity while risky does not act in an unduly perilous manner.
- Audacity while extreme is not extremist.
- Audacity seeks counsel from others and does not wing it alone.
Looking at this from a bigger perspective a leader who lacks the ability to act audaciously or take “bold risks”, while perhaps somewhat successful in the short-term, in the long-term this leader has really limited what they could become by not understanding what is possible. What “bold risk” are you considering today? Step out. Take it. Carpe Diem! Seize the day!
As Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Unfortunately, we as leaders are often guilty of ‘expedient-caring’ or worse yet ‘exploitive-caring’. In other words, what is in it for me?
Selectively trying to care for people at the right time for some future benefit is like picking stocks or trying to time the market. Most people get it wrong most of the time. Take for instance Inc. magazine’s recent story about Marcus Lemonis’, the star of CNBC’s smash hit “The Profit”:
“Lemonis was back at his old high school in Florida not too long ago, where he spoke to a group of alumni. During the Q&A, a man he recognized as a former classmate asked him for his email. Lemonis is not typically shy about sharing his contact information; his email address is posted next to his picture at the entrance to every Camping World location. If you send him a note, or a tweet, or if you comment on his Facebook page, he promises to respond, personally and without delay. But this man didn’t know that. Nor did he seem to remember that before Lemonis was somebody, his classmates had treated him like a nobody.
“Absolutely not,” Lemonis shot back. “I didn’t come to the school reunion–you want to know why? Because I had two friends I went to high school with and you’re not one of them. The lesson here, man, and you should teach this to your kids: You never know who somebody’s gonna be, or what they’re gonna do. So why not be nice to everybody?””
So the moral of the story is to care about everyone around you all the time. Be genuine. Don’t think that you can use people for your benefit later if you have never shown that you care about them in any meaningful way in the past. Also don’t try to pick stocks or time the market. Both are dumb moves.
As Socrates once said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” So why are some leaders considered wise while other leaders are considered fools? Here are ten telltale signs that point to a wise leader:
- Wise leaders listen. Foolish leaders like to hear themselves talk.
- Wise leaders constantly learn. Foolish leaders think they know everything.
- Wise leaders guide others. Foolish leaders direct others.
- Wish leaders welcome bad news. Foolish leaders shoot the messenger.
- Wise leaders seek out feedback. Foolish leaders shun feedback.
- Wise leaders are constantly trying to improve. Foolish leaders think they are already perfect.
- Wise leaders are humble. Foolish leaders are proud.
- Wise leaders give credit to others. Foolish leaders take credit for themselves.
- Wise leaders are merciful. Foolish leaders exact justice.
- Wise leaders forgive. Foolish leaders take revenge.
So what stops leaders from being bold? Among many reasons FEAR. FEAR has been known to stand for False Expectations Appearing Real. So if we generally get this, why do we so often shrug away from boldness in our leadership? Could it be that we are afraid to fail? I would offer a resounding YES! Once we have fully committed to a particular direction and are on-the-record there is scarcely a shadow to hide behind.
Setting aside the underlying fear of failure, to understand the importance of boldness in leadership we need to look at the opposite of boldness which is timidity. How many of us have suffered a timid leader? Did that leader inspire us to be our best? No. Did that leader inspire us to follow? No. In fact that leader’s lack of boldness, no matter what the cause, is like a highly infectious virus that is extremely contagious and often lethal. In fact if you look around you it is easy to see that people who have a timid leader often become timid.
So how do you move from timidity to boldness? Here are five things that you can do:
- Recognize FEAR as what it is False Expectations Appearing Real.
- Improve your self-talk. Stop talking to yourself in gloomy overtones about what ‘could’ go wrong. Start talking to yourself about what ‘will’ go right.
- Highlight the opportunities of stepping out. Often we dwell on what will lose if things go wrong. This results in missed opportunities.
- Understand that timidity will lead to the failure you are seeking to avoid. There is something to be said for the saying, “You only live once.” Saying this another way, there are no do-overs. The life you live is the life you will have lived.
- Recognize that boldness invites loyal followers, supporters and mentors to help you. Timidity has the opposite effect.