life

Shine A Light

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When I was about 14 years old, I joined my school’s Army Cadet corps. It was attractive because I’d heard they did cool things out in the bush. I was having a bit of a hard time at boarding school, and I thought it would a great respite.

It wasn’t what I expected. The rule-bound hierarchy, the command and control culture, and the endless, monotonous routines of learning how to march in formation and shining your boots until you could see your face in them was not what I signed up for. For a boy seeking freedom from the confines of boarding school, it wasn’t cutting it. I felt small, unseen and unheard. In many ways, it was worse than school.

However, I chose to stick it out for a year. We actually did do some cool things in the bush, like learning how hike from A to B though rugged terrain using only a compass, map and your common sense. How to light a fire with no smoke so you could stay undetected. But, for the vast majority of the time, it was spit, polish and parade grounds, all the while being bossed around by a bunch of older boys and teachers. Blah.

Towards the end of the year, we had to decide whether we wanted to stay on the following year. A simple choice for me: “No”. Yes, I had learned some good stuff, but the way they did things in the corps was not for me.

A few days later, one of the senior officers came to me and said he was surprised and disappointed that I hadn’t chosen to stay on. He said that they saw me as leadership material. Would I reconsider?

This came as a huge surprise to me. When and how did they see my leadership potential? I had been given very little feedback during the course of the year, other than that I could shine my boots better. I thought they didn’t see me at all. To my mind, my leaving would be of no great consequence to them. And here they are telling me that I’m leadership material?

Of course, it was too late. I’d emotionally checked out a long time ago. There was nothing he could say or do to convince me to stay.

That incident has stayed with me ever since, and has fundamentally shaped my approach to leadership. A core responsibility of leadership is to shine a light on people and show them their potential. Especially if they’re not seeing it themselves. It is nourishment for the spirit. It is a catalyst for confidence and builds courage. When we fail to do this, we not only do them a disservice, we also do ourselves and our organisations one.

Most people think that shining a light is about giving positive feedback. That’s part of it. However the real gift is to let someone know the potential and power you see in them. Whenever someone has done that for me, my self-belief soars and the world opens up in front of me.

Where and how are you shining a light? Where and how could you shine it more?

Some guidelines:

  • For everyone you work with (not just your direct reports), find out something interesting about them.
  • Be actively curious about what makes them tick. Find out what drives them. Ask them.
  • Let them know what impact they are having – on the mission, on the team, on you.
  • Let them know the potential and possibility you see for them.
  • Work with them to set stretch goals that are important to them.
  • Recognise effort, and achievement. Let them know you see their progress.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of these simple things, you’ll know how much they mean, and what they do for motivation, engagement and discretionary effort, let alone your relationship with them.

It’s not rocket science. It’s uncommon sense.

Make it common sense. Shine a light. Every day.

 

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Photo: Digby Scott

Avoid The Flat Line

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What’s better: when good stuff happens to you, or bad? Mull on that for a bit as you read on.

I’ve just spent three days on an emotional rollercoaster. I was attending a workshop with Thought Leaders Business School to help me sharpen my thinking for how I run my business. Hugely beneficial. But not always fun. I reckon I experienced the full range of human emotions, from elation to anger, and everything in between.

Here’s a cross-section:

  • The morning of the first day (full of swagger): “yeah, I’m energised and engaged. This is good”.
  • Lunchtime on the second day: “this is doing my head in. I hate this. This is bad”.
  • The end of the last day: “I’m focused and calm. This is good.”

What’s interesting about this is not so much the range of emotions, but the judgement I was putting on them.

For instance, at lunchtime on the second day, I was like a fly in a jar, bouncing around trying to get rid of the frustration and anger I was feeling. I wanted to run away to somewhere that gave me back that ‘good’ feeling I had on the morning of the first day.

I’m glad I didn’t. Instead, I checked in with a mentor, who helped me to stand back and see that what I was experiencing was pretty much normal. I began to realise that my angst was a signal that I was at my learning edge. I was being challenged to examine some of my beliefs about what I was about. And a part of me didn’t want to do that. My mentor encouraged me to sit with the feeling, be curious, and let go of everything needing to be OK.

And of course, that made all the difference. If I didn’t stick with it, I doubt I’d have grown from the experience, or got to the focused and calm mindset I had on the third day.

Back to the initial question. A trick, of course. Loaded with judgemental words. Better, good, bad. It’s not about what’s better. It’s how you use the experience.

Our western culture has a meme, and it goes like this: move towards ‘good’, move away from ‘bad’. I say “No”. Life will throw you ups and downs. That’s what makes it interesting. Flat line = death.

Those highs and lows are where the opportunities lie to show what you’re about. How you use those experiences, how you grow from them, is what makes you, you.

Savour the peaks, embrace the troughs. And avoid the flat line at all costs.

 

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Are You Trying Too Hard? (Part Two)

 

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I recently wrote about the idea that when you stop striving, you maximise performance and enjoyment.

If you missed that post, I was training for a mountain bike race (done now, loved it) and I’d been tracking my times. I noticed that when I relaxed more, my times got better.

Since then, I diligently continued my training and kept on collecting data on my times. As a result, some more interesting ideas about optimising performance came to light.

Here’s a visual analysis of my times on one of the trail segments over the past couple of months. The grey dots represent each time I went for a ride. The higher the dot, the faster the time.

Tumeke Analysis 2

There are three patterns jumping out here:

The Practice Effect:

Early on in my training, it was all about getting my fundamentals right: fitness, skills and confidence. Checkout the line sloping upwards. Over those weeks, each time I went out, I was consistently hitting lower and lower times. Fitness, skill and confidence were all on the rise, translating into better performance. On the segment shown in the graph, my personal best time is down to 2:31, with plenty of other recent times around there. Back in early February 2016 my personal best was 3:51. The foundation of that improvement is simply down to time on the bike.

Lesson: There’s nothing like practice to get you to where you want to be.

The Social Effect:

Later in my training, I regularly teamed up and rode with a couple of friends who were doing the race with me. We’re all about the same level of fitness and skill, and we’re all fairly competitive types. Whenever we rode together, all of our times tended be faster than when we rode alone. And we had a good time doing it. The red circles show those sessions. By riding with others, I’ve got even faster, and stayed there.

Lesson: Team up with other motivated people, and you’ll go even further than you thought you could.

The Coiled Spring Effect:

There were some days where I had a particularly big day at work (e.g. running an intense workshop), and there were other times where I didn’t ride for four or five days. In either case, I’d get to the trail with a bunch of pent-up energy. And then I’d bust out a great time. Just like a coiled spring. Boom! The green circles are those sessions. They really stand out from the ones around them, showing me, at the time, what I was capable of.

Lesson: Let your down times fuel your up times.

All useful lessons for many areas in life, right?

One last observation. My training had a purpose: to be fit and fast enough for the race. Now it’s done, I’m noticing my motivation for riding is flagging just a little. I still love getting out there, but I’m left wondering whether I need a new goal to keep me motivated as I head into the colder winter months? That’s one for another post…stay tuned.

 

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Photo: Digby Scott

Do You Need Confidence, Or Courage?

 

Lately I’ve noticed a little trap that people can fall into. One they set themselves up for. Like so many barriers to our own success, it comes down to a choice of words.

That choice is between ‘confidence’ and ‘courage’.

Example: A client says she needs to build up the confidence to put a contentious issue on the table with her executive team. I ask her does she need confidence, or courage?

What’s the difference, you might ask? Surely we’re talking semantics? Let me suggest otherwise. (more…)

Five Questions To Guide You

Here are five simple questions to keep you on track over the next twelve months:

  1. How do I want to spend my time?
  2. What do I want to learn?
  3. What do I want to achieve?
  4. How do I want to be?
  5. What’s my theme for the year?

This last one is powerful. In many ways it is a compression of your answers to the previous four questions. By giving yourself a theme for the year, you have an anchor, a focal point, to help you choose and make wiser decisions while staying true to yourself. For example, a couple of years ago, my theme was ‘follow my nose and do what excites me’. I didn’t do any work that didn’t excite me. What a difference that made!

Instructions:

Write your answers down. Don’t rush, come back to them frequently during the course of a couple of weeks.

Keep a journal of what you’re doing, thinking and feeling.

Every month, revisit the journal and questions. Update your answers if you need to.

Notice what happens over time.

 

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Three Things I’ve Learned This Year

Before you check out for the year (at least in the southern hemisphere, where summer holidays beckon!), now’s a good time to reflect on what you’ve learned in the past 12 months. You’ve come a long way since January. What has living another year taught you? Here are three things I’ve learned this year:

  • Experiment more.

    If you want to get an idea moving, frame it as an experiment. I’ve accelerated a bunch my initiatives this year because I decided I didn’t need them to be perfect before I started. More production, more learning. All good.

  • Be the flower, not the bee.

    Bees fly around chasing the pollen. Flowers have the pollen, and bees come to them. Strive less. Decide what you’re about, let people know, and do your thing consistently well. You’ll attract more of what you want.

  • Meet ‘em where they’re at.

    You might have the best idea in the world. But unless you can show people that you ‘get’ their world, their concerns, in their language, it won’t fly. If you want to influence, build and cross the bridge between your idea and their issue.

My most inspiring sources of insight? Besides life’s experiences, I’ve found the words of Derek Sivers (of TED’s “crazy dancing guy” fame) grounded and insightful. And for a rich podcast with a wide range of perspectives, I love The Tim Ferris Show.

So, now my plan is to carry these insights forward into 2016 and use them wisely. And to stay curious for what else I can learn!

Flower

What have you learned this year? Please leave a reply.

 

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When The Wheels Come Off…

Lessons from the Bush #2

In my last post, I wrote about my family’s experience of taking a circuit breaker: three months of living simply and adventuring in the Western Australian outback. Here’s another insight about living and leading from that amazing trip.

We’d been travelling two months, and were happy, tanned and scruffy. We’d had some great adventures, and navigated some hairy terrain. Our trip so far had been relatively incident-free. We’d heard all sorts of horror stories about vehicles falling apart on the diabolical roads, people falling from cliffs, and of course the ever-present spectre of crocodile attacks. And we’d been on those roads, stood on the edge of those cliffs, and seen plenty of crocs, and come through it unscathed. We were carrying that quiet confidence you have when you’ve leaned into your fears and come through the other side.

But the past is no great predictor of the future.

So on this particular day we’d confidently gone off the beaten track to explore a fairly remote, but reportedly beautiful, area in the Pilbara region of WA. We’d been heading down a dirt road for about 90kms, and we hadn’t seen another car since leaving the main highway. It was about five in the afternoon. Driving comfortably along at 80 km/h, we heard a sharp bang and felt a sudden drag on the weight of our vehicle. Almost immediately, a wheel flew by my driver’s window, and kept on heading down the road at speed. “That’s our wheel!” I yelped, as the wheel went over a rise in the road, and disappeared out of sight.

The wheel of our camper trailer had come off. The bearings inside the hub had overheated and exploded, leaving the whole wheel with a mind of it’s own. The axle was ground into the dirt, munted. We quickly realised that even if we found the wheel, there was no chance of fitting it back on the trailer. We were literally stopped in our tracks.

Stopped in our tracks.

 

The sun was starting to set, there was no help around, no cell phone coverage, and we were 250km from the closest town.

And here’s the thing.

We didn’t panic. We didn’t lock on to finding a solution. Instead, we laughed. “Well, this is what we signed up for!” It was a test of how we could be in disruption. I stood back from the wrecked axle, cracked a beer with Kate, and we considered the world of possibilities that had just opened up in front of us. And the kids – well, they took it in their stride. They jumped out and ran down the road chasing the rogue wheel, which they eventually found waaay down the road. “What a great game, Dad! What’s next?”

Eventually, we decided the to leave the trailer where it stood, and go to find help. So we transferred the essentials, repacked the car, jacked up the trailer and left a note on it, and headed off into the sunset with a jumble of feelings: excitement (what an adventure!), curiosity (what’s going to happen next?), and concern (what if our trailer gets stolen?)

Not abandoned, just resting.

It turned out that an old friend lived the closest town. He generously gave us a bed for a few nights, and we had a wonderful few days there with his family. We retrieved the trailer with a tow truck, and I learned all about how to put a on new axle. We didn’t end up going to the beautiful placed we’d originally planned on, and we had an entirely different experience instead.

Looking back on it now, I wonder what would have happened if we’d responded to that situation differently. What if we’d decided it was a disaster? What if we’d been rigid about having to get to this beautiful spot we so wanted to go to? What if we’d panicked?

My guess:

  • We would have been paralysed, frustrated and stressed
  • The kids would have picked up on our stress, and responded in kind
  • We would have been restless to get on the road again, and not enjoyed our time with our mates as much
  • It wouldn’t have been as much fun (as weird as that might sound).

Stuff happens. It’s how you deal with that makes the difference. Some lessons I take from this experience that I think can be applied to how we lead, and how we live, especially in times when ‘the wheels come off’:

  • Practice ‘High Intention, Low Attachment’: your ability to have a goal, but not be attached to whether or not you get it (or how you get it).
  • Look for the possibilities: Once you’ve let go of the goal, consider the world of possibilities in front of you. Ask yourself “so what possibilities does this situation create?” You might be surprised, even excited, by your answers.
  • Remember that you always impact: You cannot not impact others. This is particularly important if you’re in a leadership role, where people are taking cues from you all the time. How you choose to talk and act is the tip of the iceberg that other people experience.

Travel well.

 

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