Saturday, December 9, 2017

Difference between aging and feeling old

Coco - the story of a Mexican boy stuck in the Land of the Dead - is among Pixar's best movies in years, thanks to a combination of vibrant visuals, humor and music. For 15 years, Pixar was the best animation studio on the planet. Then it lost its way and the magic faded. With Coco, Pixar has found its mojo.

I turned 53 yesterday. Our society has an aging phobia. Our children are leaving home, our bodies may be getting slower, we see friends dying.

Truth is, worrying about aging only makes us age faster. If we see ourselves as old, then we will be.

Let's recognize there is a huge difference between aging and feeling old.

I'm convinced that none of us reach age 53 without having life knock the props out from under us in some way. Everybody plans a charmed storybook life, but "stuff happens." Despite our best intentions, stress can be unavoidable. Your relationship breaks up. Your experience loss. You get depressed.

It is important to note that for a time in my life, I chose to be blind. Because of that choice, I was blind not only to beauty; I also was blind to opportunity, to forgiveness, to the value in others and a host of other things.

JOHN ORTBERG has this to say: We can have very little and yet be very rich. A rich soul experiences life differently. It experiences a sense of gratitude for what is has received, rather than resentment for what it hasn't gotten. It faces the future with hope rather than anxiety.

To be clear, perspective is how we decide to perceive a thing. Blindness is the decision not to see it at all. We must choose to see before having the opportunity to choose how we see it.

If you're sometimes talking about how "unfair" life is, you'll start to act according to that view, perceiving slights where none exist or, as studies have shown, putting less effort into your work because you've already determined it won't accomplish anything. The unfair view will quickly become your reality.

These days, I embrace humor. Laughter it is said, increases longevity. Being overly serious and intense decreases life span due to chronic illness. Instead, I laugh about things.

I am grateful for every breath, every moment. Cultivating an "attitude of gratitude" has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety, and a higher long-term satisfaction with life. For instance, instead of dreading a birthday, I am grateful I've been gifted with another year to live.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

To survive the bleak side of life

$100 billion. On Black Friday, Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos went from being the son of a 16-year old mom to the world's richest person when he hit a net worth of $100 billion. When he was 17 months old, his parents divorced. Growing up with his grandparents, he helped fix windmills and vaccinate cattle.

The moments in my life when things seemed the bleakest have also been when I found my greatest successes. As I look back at my life so far, there was something about coming close to quitting, to giving up, that motivated me to do more than I otherwise would.

Perseverance, it turns out, matter more than talent or intelligence when it comes to being successful. I wish to share with you that grit allowed me to escape from those difficult periods in my life when I was so exhausted, overwhelmed, depressed and confused. For me, grit is the secret to success.

Grit is the result of a hard-fought struggle, a willingness to take risks, a strong sense of determination, working relentlessly toward a goal, taking challenges in stride and having the perseverance to accomplish difficult things, even if I am wallowing in the most difficult circumstances.

Perhaps what I love most about grit is that you don't have to be born with it. It can be learned.

I cannot fathom how anyone, without firm convictions and deep inner beliefs, can be an effective leader. I don't remember many periods of self-doubts. When I did waver, it sometimes took another person to shake me out of my stupor.

Sometimes changes in an organization - especially when the new tomorrow is radically different from the golden yesterday - would overwhelm even the most experienced of leaders and team members.  It is unrealistic to think that all of them can ignore the exaggerated expectations, the suffocating demands of internal stakeholders, the chronic fatigue - all beyond our control.

Each of us, in our lives, has to find a way to build courage - the key word here being build.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Forcefulness leads to less productivity

Strike Friday. Hundreds of Amazon workers in Italy and Germany staged a Black Friday strike, the busiest online shopping day of the year, in protest of better wages. There’s also a question of rights and a suffocating climate for workers.

The point, rather, is to note that sometimes the more force you apply, the less effective it becomes.

I've learned this lesson many times over in my capacity as a leader. I have had my share of moments when I kept pushing long past the point of effectiveness. I didn't mean any harm; I'd just want to get the job done. But over the years, I've learned that sometimes I need to step on the brakes. Not every situation requires you to act like a pile driver.

Think back to the last time you were on the receiving end of a hard sell. Chances are, you suddenly found yourself unwilling to budge. The harder we're pushed, the more we resist. Being driven is another way to say "I am not in control."

Leadership can be a zero-sum game. The more a leader demands from his team members, the less the team member produces. People want to thrive. People thrive when they experience autonomy and relatedness. In some ways, leaders need to work harder at igniting people's passion. 
How do we go about finding our passion?
If you could do anything, what would you do? Are you willing to make sacrifices in order to do it? Are you willing to give up autonomy or flexitime for more money?

If you are not happy in your work, ask yourself what the cause of this unhappiness is. Is it self, attitude, boss, coworkers, compensation or environment? If you determine that it is best for you to move on, begin to act on it immediately.

Otherwise, see the current situation as an opportunity to grow in patience and fortitude.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Step back to propel forward

"Your economy isn't as good as ours." Less than 24 hours into his Asia trip, President Donald Trump delivered a light jab to Japan.

Truth be told, Abenomics has been a big success. The central bank injected vast amounts of money into the financial system which weakened the yen, making Japanese cars, electronics and other products more attractive to foreign buyers. Japan’s biggest banks have bravely navigated through a year of negative interest rates with their profits intact. This week it was reported that the Japanese economy grew for a seventh consecutive quarter.

There is a pattern. It is what leaders, legends, heroes, great achievers and champions do to excel. Let me tell you how I believe they achieve it.

Change will probably always be a challenge in our life. Adjusting to change is rarely easy. It's human nature to resist it. As leaders, we can help others respond positively.

There is a time and place to take a step back. To keep absorbing punishment would be foolish and masochistic. Sometimes we have to take a step back to propel ourselves forward. An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward.

There is an art to slowing down. In our busy world it is not easy to master this art, but it is necessary. In truth, I am still learning this every day. I have spent my life feeling like a bulldozer chasing butterflies in a hurricane.

Burnout, a close cousin of stress, is also on the rise. As leaders, we need to recognized and take action on correcting the pressing and disturbing issue of the overwhelmed team member.

Everyone wants things to get better. No one wants things to change.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Caring without compromise

A new Toy Story. A Brexit minister has admitted to asking his personal assistant to buy sex toys. Lately there's a slew of stories with different characters but similar themes: men in positions of power, and women who feel their institutions didn't do enough to protect them.

Simon Sinek puts it this way: Leadership is not about being in charge. It is about taking care of those in your charge.

Think about what do you want from your people? Focus. Effort. Dedication. Loyalty. Make their numbers. Achieve their goals. Get results.

Here's another question: what do you want for your people?

Most leaders tend to pursue results by focusing on what they want from people. I think they have it backwards. When we focus on what we want for our people, we are more likely to get the results we want from people.

Sadly, these days, many leaders lead from a distance. They don’t really know the people they lead nor do the people know their leader.  I get down in the trenches with my people.  It means caring for them; for what they think, what they need, what they want. Every human being has dreams; leaders help their people achieve those dreams. Caring for your people  has EVERYTHING to do with running a high performing team.

I also try to instill fun in everything we do, especially mundane, repetitive jobs. The point is that having fun at work with your friends creates insignificantly more social glue for any team than stock options and bonuses will ever provide. We accomplish more when we throw formality to the winds and free our people to have a life on our time, which soon becomes the time of their lives.

After all, leaders are not responsible for the numbers. Leaders are responsible for the people responsible for the numbers.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Finding great team members

China's Communist Party has a woman problem. At the end of the Chinese Communist Party's 19th Congress, the new Politburo Standing Committee was revealed: seven middle aged men in dark suits, without a woman to be seen.

Here's a little secret: women make terrific co-workers, just like guys but different from guys. Oh, another thing: never ever feel castrated when a woman rather than a man does better. The women in my team are every bit as motivated, if not more, when it came to achieving great results.

The task of a leader is to assemble the best team possible. How many leaders can say with absolute certainty that their hiring decisions are based solely on job-relevant criteria?

Perhaps the most malignant obstacle to recruiting great team members is what psychologists call halo effect. Studies show that a single positive characteristic - like a winning smile can distort our view of people's abilities. Good looking people are perceived as more intelligent, competent and qualified than their less attractive colleagues despite not being objectively better at any of these things. In a 2013 study, when images were photoshopped, a 6' 4" man was rated to have more leadership ability by participants than a 5' 4" version of the same person.

But wait. It gets worse.

Research about interview bias suggests that we can't help but favor those who remind us of ourselves.

While similarity among team members can foster smoother interactions and better working relationships, too much similarity can actually stifle certain elements of performance. If we surround ourselves with people exactly like ourselves, without diversity of opinion, we run the risk of ideas grinding to a halt.

There is no formula for guaranteed success in hiring. My personal way to minimize my interviewing blind spot is to include multiple interviewers. I leverage my best team members to co-interview with me. This method has been relatively reliable to help me reach better hiring decisions. But it is not foolproof. I have encountered a well-prepared candidate who aced her interview and everyone liked her just fine. But one month after hiring her, we can't help noticing that she is not a good fit.

No matter how we lead, how often we recognize, or how generously we reward, there's no substitute for selecting talented people and placing them in the right roles. It's a matter of opening our eyes.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Shit happens. Stay in control in stormy times

#MeToo is a campaign whereby women shared their stories of sexual harassment in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations. More than two dozen women - including Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow - have made accusations against the disgraced film producer. Lady Gaga, Monica Lewinsky and Rosario Dawson have all identified as victims of sexual abuse using the hashtag #MeToo

Shit happens in life. It's so important to deal with the pain when it happens instead of allowing yourself to accumulate all of the anxiety, hate, anger, embarrassment or whatever other negative emotions and allowing it to eat away at you and cripple you for years to come.

Negative emotions are an inevitable part of life. Think about it this way: everyone wants happiness. No one wants pain. But you can't make a rainbow, without a little rain.

We cannot always control the thoughts that come into our minds but we can control the thoughts that we dwell on and our behavior. In stormy times, everything depends on whether we allow negative thoughts and emotions to dominate our actions or whether we control our thoughts and actions in spite  of our emotions.

Some may deny there is a power greater than all of us, but I am a believer in Divine Intervention. People come into my life at the right time. I have been in situations that appeared hopeless, and yet I survived. Coincidence, it has been said, is God's way of staying anonymous.

At this point, I must tell you two of the most important lessons I learned from challenges and obstacles I have faced: Don't dwell on disappointments.....determine to do your best anyway. The second one is this: we don't always know what's best.

I asked God, "Why are you taking me through troubled waters?"
He replied, "Because your enemies can't swim."