Your Most Important Job

Are you forgetting your most important job when you give a presentation? Forget the first thing that came into your mind: it’s not that. Your most important job has nothing to do with what you’re going to say, or your slides, or knowing who your audience is. It’s not even your being clear on the specific goals you created for the presentation or audience.

When speaking to a group of people, your most important job is to create a more compelling reality than what’s already going on in the minds of the audience. The other jobs I mentioned are important (and should be addressed later), but no combination of those jobs will give you the asset that’s most vital when you’re speaking to people: their willingness to leave the realities already going on in their minds, give you their undivided attention and choose the reality you’re presenting to them.

When you and the audience are one, you both share what I call a consensual reality, and now the likelihood of your message coming across is high. For this to happen, you must be clear on your goals. Your goals will provide you with the framework for the reality you’re going to present to the audience. In other words, you’ll be able to paint such a clear picture of this new reality that the audience will go where lead them. If the picture you draw, or the reality you establish isn’t more compelling than the everyday thoughts in the minds of the audience, they’ll stay right where they are, thinking about feeding the dog, or errands they have to run on the way home from work, or what they’re going to do this weekend. You’ve given them no reason to migrate to your reality from their own, so they sit and pretend to pay attention, all the while thinking about the dog, the errand, the weekend.

This is a waste of your effort, and of their time. As speaker, you’ll probably be able to sense how much of the audience’s focus you’ve captured. It’s a horrible feeling to be speaking and know that you don’t really have the full attention of your audience, and it can be tempting to think they’re not holding up their end of the bargain. Wrong. They haven’t let you down. You’ve let them down by not giving them an overwhelming reason to opt for your reality over their own.

This is easy to fix, and there’s no reason to ever put yourself and your audience in that position again. Here’s how to leave that unattractive prospect behind you forever, so that they next time you stand in front of an audience, you’ll command their full attention, and they’ll happily and willingly let you lead them. In other words, you and the audience will have become one. Start by answering this question: What do I want the audience to walk away with that they didn’t have before they heard my talk? State this in the most active terms possible. Passive statements like, “I want them to understand…” or, “I want them to feel…” won’t get you anywhereInstead, use statements like, “I want them to feel as passionate about this as I do.” Active, actionable goals will give you the fuel you’ll need to engage them. The audience must feel like you have something for them that they need. They can’t feel that way if you don’t.

The first thing you say to your audience has to give them a clear sense that you know where you’re going, that you’re able to take them with you, and that the trip is going to be fun, or at the very least, interesting. As an example, you could open with something like, “Twenty minutes from now, it’s my goal that you have a completely different view of x.” You’ve made a promise. All you have to do now is deliver on it. Paying close attention to your most important job will make your presentation more successful, and more fun, for you and your audience.

You're Only Boring When You're Hiding

When a speaker is telling a story to an audience, the story’s only boring when the speaker hides from the audience. When we’re allowed to see who the speaker really is, the story becomes fascinating.

The last statement might strike you as untrue. We tend to judge certain types of material as inherently boring, and other types of material as inherently fascinating. Have you ever seen a passionate, engaging presenter bring (what you assumed be) a boring topic to life, leaving you with an entirely new, exciting point of view about that subject? Have you ever seen a presenter take what you thought was going to be a fascinating presentation and drain every bit of life out of it?

It’s likely you’ve seen both, which pretty much kills the idea that dry, technical material makes for a boring presentation, or that fascinating material promises an engaging presentation. What makes a subject come to life is a presenter’s willingness to let the audience see who she really is, without hiding or holding back. This willingness unlocks the element most likely to connect you both to the material you’re presenting, and to the audience. It unlocks your passion.

If you think back to the presentation you expected to be boring, the one that turned out to be fascinating, I’ll bet it was largely because the speaker had a passionate connection to his material. If that talk is really lodged in your memory as something wonderful, you’ll be able to remember the level of passion of that speaker, and how he wasn’t going to stop until the audience felt that same level of passion. It’s passion that carries the day.

The only problem is: when we hold back our true selves in front of an audience, attempting to protect ourselves, we smother our own passion – and when we do that, we’re leaving the most valuable tool we have in the toolbox. You need that tool to connect to an audience and spread your passion to them. When you’re trying to protect yourself from rejection, from lack of approval, from fear of not being good enough, the channel for your passion to be communicated and transferred to the audience is shut tight. Passion can only express itself when you’re willing to open-up and let the audience see who you really are.

Here’s how it works: your willingness to just be who you really are when you’re speaking to an audience, without hiding, or holding back, lets the audience mentally put themselves in your place. At that point, the story you’re telling, or the point you’re trying to make becomes about us, the audience. The story may have happened to you, but now it feels like it’s about us. Your passion has engaged our imaginations, which makes us completely receptive to what you’re offering. If it doesn’t feel like it’s about us, we’re not really in your story. And if we can’t find ourselves in your story, you’ve essentially lost us, and lost the opportunity to influence us in a positive way. In other words, the audience feels the same, and has the same beliefs and perceptions at the end of your talk that they had when you began.

That’s not the only damage done. When you hold yourself back, in other words, when we can’t see ourselves in you, it can feel like you’re being rejected, or negatively judged. It may feel like that, but think about it this way: you don’t really reject someone if can’t tell who they are. You just sort of pass them over. Frankly, you and the effort you’ve put into your talk are worth more than that.

I invite you to give yourself what you’re worth. Let us see who you are. Share your passion with us. If you do, you’ll set us ablaze with that passion, and it will become our passion.

Decluttering: More Than Just Throwing Out Your Couch

We hear plenty of talk about the benefits of de-cluttering our lives. Less confusion, lowered levels of distraction, increased ability to focus, and feelings of ease are a few of the benefits we’re promised. The talk always seems to focus on the physical aspects of de-cluttering, in other words, how to let go of physical objects that no longer serve their original purpose, things that are just taking up space in our lives. When deciding that de-cluttering would be a useful thing to try, we look at the amount of physical space, and the number of physical objects that are taking up that space, and we adjust.

It’s easy to imagine the absence of these physical objects, and because we understand that just removing them from our lives will gives us a greater sense of simplicity, it’s not a big leap for us to dive into the activities of clearing out and cleaning up. The benefits we enjoy from this sort of de-cluttering are real, and the sense of relief we can get from activities involved with having less physical stuff to deal with can be enormously energizing.

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Let’s say you’ve decided to de-clutter a room in your house, one where you spend a lot of time and need to be able to concentrate. Let’s also say there’s a corner of the room with two large windows, but there’s an enormous chair in the corner that’s blocking half the incoming light. Maybe you liked the idea of sitting in that chair when you put it there, but the truth is: you never sit there. Seems like a simple choice, doesn’t it? Just move the chair to another room, or get rid of it all together.

From there, let’s go directly to the mental and emotional equivalent. What is there in your heart or your mind that seems like an obstacle, that feels like it’s dragging you down or getting in your way? There’s no need to pick and choose. Whatever comes to mind first is the right answer. For the sake of argument, let’s say it’s some lingering regret, or resentment, or inability to forgive someone, maybe even yourself. For this exercise, let’s treat that emotional burden that came to mind with the same mental flexibility that we brought to moving the chair. When you thought about moving the chair, it probably didn’t seem like an overwhelming task. You could easily imagine the steps you needed to take: find a new place for the chair, pick it up, or find a way to slide it, and put it in its new place. Moving old resentments, hurts, repetitive thoughts, or an unwillingness to forgive takes a good deal less physical effort than moving the chair, but requires commitment and discipline. Don’t be intimidated by that; this is the same discipline and commitment you bring to other areas of your life on a daily, even hourly basis. We’re just borrowing that discipline and commitment and using it in a new, productive way.

This is easier than you probably think. When the old hurt, or resentment, or person you haven’t been able to forgive come to mind, don’t run from it, or try to get it out of your mind. Welcome it. It’s that simple: just welcome it. It’s the resistance you’ve built up around this issue, or person that’s making your life feel cluttered, not the person or issue itself.

As an example, let’s say you’re giving a talk to a group of people. Let’s also say you recently had an unpleasant disagreement with someone in the audience. Let’s load it up even more and say that this is a person whose support you were counting on. This is mental clutter that’s likely to dilute your focus, which you’ll need to make a successful, compelling presentation. Your impulse is probably to do everything you can to put that person and that argument out of your head. It won’t work. By resisting it, you’re giving it power, and it remains mental clutter, one more thing to deal with. Instead, try welcoming the unpleasant thought. Counter-intuitive as this is, try it, and when I say welcome it, I mean it. If all you do is welcome it, in other words, just let the thought be there, it will evaporate very quickly. But don’t fall for the trap of pursuing the bad thought, or obsessing over it. That would be like confusing the memory of the chair with the chair itself. More than just a sense of peace, decluttering allows us the space to respond to our sometimes chaotic, often challenging personal and professional lives.

The Primary Rule of Relationships

See if this sounds familiar: you’re standing in front of a group of people, you’re about to start speaking to them, you make a start that isn’t your best, and suddenly everything seems to fall apart. The audience isn’t responding in the way you hoped for – or think they should. They’re not really paying attention to you, they might be looking at their phones, or talking to one another. It’s clear to you that even the ones who seem to be paying attention aren’t fully engaged, the way you hoped and expected they'd be. It may feel like it can only get worse from there, but it's not too late to save this situation, though it might be feeling desperate to you.

The best possible way to get yourself back on track is to focus on the relationship you have with your audience.

 You may not have thought of what’s going on between you and the audience as a relationship, but it absolutely is, and audiences instinctively understand this. For whatever amount of time they are your audience, you are in an active relationship with them. By thinking abut the dynamic between you and the audience as a relationship, you’re putting yourself in the strongest possible position to positively influence them and to achieve whatever goal you might have. Thinking this way will give you the added benefit of increasing the breath and range of emotional tone and degree of intimacy you have with your audience.

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The following approach will improve any relationship you have, whether it’s at work, in your personal life, or talking to an audience of people you’ve never seen before. It’s simple, and it represents the best possible chance for “feeding” a relationship and getting what you’d like from it:

give what youd like to get in return.

In other words, if you want to be respected, model that behavior by behaving in a respectful fashion (this is done more by intention than by any specific behavior. The appropriate behavior will flow from your specific intention to be respectful. While it’s tempting to go directly to a specific behavior that you think models respect, like asking if everyone can hear you, or asking if the audience would like you to go into greater detail on a point, start with the intention to act in a respectful manner. The right intention on your part will fuel the behavior that’s appropriate for that intention). If you want to be trusted, set that intention so that you can model that behavior. If you want to be communicated with openly and transparently, model that behavior. You’re essentially setting up a web of intentions that will inform your behavior.

Be clear on these intentions before you step in front of the audience. This approach sounds simple, and it is, but it takes commitment and vigilance. If you expect to be regarded or treated in a way without first having modeled that behavior, you may be in for a long wait. This is especially true for people in leadership positions. The people you lead are looking to you to set both the emotional tone and behavioral standard for the relationship. It’s just another example of first giving what you’d like to get in return. Only by modeling your behavior to mirror what you’d like to see from them are you likely to see them reflect that behavior back to you. 

The effectiveness of this practice becomes beautifully evident when you try it. Even if you occasionally don’t get what you’d like in return, you’re still behaving in a manner that expresses the fundamental respect you have for yourself, and for others. Sometimes, that’s more than enough. 

 

Feeling Your Way Through Public Speaking

Imagine the moment when you stand in front of an audience and get ready to give them a speech or presentation. This is a moment that feels alarmingly vulnerable for most of us. To deal successfully with this moment, we need the full spectrum of our intelligence to successfully see us through. What do we tend to do instead? We feel threatened in some way, and so we cut ourselves off from feeling altogether and try to think our way through the situation. There are plenty of situations and decisions that can be thought through. Some of them can’t be thought through; they have to be felt through. When we rely on full-spectrum intelligence, we’re using both thinking and feeling. Think of a situation when you were speaking to an audience, or involved in a meeting, and you were operating at the highest level possible. Everything was clicking together perfectly, and you were able to identify and catch every opportunity that presented itself. The situation you’re remembering probably involved integration of what, for simplicity sake, we call thinking and feeling, or if you prefer, thinking and instinct. In other words, it involved the full spectrum of your intelligence.

Attempting to think your way through a decision that has to be felt through is likely to yield a poor decision. After having made that decision and recognizing it as a poor one, it also tends to produce a feeling of, “I knew I shouldn’t have made the decision I did. Something told me not to.” The “something” that told you that may have been a part of your intelligence you’re unfamiliar with. Add to that how we’ve been taught to distrust the parts of our intelligence that are difficult to name or quantify, and it’s easy to understand how we habitually leave some of our most valuable tools in the toolbox.

Here’s the takeaway: thinking alone will not connect you to an audience, nor will it make it possible for them to connect to you. Here’s something that may be make thing easier for you: you don’t have to be able to analyze or understand your ability to feel your way through a situation, you just have to be open to receiving and trusting it. Can you really afford to ignore vital components of the full spectrum of your intelligence?

High Friction - Low Friction Leadership

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low friction

A revealing way to assess leadership is in terms of the amount of friction it generates: there are high-friction leaders and low-friction leaders. These terms say nothing about the actual effectiveness of a leader, or what sort of results he or she is able to deliver. Referring to leadership in terms of friction is simply a measure of the unnecessary wear and tear inflicted by a leader on a company, a culture, and particularly on those being led. High-friction leadership, encouraged by the drive for short-term results, wears down people, cultures, and organizations so that the negative long-term effects outweigh any short-term economic gain. Short-term gain is the argument typically used to justify the presence of high-friction leaders in an organization. Over time, the decision to tolerate high-friction leaders always backfires, and vast amounts of time and valuable resources are expended in an attempt to mitigate the damage to the organization. High-friction leadership in an organization is characterized by low morale, widespread physical and psychological exhaustion, and high attrition rates. Those most likely to flee are highly-motivated individuals in key positions, whose contributions often drive an organization.

Low-friction leadership is invariably informed by big picture, long-term thinking. A “results horizon” stretched out over years rather than weeks or months informs decisions in a manner that factors in the best interests of individuals involved in the organization, as well as the organization itself. Morale is higher, workers feel energized and motivated, and attrition is low.

Trust

There is a single personal characteristic that low-friction leaders always demonstrate, and that is notably absent in high-friction leaders. The characteristic is trust, on every possible level. This particular expression of trust is uniformly radiated: the leader trusts herself, and trusts the people who work for her. On a fundamental level, self-trust is necessary in order to radiate trust toward others. In the absence of trust, high-friction leaders display a number of characteristics, among them the need to be right, the need to take credit for all accomplishments, and difficulty listening and accepting the contributions of others. The common theme in these characteristics is lack of trust. Rather than placing the people they lead at the center of their universes, high-friction leaders place themselves there. The result is that high-friction leaders artificially divorce the growth of their organizations from the growth of the individuals who comprise the organization.

Low-friction leaders, because they’re willing to trust, to listen, to take in alternate points of view, are easier on the people in their organizations for this simple reason: they’re easier on themselves. Because they’re able to trust, accept, and forgive themselves, they model these qualities to their organizations. These personal qualities combine in a powerful way to form the larger quality that most defines low-friction leadership: resilience. Resilient leaders are able to inject that same resilience into their organizations. If you’re interested in being a low-friction leader, the place to start is by looking at your willingness to trust, accept and forgive. Think these qualities are divorced from the everyday world of high-level business? Think again.

Growth Always Happens Outside the Comfort Zone

See if this sounds familiar: we all want to grow, but we tend to protect the places in us that feel most vulnerable. The places that feel unsafe and vulnerable represent areas where we can grow most, where we can grow exponentially in fact. Here’s the hard truth: growth always happens outside the comfort zone. You may not see the two, comfort and growth, as being at odds with one another, but if you’re like most of us, when a growth opportunity presents itself that invites you to go outside your comfort zone, you may avoid it. This is a perfect example of thinking we can have it all: growth and comfort. The sober truth is, we can’t. We can have comfort, and some incremental growth, but for real growth, it’s imperative that we take a step into the great unknown, beyond the areas that comprise our comfort zones. No matter how big your comfort zone may be, it’s likely to be a confined space. Most of us don’t have a comfort zone that includes the widest possible set of possibilities, circumstances and conditions.

Deconstructing Your Comfort Zone

To understand why we construct the comfort zones we all seem to have, let’s take a look at what constitutes a comfort zone. However different mine might be from yours, they tend to have several qualities in common: we’re comfortable when things are familiar, predictable, and consistent. It’s safe to say most of us don’t like surprises thrown at us, or at least the sort of surprises that challenge us. We want to know what’s coming our way, so our comfort zone is an expression of how we think things ought to be. In other words, the comfort zone is a collection of what we feel to be reasonable expectations about the world around us. It’s the way we make the world feel safe, so the vulnerable parts of us feel protected. See what we’re doing? We’re attempting to construct a world that feels safe to us, so we won’t feel challenged by circumstances. By defining and limiting what feels safe to us, we limit the resources we’re able to marshal to meet the demands of the situation. In other words, we’re limiting our growth.

In my work, I often find clients opening up to me about topics they may have previously regarded as “off limits.” The clients who do this are inviting deep growth. These are usually highly successful people with numerous strengths. We all like to define ourselves by our strengths, which can be a healthy tendency. We want to be able to lead from strengths. Ironically, by hiding from the places that feel vulnerable, we’re defining ourselves by our vulnerabilities.

Before we can be willing to venture outside the comfort zones we’ve built for ourselves, it’s useful to be clear on a simple truth: comfort zones don’t provide safety, only the illusion of safety. The only thing we’re really protecting ourselves from is growth. Though it may seem otherwise, what’s inside our comfort zones isn’t really any safer than what’s outside of them. Step outside, and meet the rest of yourself.

Intelligence Comes in Many Forms

Multiple IntelligenceWe all tend to honor the form and expression of intelligence most familiar to us: our own. This represents a trap for leaders because it can cut them off from the different, complementary resources of the people they lead, resources they badly need to lead successfully in complex environments. For example, if my mind organizes information in a rational, analytical manner, that same quality in others will resonate with me. If I happen to see myself as a “big picture” thinker, or as being highly creative, I’ll pay particular attention to those qualities in others, and may value and reward them and their contributions more highly than contributions coming from people whose intelligence is expressed in different manners. As an example, imagine you happened to be color blind. If you were unable to distinguish red from green, that inability would become clear to you, probably early in life. Once you understood there was a common color you weren’t able to see but most everyone else saw, how realistic would it be for you to pretend that color didn’t exist? This sort of pretending wouldn’t be without consequences. This is exactly what we do when we ignore forms of intelligence other than our own familiar one, or pretend they don’t exist.

In my work, I often see leaders falling into the trap of surrounding themselves with team members whose form and expression of intelligence mirrors their own. This creates leadership teams with enormous blind spots who are then unable to take advantage of the full spectrum of intelligence available to them, and they suffer the consequences of not being able to do so.

The tendency to gravitate toward and reward intelligence that mirrors our own is a reminder of how each of us is likely to be trapped in our own context. This context is the frame or lens through we view the world. We make this even more complicated by assuming our context is both the right context and the only context. These dual assumptions create the wrongful impression that we’re doing the thing that will propel us and our team forward in the fastest, most efficient manner. It’s only when we make some major misstep or some decision that turns out to have been wrong-minded that we have the chance to examine the limitation of failing to take advantage of the diversity represented by different forms and expressions of intelligence. However, this particular form of color blindness is so ingrained that even when we fall prey to it, we’re not likely to recognize what we’ve done to ourselves, so we’re unlikely to change course and widen the scope of our context, and we keep repeating the same mistake.

Diversity in forms and expressions of intelligence is a form of diversity that isn’t spoken about. In years past, it was common for business leaders to pretend that non-white and female individuals couldn’t possibly make the grade in leadership positions, or positions of great responsibility. Happily, those days are mostly gone. Both the business world and the larger world are better for it. We have a long way to go before we’re able to honor and enjoy the benefits of diversity of intelligence. There’s nothing keeping us from it, other than tired, unexamined assumptions about the superiority of our personal forms and expressions of intelligence. As a leader in a complex environment, can you really afford to ignore valuable resources that may be right under your nose?

Back to School Tips to Help Students Prepare for a Competive Job Market

ALBANY, N.Y., Sept. 25, 2013 /PRNewswire-iReach/ --  As students in both high school and college go back to school for their final year, Executive Coach Gary Stine, principal of the consulting firm Spoken Word Solutions outlines critical areas students should be aware of when preparing for their entrance into the job market. Stine said, "With a national youth unemployment rate hovering at 16.3% students need to be on their game if they want to get a job. The market is competitive and students who start preparing now will have a strategic advantage when they begin applying and interviewing for jobs."

Stine has outlined areas that students, especially who are in their final year of school, should consider in preparation of securing their first job:

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Self Reflection

As a tool for growth, self-reflection is indispensable. It’s also a tool that can be difficult for many of us, especially if we’re intelligent and ambitious. The combination of intelligence and ambition drives many of us into business and the professions, where self-reflection can be equated with pointless self-indulgence. Even for those of us who may not fall prey to this wrong-headed judgment, genuine self-reflection still proves elusive, partly, maybe even mostly because we tend to have no idea how to do it. Because we’re so unfamiliar with it, what we’ve come to think of as self-reflection has become an instrument for self-recrimination.

Unraveling your Thoughts

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The two things have nothing in common, really, but they become hopelessly intertwined with the addition of a single element: comparison. The comparison I’m referring to is the sort we engage in many times in a single day, probably without realizing we’re doing it. We start what we think of as self-reflection, and before we know what’s happening, we’re comparing ourselves to what we think we know about someone else.  We think about what someone else seems to have, or do, or be, and suddenly, we’re not reflecting, we’re either recriminating ourselves for not measuring up, or we’re feeling relieved that we think we compare so favorably to the person or people who come to mind.

Comparison kills compassion because it objectifies the people being compared. Both we and the person we’re comparing ourselves to become objects, so we’re not regarding ourselves or others; we’re regarding what in our minds have become “things.”

Patience and Humility

Self-Reflection may be about humility, but it’s not about humiliation. Humility provides perspective; humiliation only offers degradation. When we compare ourselves, we’re pointlessly humiliating ourselves, or others. This isn’t self-reflection, so there’s no insight to be gained from it. Part of the difficulty many of us have with self-reflection may be that often, there’s no immediate result or “pay-off” from the process. For those of us who are impatient, or who expect immediate results, this can seem like a waste of time. Having taken a peek into ourselves, and feeling as though we got nothing in return for it can close us off to any insight that may present itself after our period of reflection, as often happens. Even when we have the best intentions, seeming to get nothing from our inward look is likely to discourage us from repeating the process in the future.

If you don’t know who you are, why does it matter where you’re going? Where you’re going makes a great deal more sense when you know who you are. Self-knowledge, self-recognition, or whatever you choose to call it illuminates the journey. Without self knowledge, regardless of your goal or level of ambition, you’re staggering around in the dark. Real self-knowledge comes only through self-reflection. In other words, it’s not the events and accomplishments that help us grow so much as it is how we process them, how we reflect on them.

Can the people you lead recognize themselves in you?

mirrorIf they can’t, they have much less reason to follow you, or to really look to you for leadership. In a very real way, you represent what they can become. You have the opportunity to model their future for them, and in a sense, act as a bridge to that future. Though this may sound mysterious, it’s not. People are always able to recognize themselves in you when you’re willing to show them who you really are. That’s not to say what you show them will be a lot like them or even a little like them, nor is it to say you have to be “pals” with them. When someone in authority reveals him or herself to be authentic enough and trusting enough to share who he or she really is, the result is an invitation to join them in authenticity. This may not sound like something of value, but think about the energy it takes to work in an environment where you feel you have to hide some part of who you really are. This isn’t the kind of environment where people are most fully engaged or able to contribute their best. Now think about working in the sort of environment where you feel completely comfortable bringing who you really are to work. In the same way it costs energy to hide who you are, when you’re able to share who you really are, a tremendous amount of energy is made available for immediate use. This is an example of something that, though it may be hard to quantify, is undeniable when experienced.

"I Don't Have Time For This"

distractionWhen situations deviate from the way we expect them to be or would like them to be, it’s interesting to watch how we adapt. A common first reaction, especially if we’re tired, or feel rushed or overwhelmed, is some variation of “I don’t have time for this now.” If we’re extremely hard on ourselves, as a lot of us are, we can see a departure from the way we think things should be as both a failure on our part to control our lives and as a deviation from reality itself. Feel what happens in your body when you have this reaction. It may be subtle, it may be quite dramatic. The manner in which we react to what life presents to us either expands our sense of possibility, and our ability to deal with what’s in front of us, or it contracts us emotionally, and our sense of possibility contracts accordingly. As we build awareness of just how much of our time we spend in the reality-rejecting state of “I don’t have time for this,” a truth starts to become clear. This isn’t the place from which we’re able to respond with what’s best, most creative, or most true about ourselves.

In the moment we feel ourselves reacting out of an overwhelmed state and are able to have an awareness of going to the “I don’t have time for this” place, we also have a choice. The choice is simpler than it sounds. It’s the choice between acknowledging and accepting what’s in front of us as “life” or “reality” or whatever we choose to call it, and rejecting the life we’re being presented with in favor of some idealized version of life, where we always have control, and where everything goes according to plan.

"Controlling the Situation"

We’ve all probably had periods in our lives when things went smoothly, and it may have seemed like we were the masters of our fates, and could hold any undesirable elements at bay through good planning and sheer strength of will. However long these periods may last, each one of them is ultimately interrupted by some event or change in circumstances that bring all our wonderful planning crashing down. These aren’t failures on our part; they’re reminders that our control only extends so far.

“Of course I have time for this now” is a reaction that represents acceptance and surrender to real situations and circumstances. It’s also the reaction that allows us to expand our sense of what constitutes life. This understanding is always the place that allows us to respond from our deepest inner resources and to grow and expand accordingly. Think about it for a minute: when was the last time you grew or expanded from things going exactly as you’d planned them? That may describe a pleasant situation, but let’s face it, there’s not likely to be growth or expansion involved in it. “I don’t have time for this now.” Really? If you don’t have time for the life in front of you, as it’s being presented to you, what do you have time for?

Dealmakers Posing as Leaders

It’s interesting to note how in the business world the leader of yesterday has morphed into the dealmaker of today. More interesting still is how the distinction between the two seems to have been lost. Perhaps “lost” isn’t the right word. The drama, glamor and enormous profits associated with dealmakers, many of whom are in what previously would have been thought of as leadership roles, seems to have eclipsed the idea and value of mere leadership. “They must be leaders. Look at the deals they’re making and the empires they’re creating.” This was the reasoning that allowed Mitt Romney, a quintessential dealmaker, to pose as a leader and subsequently, to present himself as a Presidential contender (despite there never having been a successful business person who then became a successful U.S. President). It’s not necessarily that dealmakers have no aptitude for the day-to-day work of leadership. It’s just not likely to be of importance to them. imposter

Many top executives, tasked with taking their organizations forward, display little or no interest in leading once they find themselves in leadership positions. Their versions of leadership are dependent on activities such as mergers and acquisitions, in other words, exterior means by which to grow the organization. While these may be important in the overall strategy of an organization, mergers and acquisitions alone are an inadequate substitute for day-to-day leadership if the organization is to have a long-term future. Depending solely on these exterior paths for growth ignores the less dramatic, but vitally important internal growth of the organization.

In It For The Long-Term

A primary difference in orientation between leaders and dealmakers has to do with the element of time. Leaders are more likely to have a long-term sense of time when they think about the health and well-being of their organization and its people. Though aware and respectful of the need for short-term results, leaders don’t lose sight of long-term objectives, and the long-term well-being of the organization and the people who make it a living thing. In addition, leaders are aware of their legacies within the organizations they’ve led. Dealmakers are likely to view legacy as a collection of deals.

This points to another key difference: successful leaders are more likely to be team players, with a strong sense of commitment to their organizations and to the people they lead. Though often highly competitive, successful leaders don’t regard every situation as an opportunity to exert their will over others and emerge as the one and only winner. Dealmakers tend to be solo players. Because their primary commitment is to the deals they create and the profit and glory they stand to realize, organizations and people slip from conscious consideration into the category of expendable commodities. Winning is everything to the dealmaker.

Who’s responsible for the shift from leader to dealmaker? It’s not primarily the executives put in leadership positions. In their defense, they may not even position themselves as actual leaders in the sense of being interested in or competent with the day-to-day work of leading. Their interest, and consequently, their attractiveness to those in charge of the selection process that places them at the tops of corporations, is in the end game, i.e., the profits they and other major shareholders will realize in the shortest time frame possible. Little or no emphasis and attention are paid to the long-term health of the organizations they run.

People & Profits

Though leading and dealmaking don’t have to be mutually exclusive of one another, typically, that’s what happens: the focus more often than not becomes either leading profits, or leading people and organizations. If the focus of the executive in charge bypasses the growth of the organization and the people who comprise it, and goes directly to monies earned and realized by those at the top, whatever profit is generated will likely be at the long-term expense of the organization and its people. If focus is placed first on the growth and well-being of the organization and its people, whatever deals are pursued stand a better chance of being a good fit for the organization and its people, and the profits over time may equal those of the former scenario. These profits will be distributed more widely, in terms of the number of people who receive them, the good to the community, and the time frame over which the company remains profitable, and continues to exist.

True leaders don’t regard people and organizations as expendable. For dealmakers, everything is expendable, except the thrill of the deal, and the profits and status to be realized at the closing of the deal. Is there a future in this? Only the bleakest possible version of a future, where wealth becomes even more concentrated in the hands of the few.

What stands in the way of our seeing more true leadership? Two things come to mind. The first is the popular assumption that more is always better, and more right now is best of all. Unfortunately, this assumption, unchallenged and unquestioned by those who buy into it, is a future-killer. It kills a possible beneficial long-term future for many in exchange for an unspeakably opulent immediate future for the few. Those who kill the future for others haven’t asked themselves the question posed by David Loy: “Why is more always better when it’s never enough?” A friend of mine in the employ of a Rockefeller of the older generation once asked his employer, “Mr. Rockefeller, just how much money do you need?” His answer, delivered with a smile, but in dead earnest: “Just a little more.”

Inner/Outer Focus

The other obstacle to the long-term, good-for-the-many-model may be less obvious and has to do with various levels of ambition among people. Though based on my personal experience of coaching what are by now hundreds of executives in high position, and so anecdotal, I’m convinced of its inherent truth. People with levels of ambition strong enough to attain high position tend to be more outwardly focused; that is, they tend to be more focused on the world around them than on what’s happening inside themselves. Their focus is more likely to be on outward expressions of growth at the expense of inner expressions of their own growth and the growth of the people they lead. It’s this imbalance, caused by little or no self-reflection, that makes acceptable the enormous, short-term gain for the few at the expense of long-term well-being of the many. I don’t have an answer to this problem, except to say that the inner/outer focus of people seems to be put into place early in life, or late in life, after people have left the workforce. It’s seldom that this focus shifts during a person’s key earning years. When it does, it’s often a result of some near-catastrophe or life-altering event. Finding ways to nourish and encourage a rich inner life in childhood, is instrumental in helping develop a healthy sense of place in and obligation to the world.

Though there are some dealmakers who also happen to be committed, successful leaders, one of the two orientations tends to predominate. There’s nothing wrong with being a dealmaker. The problem arises when the opportunity to lead is ignored in favor of making deals. Based again on my own work over the last eighteen years, the executives who are happiest both during their working lives, and when their working lives come to an end are those whose focus has been on growing people and organizations. The dealmakers, though often wealthy beyond imagining, seem to enjoy little sense of accomplishment. Perhaps they’re still waiting for the next deal which, sadly for them, won’t be coming along.

Does Your Communication Style Work for You?

As a leader, does you ability to communicate with the people who work for you get you what you need? Does it get them what they need? I often find myself working with highly successful people mired in frustration that’s caused by miscommunication. Though we can see ourselves as brilliantly clear communicators, missed deadlines and slipping timelines due to communication difficulties are hard to ignore. phone canHow often have you found yourself thinking, “I was really clear about this. I told them exactly where we have to go, what means will take us there, and the date by which we have to get it done, and they didn’t follow through.” Let’s admit there’s a chance your communication was excellent, and the person tasked with executing simply didn’t follow through. As least as often, there’s a good chance the person on the receiving end of your communication, the person you and others are depending on, didn’t get the message. That’s right; the same message you saw as being crystal clear, and expertly delivered.

The message you delivered might have been clear as far as it went, but if the result was less than you desired, there’s a good chance some crucial factor was left unsaid. When something seems obvious to us, we tend to assume it will be equally obvious to others, and so we move into an unintentional form of verbal shorthand. In other words, we leave blank spaces, expecting the person listening to us to fill in the blank spaces exactly as we would have.

When I take a client through the exercise of exposing these blank spaces, almost invariably, he or she is able to understand how the communication that seemed so clear and obvious could have been misunderstood.

Understand this: if people aren’t receiving the information you’re giving them in the context you intended, it isn’t their responsibility to hear more, it’s your responsibility to give it to them differently, or more completely.

Authentic Leadership

leadershipLooking to others for examples of how to lead can be a helpful place to start, but for leadership to be authentic and sustainable, looking outside ourselves for leadership models has to be treated as a starting place. Unfortunately it’s commonly not only a starting place, but an ending place.

We look to Churchill or Mandela or Shackleton, or Ang Sang Su Ki, we hear their inspiring words, and read about their amazing acts of leadership, usually against overwhelming odds, and we take them for our leadership models. When we’re called upon to lead in difficult circumstances what can often be the next step it to ask ourselves, “What would this person or that person do in my circumstances?”

 

It's All About You

The problem is, it’s not this person or that person in the difficult circumstance, it’s you, and the single chance you have to lead yourself and others through the difficulty to a different, more favorable state, is to use what you have, what you bring to the table. Anything else is of no use to you in this particular moment and circumstances. What Churchill said or Shackleton did may be a source of initial inspiration, but then what? Modeling your leadership on someone else, whoever it may be, and whatever they may have done insures that, at best, you’ll do a convincing imitation of that person. That’s not enough for you, and it’s certainly not enough for the people who are waiting to be led by you.

Let’s face it: we only really follow leaders who are willing to reveal themselves to us so we know who they are, and who we’re following. When  a leader is courageous enough to show us who he or she is, we’re able to connect to them in a way that makes us willing to be led. If your leadership is essentially an imitation of someone else, how can you expect people to want to follow you? In that situation, they have no idea who they’re following.

One of the problems of depending on exterior models of leadership is how easy it can be to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to one leader or another. What’s likely to happen is that you’ll see yourself as not measuring up to the leader in mind, and not being up to the task. (This always happens when we compare ourselves to others: one person or the other always seems insufficient, some form of disrespect is always expressed, and no accurate or true information of any kind is gained.) By comparing yourself to someone else, anyone else, you run the risk of seeing yourself and your ability to lead as less than you are, and less than it is. Does this sound like a strong starting place?

So, here you are in a challenging circumstance, something that may even be out of the realm of your experience or knowledge. Where do you start? You start where every successful leader has to start: by looking inward at what you’ve got to throw at the task. Here’s the difficult part: many of us have a certain amount of resistance to really being familiar enough with ourselves to know what we bring to the world. If we’re not familiar with ourselves at an essential level, we’re not going to have at our disposal the inner resources we need to bring our strengths and abilities to bear. If this is the case, our leadership will be generic rather than authentic, and the outcome will be at best generic, and at worst unsuccessful.

There’s another, more important aspect to using what is uniquely yours, and it has to do with your long-term development as a leader. By fully engaging the situation with your unique talents and abilities, you’re building those same talents and abilities. In fact, the only way to build them is to learn to trust them and depend on them. The sad alternative is to follow the generic model of leadership and to let those talents wither from non-use. It may sound like there’s some risk involved, and that’s true.

 

Becoming the Authentic Leader

Several things are at risk: you’re risking setting yourself apart from the mediocrity of the generic. On the other side of things, by choosing not to take the generic road, and by allowing your leadership to rise from within, you’re risking going beyond what you or anyone else thought you were capable of.

A number of the people I work with have perfectionistic tendencies. People with these tendencies often have difficulty giving themselves credit. As they go through their lives and look back at what they’ve done, it can be easier for them to feel a real sense of accomplishment if they’ve used their unique gifts to lead others. If they’ve followed a generic model of leadership, it’s likely the sense of fulfillment or accomplishment they experience will be less than what they’ve actually earned.

So the question to ask in a situation where your leadership is called upon is, “What do I have to bring to this situation?” This can be tricky. Your first tendency may be to look for easy, “one size fits all” solutions, and in certain situations, they’re fine, and they’ll work. Avoid the temptation of falling into the one size fits all leadership model. To be completely accurate, this model is better described as, “one size fits one,” and unless you happen to be the one, in other words, unless this is leadership that has come from within you, it won’t fit.

The more challenging the circumstances, the more the situation demands that you bring your personal strength, gifts, and wisdom to bear. If you’re not able to answer the question, “What do I have to bring to this situation,” if you’re just not sure and don’t know where to begin, don’t worry. It’s a wonderful opportunity to do some inner work and start to figure out who you really are, and what you really have to offer as a leader. If the answer doesn’t come to you instantly, that’s perfectly all right; it may not. Believe it or not, the best time to ask this question is when we’re deeply challenged. At that point, the resistance many of us have to looking inward is weakened. We’re much less likely to engage in inner exploration when the stakes are low, or when things are going smoothly.  The only place authentic leadership can come from is within you.