Born With It

Michael Jordan was born with an insane amount of natural talent and then he worked his butt off to become the greatest basketball player in the world. I was born with a marginal amount of basketball talent and can work my butt off to be the best in my world... the rec center, pick up games, whatever. 

The same is true of leadership. Some people are born with a surplus of leadership ability and some are not. We can all work to be the best leaders we can be in our world... at home, at work, at our non-profit, wherever. 

I get tired of the nurture vs. nature argument. The answer is yes. Plus it doesn't matter. Plus you should just do the best you can with what you have and not worry about it and stop asking silly questions.

Job Security

The world has made it abundantly clear that there is no such thing as job security anymore. At least not in the traditional sense. It's one thing to get laid off from a startup where uncertainty is the norm, but people people get laid off from banks all the the time. BANKS. 

I believe there are two options. One, get really really good at something and/or Two, learn to lead. Getting really good at something may ensure that you are one of the last ones they lay off and help you buy time to find the next gig. If you can demonstrate your exceptional abilities it may also separate you from the hordes of people trying to get a particular job. Being really good at something will still only get you so far, though. The margin of excellence separating you from your peers has to be so blatantly obvious before it amounts to much. 

Learning to lead opens up doors far beyond a skill set. Recently, we were hiring for a manager position at a Breakout location (with a salary and bonus comparable to a similar bank position) and what we looked for was someone who could use their influence to carry out our mission, who could have tough conversations, who could rally our team together, who could empathize and care for our customers, who could manage day to day operations at a high level. It didn't matter where they went to college, what degree they earned or even if they went to college. Our priority was finding a leader.

The ratio of great leaders to good enough workers is incredibly low. It's a much harder path but there may actually be security for those who choose it. If all else fails, though, just get really good at interviewing. Managers, including myself, are a sucker for someone who's phenomenal in the interview.

 

Eliminate Decisions

The best way to avoid eating too much candy is to not have it around in the first place. Don't have it in your pantry. Don't have it on your desk. Don't buy it at all. 

When you don't have to make the decision, you can't make the wrong one... because you've already made the right one. 

The same is true as we lead our teams. There are many decisions that we can eliminate all together by putting a process in place. If we can free up brain space by making a decision once that will continue to pay dividends, we probably should. 

Get the data

It's surprisingly rare to make decisions based on hard data. It's partly because data can be hard to find and partly because we don't do the work to get the facts straight. 

Sometimes feelings and data need to act in tandem. Like hiring, where you gather the hard facts about a candidate and supplement them with your instinct and intuition. 

Many times, though, myself and my team have disregarded the search for data and have instead relied on "I think" or "I feel" alone. The longer you do something, the easier it is to get away with this approach. But I can't help but think how much better off we all would be if we consistently challenged our assumptions and biases with what the data is actually saying. 

Servant

This week I was walking an employee though a new task and I told him I was just here to serve him. I said it in passing, but I kept thinking about the word 'serve' and the consequent identity that comes with it... servant. As a leader, there's a lot that you will do and many hats you will wear. But there may be no more important role than your role as servant. Not the submissive, do as your told, owned by your circumstances servant. The do everything in your power to care more, help more, equip more, make their job and life better servant. 

Get Feedback

If you want to get a really clear picture of what your team thinks about their work and about you, send out an anonymous survey. I did this last week and received some really incredible feedback. Some of it was encouraging and some of it was a complete punch in the guts. Overall, it gave us a ton to think about and a list of things we need to improve on for the sake of our employees and customers. It's not for the faint of heart, but I highly recommend it. 

For further reference, check out this interview I did last season on the Bold Future podcast with Dave Gray: The Company Culture Advantage

Concrete Words

It's easier and less scary to use abstract words. Saying "we might do this or potentially do that" requires much less discipline to follow through than "here's what we're doing". Subtle difference to you maybe, but it makes a lot of difference when you're communicating to your team. They hear uncertainty, a lack of clarity, and your inability to make a decision and go with it. Communication is difficult and fraught with misunderstanding anyway. No need in muddying the waters any further with words that don't paint clear pictures and further confuse those helping carry out the mission. 

 

People

The longer I'm in business, the more clear it becomes that building your team is the most important thing you do as a manager/owner/entrepreneur. I'm not sure anything else even comes close. If you don't get the people right, you don't really get much of anything right. And when you get it right, you know it. There's an energy and a vibe that's almost palpable. I don't know what the secret is and it's different for every company. But I do know that if you're doing something worth doing, it won't happen without the best possible people.  

Opportunity

Every now and then a door-to-door salesman comes by Breakout to talk with us. Having had to walk into people's offices on cold calls in previous jobs and remembering the misery, I always take the time to talk with them. Recently, a guy came in wanting to introduce himself and inquire about setting up a meeting to talk further. Since I had a gap in my schedule I offered to meet with him right then. I thought this was a pretty good offer. He comes in to set up a meeting and the stars aligned perfectly for him. But rather than accept the invitation to sit down and talk for a few minutes, he told me that he could't because he had to get on a conference call. Additionally, he wanted to go back and prepare some things before he met with me to ensure he didn't waste our time. I was a little surprised but said it was fine to call me later. 

I'm no stranger to sales processes and I don't think he did anything wrong at all. I like going into meetings prepared and I appreciated that he was thoughtful in his approach. Who knows, maybe the conference call was with a big client and he was about to secure a large piece of business. At the same time, though, I couldn't get out of my head that I was ready and willing to meet with him and he said no. It got me thinking about opportunities of all sorts. How often do the gates open and we delay because we want to get things perfect or because we want to be sure we're 100% prepared. I've done it. I'm sure you have, too. Let's keep our eyes open. Good opportunities rarely fall right in our lap, but when they do let's be sure to pounce on them. 

Switchtracking

I just listened to a new podcast called Hidden Brain. It's brought to you by the fine folks at NPR and there's an interview in the first episode that I cannot get out of my head. The subject is switchtracking and it has huge implications for communication in relationships. I've been sitting here for ten minutes trying to explain the concept, but I'm really not doing it justice. So, check it out here. It's about 9 minutes long and totally worth a listen. 

Fake it 'til you make it

Sometimes the best way to become something you aren't, is to pretend that you are. 

If you want to be more assertive or kind or empathetic or a better listener, pretend that you are those things until those things become more true. 

Try it with your physical body first. Let's fake depressed feelings - slink down in your chair, lower your shoulders, lower your chin, and relax all of your facial muscles. Sit like that for 10 seconds and what do you feel? Happy, pumped, excited? No. You probably feel down and disappointed. Your mind has the same power to change your behaviors by contriving the context. 

I'm not suggesting you be disingenuous. I'm suggesting you simulate who you want to be out of an earnest desire to be better. 

Things to say no to:

Really great, impactful projects that you do not have time to commit to. 

Time sucking, pointless meetings.

A boss with impossible expectations. 

Mediocrity.

Any actions that will compromise your integrity. 

Delaying decisions that need to be made. 

Avoiding confrontation. 

Hiring someone who isn't the right fit even though you really need to fill the position. 

Fear.

You already know all this, but I found the reminder very helpful. 

 

 

Leading With Compassion

My dear friend, Jonathan Owen, tells the story of a boy who attended his summer day camp a few years back. In short, the kid was a terror. He was disrespectful and mean, he didn't get along with other campers, counselors or anyone. He was constantly at the center of disagreements and almost daily Jonathan was forced to address a new issue of misbehavior. With patience wearing thin a meeting was called with the boy's mother. The indictments were outlined, but her response was certainly unexpected. Disappointed in her son's behavior she began to reveal the details of the life they had been living. She had just recently been divorced from her husband, which was difficult enough, but only compounded by the recent news that she had terminal cancer and was going to die soon.

Immediately the story changed. This wasn't a bad kid. This was a hurting kid. This was a scared kid, a kid who didn't know what the future would hold for him. He was confused. His behavior, though still needing correction, was a plea for attention and control. Knowing this changed everything. Armed with compassion, Jonathan was able to guide the boy through the remainder of the summer and witness an imperfect but remarkably positive change in the young man. 

I can't help but be reminded of our own teams. Even the best people in the world will have seasons when they won't perform up to snuff, when their attitude will be sour, when they can't seem to properly communicate. There's never any excuse for poor performance, but thinking that they don't bring their personal lives into the office with them is garbage. Maybe they're just hurting. Maybe leading with compassion is the best possible strategy.

Your Team

It wasn't until this year that I truly realized how important solid business advisors are. Without question, we will be far more successful if we have a diverse group of candid, like-minded leaders and mentors to bounce ideas off of, to keep us on track and to support us when times are tough.  

Taking it a step further, and I would argue more importantly, we need this in our personal lives, as well. At some point, and maybe multiple points, our lives are going to fall apart - death, broken relationships, financial collapse, etc. It happens to everyone. Rather than worry about the inevitable, your time is likely better spent building your team. Find people you can trust, people who will look you in the eyes and tell you the truth no matter what. These people are hard to find and the time to find them is not when you need them but well before. 

Of course, this social even spiritual construct is not a one way street. If you go down this path, if you are willing to be vulnerable and real, if you are willing to grow despite the difficulty, if you are willing to be stretched beyond imagination, then you better be willing to give. You will be called on for things you never thought you were capable of providing. Leadership is not an individual endeavor. It is a team sport. Do you have your team together?

Being Defensive

What if instead of immediately defending our position when confronted with a conversation we don't like, we listen? What if we hear them out instead? Maybe they're way off base. Maybe what they're saying is unfounded and completely ridiculous. But maybe they're right. More accurately, maybe they're right and we need to parse through the words they're saying to find what they're trying to communicate. 

The problem with being defensive is that we lose the battle and the war. We can't reach solutions when we won't hear the real problem and when we do it enough times people will be hesitant to communicate difficult things to us. Defending our position without listening may only cost us a bad conversation today, but it will have devastating results in the future when people avoid having the conversation with us all together. 

Doing Hard Things

When I was a kid I loved jumping off of cliff sides into Smith lake. There was something exhilarating about climbing barefoot up that rough, rocky terrain only to get to the top and realize that the biggest challenge was still in front of me. Staring over the edge, stomach turning, feet anchored firmly to the dry land, the height always seemed higher than what it looked from the boat. Inevitably the number of jumpers was less than the number of climbers. For some, it was too much. Climbing back down the mountain carrying the shame of defeat was more tolerable for them than the fear of the jump.

The difference between those who did and didn't jump wasn't a whole lot. It really came down to the willingness to take a single step. Gravity does all of the work for you. And I don't think there's any real secret to overcoming that fear. You just have to decide and then do it. Maybe not easy, but very straightforward. 

There's an obvious translation here for doing hard things in our lives. Whether it's starting a business, firing an employee or going to the dentist, sometimes you just have to do it. Take the first step. The inertia of your actions will often carry you to the water. Then you get back out, climb up that mountain and do it again. The fear will still be there. Only this time it's much more familiar and you know exactly what it feels like to take that single step.

Right Now

We have a way of convincing ourselves that everything is urgent. Menial, useless tasks take top priority and must happen right now. It makes us feel important or busy and it's easy to do. 

We also convince ourselves that really important tasks can wait. Tough conversations and difficult decisions that need to happen immediately, not tomorrow, not in a minute, but absolutely right this second get pushed until later. 

The price of the former is that we do a bunch of things that don't matter. It's not productive, but not insanely costly. 

The price of the latter is incalculable. Delaying the urgent can cause relationships to collapse, businesses to fold and stress to mount by the moment.

The decision to act is rarely easy but often clear.

Thank You

There aren't much more powerful words you can say to those you lead than Thank You. Whether your team is paid and required to be there or a group of volunteers giving of their time, Thank You goes a really long way. The thing about working with great people, though, is that it's easy to forget. It's easy to take them for granted. Our day to day routines can so quickly become about problem solving and putting out the next fire that we forget to acknowledge those who deserve it most. With people being the most valuable part of our organizations, it's crucial that we let them know how grateful we are for them. 

Caring

As Season 1 of the Bold Future Podcast has come to a close, I've taken time to reflect back on what I've learned. Each guest was unique and different, but there was one trait that united them all. It wasn't how intelligent, connected or innovative they were. 

It was how much they cared.

When they spoke about their company, project, or employees, they spoke with passion and concern. They cared deeply and I could see it in their eyes. 

Becoming a great leader is hard work. It can be complicated and painful. But when you boil it all down, those who lead best care the most.  

 

Assume You Can

At Breakout we have 5 rooms. One of them is Casino Royale. In it, as you might guess, there are games typically found in a casino... craps, roulette, etc. Occasionally, we hear customers say something to the effect of "Oh, I don't know how to play this game", meaning they've never been in a casino and have no reference to pull from. This is understandable. 

What's interesting, though, is the two camps that emerge from this statement.

The first, are the people who assume that they can't figure it out. They assume they're stuck, that there's no way to move forward because they didn't come in prepared with all the tools they needed. 

The second, are those who assume they will figure it out. They have no previous experience to pull from, but they understand that to proceed, they must learn. They try things, they experiment, they observe and for the most part they do figure it out. 

Neither group needs pre-existing information to succeed. It certainly doesn't hurt, but we give them all of the data required to play. The difference is mindset and it's really as simple as it sounds. If you decide you can't do or learn something, you truly can't. Those who choose otherwise have far fewer limitations and will achieve substantially more.