Rocket Fuel For The Soul – Take Aim and Shoot for the Stars!

Rocket Fuel for the SoulA new contact of mine Annalieza Landa (Twitter: @allysimone) kindly said that my recent A to Z of Inspirational People was ‘Rocket Fuel For The Soul!’ Obviously that put a big smile on my face, because it’s always great to  get good feedback. But more than that, I love the power of this phrase and Annalieza has kindly let me use it for the title of this post – I hope I do it justice!

So, now I’ve stolen with pride, what does ‘Rocket Fuel For The Soul’ mean to you? Getting a rocket to take off, break the earth’s atmosphere and beyond our solar system to the stars takes a huge amount of planning, energy, determination and investment. So it is for us as individuals if we want to shoot for the stars in our lives!

In putting this post together, it made me think about all of the elements in my life that really give me, and my soul, a boost of energy – people and relationships that are important to me, places that I love to return to, nature in its many forms, hobbies that I enjoy and successful projects I’m working on and so on. I’ve talked about energy in several other posts and quite specifically in High Energy, High Performance where I explained that Personal Energy is made up of a number of types of energy:

Personal Energy = Physical Energy + Mental Energy + Emotional Energy + Spiritual Energy

To shoot for the stars, you need more than the basic fundamentals of life and energy to get there. If you’ve been a Think Oak! reader for a while, you know my passion for having goals. Well that applies managing your Personal Energy too. Take a look at the following list of GREAT GOALS that provide ‘Rocket Fuel for the Soul’ and will help you on your journey to the stars!

G – Goals themselves and their importance in energy management

Goal setting is a powerful tool to change the quality of your life AND bring you renewed energy. It is valuable in your academic life, personal life, business life and for your health too.  Goal setting identifies to both your conscious mind and your unconscious mind what it is you wish to achieve. Many academic studies have proved that setting clear and precise goals can have a significant impact on your life. One of the most compelling pieces of evidence of the power of goal setting is from the 1953 study of the Yale University graduate class that found only 3% of them had written goals.  A follow-up 20 years later found that this 3% had a combined wealth exceeding all the other 97% put together!

To really get the most from goal setting, there are 5 steps you should think seriously about following:

  1. Decide exactly what you want from life
  2. Write your goals down AND put a time-frame on them
  3. Break your goals down into milestones and if necessary inch-pebbles – with target dates!
  4. Prioritise your goals, milestones and inch-pebbles
  5. Start TODAY and act against at least one of your goals every day

It works. Try it. TODAY. You’ll be amazed at what you accomplish in just one month!

R – Relationships and the importance of making them stronger

As Mark Twain said…”Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that. The really great make you feel that you too can become great.”

Surrounding yourself with the right people will have a hugely positive impact on your spiritual and emotional energy. Building strong and lasting relationships with these people can take your life to a whole new level.

Negative people, or ‘Energy Vampires’ as I like to call them, can have a major impact for the worse in your life. If you’re spending large amounts of time with people who constantly bemoan their situation and blame everyone and everything for their situation can easily drag you down to their level. Try a little test that will prove my point. Whilst you’re out and about, ask friends and colleagues how they are. Watch closely for your inward reaction to their response. If someone, says ‘Great thanks. I’m having a really good day!’, how does that make you feel versus the person that gives a 10 minute diatribe on how bad their life is, how horrible their partner is, how bad work is and finally how there’s nothing at all they can do about it. I think you’ll be amazed at the results. I know, that when I first came across this phenomena, and the positive and negative impact that it had on me, I had some serious decisions to make about who I spent time with.

Surrounding yourself with positive and ‘successful’ people can really add fuel to the rocket that is your soul. I put successful in quotes because we all have a different view of what successful is. But whatever your criteria, investing in building strong relationships with people who you admire, can learn from and whose company you enjoy, will make a big difference in your life and your attitude to it.

E –  Exercise your mind as well as your body

We all know that looking after your body is important. Some of us do exercise and treat our bodies well, and some of us don’t, but we all know the consequences! I won’t dwell on this, as there are plenty of people more qualified than I to advise you.

Looking after your mind, however, and exercising that every day, can give you a huge boost in your personal and professional life. Many of us leave school, college or university thinking that that’s the end of study and we’re set for life. Not so. It’s so important to continue to invest in your skills and education throughout our life. Investing an hour or two per day in yourself can have a stratospheric impact on your career, your business, your aspirations and your thoughts and ideas.

I’m hearing shouts of ‘Where on earth am I going to find an hour or two per day? I’m already hugely busy!’ Well, many of us spend between 250 – 500 or more hours per year commuting to and from work. By using this time reading books or listening to audiobooks and podcasts you can get the equivalent of 14 weeks learning within a year! Add to that the hours of television you might watch in a day, week, month or year and you’ll immediately start to wonder how on earth you’ve missed out on this opportunity in your life. I started this process about a year ago and haven’t looked back. Give it a try!

A – Appreciate the world around you

How often do you take time to appreciate what you have in life? – Your family, your friends, the countryside, your town or city, your home, your garden…all the things we all sometimes take for granted. Taking just a few minutes a day, at the start or the end of the day work best, to be thankful for what you have, gives you that kick-start to the day or helps you to go to sleep that little bit brighter.

Spending time exploring new places or even your own village, town or city helps bring new perspectives and ideas. More than this though, spending quality time with the people we love or in places we love or ideally both,  help us re-energise us much more than a good night’s sleep (although that’s important too!).

T – Take time for you

We all live very busy lives, and many of us have people who depend on us – our customers, our boss, our colleagues, our families, our friends, our communities. I could go on. Many people seldom make time for themselves because demands on their life are so high or because they feel selfish by taking time out. Spending time by yourself can actually reduce the risk of burnout and stress and more importantly helps you to put some perspective on life. Some people find that spending 20-30 minutes per day meditating really helps them with balance in their lives, for others it might be a run or a cycle ride, for others, like myself, a walking weekend in the mountains a few times a year. Find whatever helps you truly relax and get started!

G – Give of yourself to others

Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote: “Souls are like athletes who need opponents worthy of them if they are to be tried and extended and pushed to the full use of their powers.” That’s an insightful analogy, for just as your muscles weaken without physical exercise, and skills weaken without practice and learning, so does your soul weaken without its special kinds of exercise. A great exercise for your soul is the practice of giving. As with physical exercise, the more you do it, the easier it is, and the stronger you will become.

What are the benefits of giving? Here are some of the things you can gain by making giving a greater part of your life:

  • Creating new relationships
  • A sense of empowerment, pride, and accomplishment
  • Happiness that you’ve impacted someone’s life positively
  • Maybe learned some new skills along the way

The paradox is that when you give expecting a reward, you won’t receive one. When you give with joy and selflessness, you benefit greatly. The attitude you bring to your giving will reflect the benefits you gain.

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
― Winston Churchill

Giving of yourself could be in your local community, becoming a personal mentor for someone, doing a sponsored event for charity or even writing a blog to help other people develop!

O – Organise Yourself

The Pareto Principle (The 80/20 rule) states that in many things, 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes.

Studies over the years have observed this rule in action in many different spheres of life.

Some examples:

Business: 20 percent of customers will account for 80 percent of profit.

Relationships: Twenty percent of the people you know (friends, colleagues, family) provide you with 80 percent of nurturing support and satisfaction.

Productivity: Twenty percent of your activities will account for 80 percent of your success.

How can we put the 80/20 principle to good use?
The Pareto principle is great to increase focus. Don’t try to do more. Just do more of the right things. If you have a lot of work to do, break it down to specific activities and figure out what twenty percent of the tasks listed contributes to eighty percent of the results you seek. Second, give your maximum concentration to those 20 percent tasks.

So how do you know if you’re working on the twenty percent that really matters?

It makes you feel good because you are doing what you always wanted or you know it’ll help with your goals.

You are doing the tasks that you’d like to procrastinate, but know that it is essential.

You delegate tasks to others that you aren’t good at.

You are doing something that uses your creativity
Hints that you aren’t utilising your time effectively:

You are doing things that other people want you to do.

You are doing things that you aren’t good at.

You are doing things you don’t enjoy doing (provided that it doesn’t also contribute to your goals).

You are doing things that always take you a lot of time and energy.
With a little effort, and the application of the 80-20 rule, we can save a lot of our emotional and physical energy to concentrate on stuffs that really matter and enrich our life.

A – Attitude is the engine that keeps you going, but like any engine, you need to maintain it

Think Oak Methodology outlines Four A’s for Success – Aptitude, Accountability, Anticipation and Attitude

Aptitude is our ability, talent or competency that we have honed and practised (or not) to do a particular task or role.

Accountability is us taking ownership for our actions, but more importantly our own lives.

Anticipation is our ability to think from the future and anticipate the markets we operate in or what we need to be planning for in our own lives.

Attitude is the engine that drives us to success. With a poor attitude, you’ll be very lucky to even take off, never mind get where you want to go.

In a previous post ‘Aptitude or Attitude~ What makes a Star Performer?’ I covered some of the key attitudes that will get you off the launch pad and beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, but there are two more things you’ll need to help you reach the stars!

L – Love Yourself

All of us at one time or another have self-doubt, are afraid of something or afraid to do something. Sometimes we may not like ourselves very much. But before we can truly be happy and successful loving yourself has to be a priority. Easier said than done, I know.

We’re taught by western society that our worth is found in the ‘core’ of our culture—technology, status, youth, sex, power, money, attractiveness, and romantic relationships.

If you base your self-worth on the external world, you’ll never be capable of self-love. Your inner critic will flood you with thoughts of, “I’m not enough, I don’t have enough, and I don’t do enough.”

Feelings of lack are never-ending. Every time a goal is reached or you possess the next big thing, your ego will raise the bar. It’s really important that you recognise when this is happening and put actions in place to reverse the process.

I’ve covered some of these areas in the Self-limiting Belief series (part 1, part 2), but there are other great sources available for you read that I’ve come across. One particular recommendation would be ‘The Chimp Paradox‘ by Doctor Steve Peters.

S – Stay Positive

Finally, on your journey to the stars you are bound to experience some bumps, turbulence, diversions and set-backs. Just remember that each of these is an opportunity to learn. Einstein famously said: “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” When you’re hit by a meteorite on your journey to the stars, see what you can learn from the experience, re-plan if necessary, change course if necessary, refuel and set-off again with focus on the end destination.

“Optimism is the most important human trait, because it allows us to evolve our ideas, to improve our situation, and to hope for a better tomorrow.” ~ Seth Godin

I’m hoping that these 10 focus areas will help you in your personal and business life, and give you a little Rocket Fuel for the Soul.

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The Need for Speed ~ Driving Pace in Your Organisation ~ Part 4

Execution of the Plan

In part 3 of this four part series of blogs I covered the importance of PACE to improve organisational effectiveness and speed and specifically Communication:

PACE = Planning + Alignment + Communication + Execution

The fourth and final part of The Need for Speed ~ Driving Pace in Your Organisation will focus on Execution of your plan to acheive your One Magnificent Goal, your OMG!

Execution

Thomas Edison famously said, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” It’s true. And as the hallucinations of countless business leaders have proved, knowing what you want to do or where you want the company to be may be less than half the battle.

a) Co-ordination and control of programmes and projects

Failure to execute has several root causes. Below are several common reasons why companies fail to execute their strategic plans fully:

  • Poor prioritisation of resource – Every goal cannot be the top priority, but we set ourselves up for failure by treating them all as if they were equal. Organisations lack the energy or focus to take on too many goals at once. Even if the capacity were there to take on unlimited amounts of work associated with implementation of strategic goals – it is a bad idea to over extend.
  • Lack of detail planning to support goal achievement – Detailed planning involves breaking down work into smaller parts. It is far easier to solve a small puzzle than to launch into solving a massive one. Inch Pebbles not Mile Stones!
  • Poor communication and coordination – Failure to communicate and educate is a huge factor in many failed plans. Employees who are responsible and accountable for their scope of execution must understand what is to be done, when and how that affects the overall outcome.
  • Strategy and culture misalignment – Execution cannot be planned without consideration of the organisation’s culture.
  • Accountability missing from goals – Everyone is accountable in accomplishing their individual tasks that are required to achieve the overarching OMG and some, including the CEO, may be accountable for reinforcement of the tasks.
  • Poor governance – Governance enables organisations to manage the interrelationships of all underlying initiatives comprising their OMG. Governance also provides the boundaries and check points needed to keep programs in alignment with the plan.
  • Ill-defined initiatives – Once ambiguity creeps into the scope of any initiative, it leads to confusion and failure in execution. The language used to state goals is usually where the problems start. Initiatives must be carefully constructed in order to be crisp and well understood. In addition, they must be measurable.

To be successful a project must:

· Deliver the outcomes and benefits required by the organisation

· Create and implement deliverables that meet agreed requirements;

· Meet time targets and stay within financial budgets;

· Involve all the right people;

· Make best use of resources in the organisation and elsewhere;

· Take account of changes in the way the organisation operates;

· Manage any risks that could jeopardise success;

· Take into account the needs of staff and other stakeholders who will be impacted by the changes brought about by the project.

· Keep stakeholders and staff in the loop as to your progress and get them ready for any impacts of the project.

b) Ownership and accountability

At work, people who have a high level of accountability will take initiative to ensure the success of a project, provide early warning of potential problems, and try to resolve a problem even if it is not their fault.

One reason we hesitate to tackle the accountability problem in a timely way is a lack of clarity on what the person is accountable for in the first place. Discussions about accountability can be straightforward and potential conflicts less intense when everyone knows ahead of time what is expected and how success will be measured. Establishing this clarity also reduces the likelihood of having to have the discussions in the first place.

Being accountable comes naturally to some people. For many of us, however, the more natural tendency is to justify and explain why we are not responsible when things go wrong. Although you cannot change human nature, those of us in a managerial or leadership role can help create an environment that enables others to operate at a higher level of responsibility. The key is to set people up for success by clarifying expectations up front and building in time to make course corrections before the deadline. This helps avoid the need to make excuses.

When targets are missed, asking three questions can solve the problem: What can you do right now to get back on track? How did you contribute to this situation? What can you do in the future to ensure this will not happen again? This approach doesn’t try to pinpoint blame and helps minimise the threat to the person’s self-image. These three questions, along with techniques to deal with a defensive response effectively, also minimises the need to make excuses as you and the other person collaborate on finding a solution.

c) Rapid and Effective Decision Making

There are three things you can do to improve the quality and speed of decisions.

a) Make sure that people closest to the action are making the decisions. This can require a change in organisational structure and, when this is not possible, empowering people and holding them accountable for taking the initiative and addressing issues when they arise.

b) Involve the right people in decisions. This helps ensure that you include perspectives and experiences other than your own and also helps fill in relevant data that you might not possess.

c) Use an objective, systematic process so that you won’t let emotion or bias cloud the issues or simply default to the kinds of decisions you’ve made in the past. This will also force you to incorporate risk assessment in your decision-making.

These last two actions ensure that we have access to a range of perspectives and information that might not otherwise be available to us, and increases the likelihood that we will be more thoughtful when making choices.

Organisations that are the best at execution also create operating plans that are coordinated across departments and levels, expect and encourage top performance from everyone, hold people accountable for results, make high-quality decisions by ensuring that the right people are talking about the right things at the right time.

In summary, PACE – Planning, Alignment, Communication and Execution will drive speed in your organisation. You as a leader will need High Energy and Focus to keep PACE on track and you’ll need a strong team around you to deliver your OMG. The rewards in achieving your OMG will be worth it!

That concludes the final part of The Need for Speed ~ Driving Pace in Your Organisation. If you missed the first three parts please click Part 1 – Planning, Part 2 – Alignment and Part 3 – Communication.

The Need for Speed ~ Driving Pace in Your Organisation ~ Part 1

Driving PACE in your organisationSucceeding in today’s competitive business environment requires that your organisation be agile enough to respond quickly to internal and external change. To stay ahead, you have to explore new ways to grow your business – for example, by launching a new product or service or targeting a different marketplace. Speed and focus could become your biggest competitive advantages.

For this to succeed, you will need to rapidly align resources and people so as to drive speed, efficiency, and profitability. But how do you achieve this level of organisational agility – and ensure focused execution across your business?

The key is driving organisational alignment – an elusive goal for many companies. This requires strong executive alignment, an organisational mind-set that values performance management, and the ability to perform effectively. Once these elements are in place, you need baseline information to devise the right strategies, a clear understanding of interdependencies, and insight into where to deploy personnel and budgets. To drive adoption, you must communicate strategies to employees in ways that they understand and embrace and that are within the context of their roles. You must provide the right tools and incentives to help them execute on a daily basis and in alignment with corporate strategies.

However, if your organisation is like most, there is a significant gap between strategy and execution because of breakdowns in one or more of these areas.

You need to consider how to implement PACE in your organisation: Planning, Alignment, Communication and Execution

This first post, in a 4 part series, will focus on:

Planning

Why is planning so important and why must it be done in parallel with strategy? From a macro perspective, business today gets done in a global marketplace. Change is occurring at an unprecedented pace. Time and distance continue to become less and less relevant thanks in great part to the explosive growth and convergence of technology and the internet.

There was a time when strategic planning was done by only the biggest companies, and those who lead change. Now it is a requirement just to survive. Leaders of business must be looking ahead, anticipating change, and developing a strategy to proactively and successfully navigate through the turbulence created by change.

a) Clarity of Strategic Goals and Markets

How are you going to get somewhere if you don’t know where you are going? Everyone in an organisation needs to know what you sell or do, who your target customers are, how you compete and in which markets you operate. A good strategy will balance revenue and margin generation with productivity initiatives. Without strategic planning, businesses simply drift, and are always reacting to the pressure of the day. Companies that don’t plan have exponentially higher rates of failure than those that plan and implement well.

For many business owners and leaders, creating a vision, company values, and a strategic plan can be a daunting task for reasons like time, energy, commitment and lack of experience. It requires business leaders to accept that yesterday’s success does not ensure success in the future. It requires challenging the status quo, potentially changing behaviours, implementing new procedures, hiring different people, and putting new systems in place in order to deliver on the strategy.

Make no mistake; the best plans and ideas without great execution are just plans or ideas, they don’t result in much of anything. Regardless of the size of a company, a strategic plan is the foundation on which all business activities can be connected and “aligned”.

b) OMG! – One Magnificent Goal!

The idea for One Magnificent Goal is derived from the fantastic book by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras; Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies – They termed it ‘BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal’

OMG is THE goal that really stretches you to think differently about how you do business. It’s THE goal that is going to help you transform your business, rather than being satisfied with incremental change. It’s THE goal that’s going to inspire you to do your best work and outshine your competition.

What is THE ONE BIG aspirational idea that your people can really get behind; that will really make them deliver +1%?

  • It could be Target Driven –  JFK’s – ‘this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
  • It could be Competitor Driven – Crush Adidas! (Nike, 1960s)
  • It could be Role-model Driven – Audi’s OMG in 2005: To match the exclusive image of mighty Benz and BMW
  • It could be a Business Transformation – Amazon.com: Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds

When you consider OMGs for your organisation here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • It should be so clear and compelling that it requires little or no explanation
  • It should fall well outside your comfort zone
  • It should be so bold and exciting in its own right that it will stimulate progress even if the leaders disappear
  • It should be consistent with the company’s core ideology

If your OMG doesn’t meet these criteria you should really think again!

c) The Plan Itself

If you are serious about reaching your OMG, you have to develop a plan that  clearly takes you through milestones or even better,  ‘Inch Pebbles’ to meet that OMG. If you don’t, you can’t even  expect to get close. You have to do more than you have ever done. You also have to look for  new and creative ways, to get to the result.

I’m not, in this post, going to be prescriptive about how you build a plan, but I would ask you to consider the following questions:

How do I bridge the gap? – How can you most effectively get from where you are now to where you want to go? And in what time-frame? What strategic initiatives are needed to bridge the gap?

What are the controls I need to put in place? What monitoring, project management, reporting, and performance management do I need to put in place to achieve these initiatives?

What people do I need to ensure I reach my OMG? Will the team you have today be enough to deliver your OMG? Do you need more people or different people? Do you need to change the people (training & development) or change the people (restructure & recruit)?

Can I afford to do this? What costs will be incurred in delivering the initiatives that will help you reach your OMG? Over what time frame? What would be the cost of not doing them? What contingencies do you need to put in place along the way if some of your initiatives fail?

Answering these questions will help you formulate your plan.

So, you understand the market place and your strategic ambition within it, your OMG. You have a plan to achieve it. Have you got the right people, organisational structure and culture to deliver it? In Part 2 of The Need for Speed – Driving Pace in Your Organisation,  I will be look at the second element of PACE, Alignment.

Destiny or Design ~ Choose to Succeed

Choose to SucceedLife is not something that just happens to you, something you are powerless to do anything about. You have choices. You can make the choice to succeed. It is never too late to improve your life and implement the changes that are going to lead you to your ambitions.

I don’t profess to have all the answers, but below I’ve highlighted a few areas to focus on that will help you be more successful in whatever you choose to do.

1.        Have a Plan

‘Fail to plan and you plan to fail’ as the saying goes.

Where do you want to be in 5 years? What steps do you need to take in order to get there?

a)      Work out a goal

b)      Plan how to achieve it

c)       Break it into small tasks

d)      Introduce a time frame and make a timeline that works for you

e)      Work out what the key barriers are

f)       Stick to the timeline as much as possible

g)      Measure your progress

2.       Learn Lessons….Fast

It’s never easy to admit you’ve made a mistake, but it’s a crucial step in learning, growing, and improving yourself. Admission of a mistake, even if only to yourself, makes learning possible by moving the focus away from blame and towards understanding. Wise people admit their mistakes easily. They know that they can only make personal progress when they do.

Success in learning from mistakes often requires involvement from other people, either for advice, training or simply to keep you honest and give you feedback. A supportive friend’s or mentor’s perspective on your behaviour will be more objective than your own and help you identify when you’re in denial!

Consider your actions from other people’s perspectives. Think about what you did and whether you made a good decision given the information you had at the time. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, analyse your approach, and be honest with yourself about whether you had the capabilities to avoid mistakes. This ruthlessness will allow you to see more clearly and understand what you should have done instead.

No amount of analysis can replace confidence in yourself. When you’ve made a mistake, especially a visible one that impacts other people, it’s natural to question your ability to perform next time. But you must get past your doubts. The best you can do is study the past, practice for the situations you expect, and get back in the game. Your studying of the past should help broaden your perspective.

3.       Never Give Up

Winston Churchill gave a speech in 1941 to a group of school children, that still holds true over 70 years later:

“The pessimist sees the problems in every opportunity. Whereas the optimist sees the opportunity in every problem. Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense”

There is no way around it: sometimes life gets hard. Obstacles can seem insurmountable. But success is often the result of pushing through these problems. People who find success rarely have an easy path but their willingness to persevere helped them to eventually meet their goals.

There are few things that will drive you toward success as quickly as a strong work ethic. People notice when others work hard. While working hard isn’t a guarantee that you’ll become a Chief Executive or a top sports person, it certainly doesn’t hurt. Few successful people got to where they are by sitting back and doing nothing, as it’s often a hard road to the top.

4.       Learn to Communicate

Good communication is not an easy process and it can take a lot of practice. However, if you are able to develop self-awareness and work towards clearly expressing your feelings and develop your listening skills you will be on your way to becoming an effective communicator which will undoubtedly have a positive and long-lasting impact on all your personal and professional relationships.

Look out for the upcoming post dedicated to Communication – Communicate or Fail

5.       Set Challenging Personal Goals

Goals need to stir your emotions in order to motivate you to do whatever it takes to accomplish them thus the importance of setting challenging goals. By increasing the level of challenge you set yourself, you can also increase your motivation to accomplish the given aim, particularly when you know that the achievement of this goal will result in a positive outcome for you and your financial security. Every time you set a new goal try to make it a challenge that is not that easy to accomplish, but still reachable and realistic.

6.       Believe in Yourself

If you believe it, you have a better than average chance of achieving it. Few successful people got where they are by having a low opinion of their abilities. Before anyone else can believe in you, you have to believe in yourself and your ability to achieve what it is you want to achieve. Those who are confident are often more successful as leaders, regardless of the field, and chances are you can’t name too many leaders in business, politics, or any other field who don’t have this quality.

7.       Choose your Role Models

I’ve been really fortunate in my life to have known a number of very bright people, from different industries, backgrounds, cultures and time zones. I’ve not really formalised too many of these relationships as ‘mentors’ or consciously as ‘role models’, but I have worked hard with these relationships to learn more and more about business, people and success.

The people you choose to adopt as your role models or mentors throughout your life can be virtually anyone whom you respect and from whom you believe you can learn something towards your goals. It could be a co-worker, your manager, a friend, a customer….anyone who you believe you can learn from. As you select a person, you’re looking to obtain new knowledge or emulate some aspect of that person’s success – you’re not trying to actually become that person. Throughout your personal and professional life, you will evolve and your mentoring needs will change.

8.       Be Positive

Many people believe that success will make them happy.  They work long hours, sacrificing time with family and friends, because they are convinced that they will find happiness when they finally achieve success.  But according to research in positive psychology it is the other way around.  Being positive makes it more likely that you will be successful.

Positive attitude is not only about choosing to have a good outlook through good times and bad, but also about learning to love what you do. I have observed that outstanding business people are successful because they deeply love their work. The achievers of this world know that if you can learn to love your job, you’ll be more productive, more creative, and more content. Think of most successful people you know, and you may agree that most are passionate about what they do, are rarely affected by negativity, and tend to enjoy their work. I know for certain that the better your attitude the better your work and your life will be for you.

9.       Recharge the Batteries

While there are many people who are financially successful, there are many that don’t really have much balance in their lives. Balance really is an essential component to a happy life. After all, what does money mean if you’re lonely or miserable? Giving the mind time to relax, step away from work and responsibilities, and just enjoy life can actually lead to greater success as a rested mind is better able to think quickly and be creative.

Easier said than done. Believe me, I know. But in a 24-7 world, a work-life balance is no longer a nicety but a necessity, for organisations and individuals. The reality is that humans don’t have Intel inside and unlimited energy, only caffeine. Without proactively managing your downtime the result will be stress, burnout, illness and increased anxiety —all of which reduces chances of success at home and at work.

Everyone has different ways that they replenish their energies, be that through exercise, art, religion, reading and so on. Make sure you find yours and make time for yourself.

10.   Build and Nurture Your Network

You never know when you’ll need to tap into your network of contacts on your path to success. You may find a previous post (Business Networking – It’s not ‘what’ you know…) useful.

Choose to Succeed11.   Take a leap of faith

If someone invited you to go sky-diving, would you go?  If you were offered a top job in an industry that was unfamiliar to you, would you accept the position?  Whether it’s a fear of heights, a fear of the dark, or a fear of public speaking, we have all experienced fear. Perhaps the biggest fear for many of us, is a fear of failure.

But if we never try, how will we know the outcome?  So many people worry about what will happen if they fail, that they lose sight of what could happen if they succeed. Fear can keep us from moving forward. Consider the missed opportunities in your life. Think about the relationships you didn’t pursue, or end. Think about the career opportunities you allowed to pass you by because you were more comfortable with the status quo. Think about the dreams and goals you once had, but are now stuffed down into a seemingly unreachable place in your memory. Imagine if you had taken a leap of faith.

A leap of faith is just that – a leap from what you know and trust and to the unknown. Frequently, personal growth lives on the other side of the leap – try it!

12.   Be Open to New Experiences

An old proverb says, “If you always think the way you’ve always thought, you’ll always get what you’ve already got.”

You may conclude that the converse of this is therefore: If you want something that you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something that you’ve never done.

To achieve continued success, you must open yourself up to new learning experiences that may make you feel uncertain at best and incompetent at worst. Remember that those feelings are temporary and a prelude to greater future.

13.   Be Accountable

If you do what you say when you say you’re going to do it, people will trust you because your word will mean something. This can be a big deal when it comes to getting promotions, managing others, or even negotiating business deals. Honesty, integrity, and fairness are all aspects of personal accountability worth working on and will help others view you as more responsible and dependable.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Would love to hear any comments or feedback.

Focus on Focus

FocusBill Gates achieved monumental success with Microsoft, and attributes “focus” as the key to his success. He stated “maintaining focus is a key to success. You should understand your circle of competence and spend your time and energy there…I’ve learned that only through focus can you do world-class things, no matter how capable you are.”

There are many reasons why a person loses focus while pursuing their goals. The constant distractions in today’s world mean that maintaining focus can be very difficult. Distraction of work, home, friends, socialising, events and everything else constantly compete for our attention and dedicated time. It takes time to stay focused on achieving our goals and it’s so easy to fail in our attempt to maintain enough momentum, desire, energy and persistence needed to achieve our goals. As a result we often give up and think our goal is unachievable.

Another reason why we might lose focus in pursuing our goals is that we may talk ourselves out of pursuing our dreams. When we first begin pursuing our goals, we may be motivated by the fact that we are improving our lives and achieving our wishes and dreams. Shortly after starting the process of taking action towards achieving our goals, we can often begin to question the plausibility of achieving what we want. As soon as we start questioning our ability, we start to lose focus.

Create SMART Objectives

Specific – Objectives should specify what they want to achieve clearly.

You may want to achieve an increase in revenue of 5%  in the next 12 months.

Measurable – You should be able to measure whether you are meeting the objectives or not.

A 5% increase over 12 months means that each month revenue targets can be measured against a specific goal.

Achievable – Are the objectives you set, achievable and attainable?

Is the 5% objective for the 12 months achievable? Does the you have the resources, man power and finances to achieve it?

Realistic – Can you realistically achieve the objectives with the resources you have?

Is the 5% objective over a 12 month period realistic or does the company need longer? Does the company have the skills and resources to achieve this over the time period set.

Time – When do you want to achieve the set objectives?

In our example the company have set themselves a period of 12 months to achieve the 5% revenue target.

Build your Plan. Your plan becomes your road map and helps you determine the best course to follow. Build your plan with enough detail to ensure that your activities are aligned clearly to your SMART objectives and can be tracked.

Minimise Distractions. Get rid of as much temptation as possible that deviates from your focus on your goal. Use every method you can think of to remove distractions from your situation and it will certainly help your focus. Ensure that you don’t take on further work unless you are clear that it won’t impact your objectives.

Measure Your Progress. You can’t control your progress unless you can measure it. Create a system and timetable to measure your progress against your plan. Record your progress, daily if necessary. This can tell us if we are on track or if we need to make adjustments to either our plan or activities. Be honest with yourself. Moving dates and activities out and recalibrating to ‘Green’ is not the way to hit targets.

Prioritise your Goal. Focus on a few goals at one time. Try not to overburden yourself as it will limit your chance of achieving your goal and demotivate you. Concentrate on the important ones first, achieve them and then you can look at addressing the other goals.

Work your Goals into your Daily Plan. Do something towards achieving your goals every day. The best way to achieve your goals and maintain your focus is to do something that will make it happen each and every day. Even if it’s only 15 minutes each day, it is better than not doing any goal related activity at all. Give your goal daily attention and you’ll remain more focused and at a better chance of achieving your ambitions.

Celebrate your Milestones. Mark your successes and acknowledge your progress towards your desired goal. Set milestones and as you achieve them reward yourself and / or your team. This will motivate you and make you see your milestone in a very positive way.

Sustain your Energy and Motivation

The importance of maintaining your energy and motivation today cannot be overstated. We have seen the impact that the lack of consumer confidence is having on our economy. When people feel uncertain about the future they stop spending money and the result further weakens the economy. The same is true of our goals. When we are not feeling confidant and positive about our prospects we stop spending energy on our goals, which results in set-backs, which further reduce our confidence. The result is a downward spiral similar to what we are seeing in the economy. There is an important difference though, while we cannot control the economy, we can control how we spend our energy.

Look out for a future post on how to manage your personal energy!

The Brand New, Brand You! ~ Part 2

Brand New, Brand You - Self-discoveryIn the second part of the series of The Brand New, Brand You, I will be covering the first step in the START process in Brand New, Brand You, namely Self-discovery.

START – Self-discovery

A personal brand is much more than a job title or how you look. This first step in evaluating Brand You is a holistic look at your goals, passions and values and how those figure into, and enhance, what you offer an employer, customer or indeed anyone you interact with. Very often, it’s the individuals who truly know what makes them interesting, compelling, and differentiated who stand out from the crowd. These people capitalise on their differences. Of course, a personal brand is only as good as the reputation you are able to build around its unique promise of value, and what you ultimately deliver. Consequently, authenticity and honesty become the most important building blocks for your personal brand.

First, you need to  start by evaluating yourself and what your current brand is, and compare it to what you’d like it to be. Then identify qualities that make you unique and how they might be valued by an employer. Examining who or what you don’t want your personal brand to be like can reveal what you do want. Just flip these negative qualities around to find the positive.

Self-discovery Questionnaire

Self-discovery is all about asking yourself some soul-searching questions. Be honest with yourself and try to view Brand You from other people’s perspectives.

Take yourself somewhere quiet and write down your answers to the following questions. Take some time to answer them thoroughly. You can download the Brand You Workbook if you prefer to type these up. The action plan has a section per question and also a section for any actions and milestones that need to be delivered to work on any improvements to these areas of your life. At  the end of the action plan is a section for your Brand You Vision Statement. Don’t worry about this for now. We’ll get to that part later. You will see that each question builds upon the last and hopefully as you work through the questions, you’ll start to build up a picture of the current Brand You and hopefully some thoughts as to where you’d like to develop yourself into the Brand New, Brand You. So, let’s get started:

What are your core personal values? Try to keep them to 5 values central to who you really are. I’ve listed some you may want to use in the word cloud below and also in the workbook, but the lists are not exhaustive; feel free to add your own. I found the best way to do this exercise, was to start with a larger list of say 15-20 values, and then work down to a short-list of 5. If you can, try to prioritise the final 5.

Example values for START

What parts of your business life are you passionate about? Stephen R. Covey, author of the bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests asking yourself three questions: Do I like doing it? Am I good at it? Does the world need it?

“If you have a passion that you’re good at but the world doesn’t need it, you’ve got a useless passion,” says Covey. “If you’re focusing on what the world needs and sell out your passion, you sell out what is uniquely you. But if you can make a living doing something that you’re really good at and like-what a combination!”

What have I done / am I doing that I am most proud of? Don’t limit your answers to this question just to your business life. Try and come up with at least 5 things from across your personal and business life. Are there any similarities or themes? Do they link in any way to what you are passionate about? (They don’t have to!) Are there any of your personal values involved in making these activities such a success? Are they recent successes or from a few years ago?

What qualities or characteristics make you distinctive from your competitors or your colleagues? Whether it’s your unique style of leadership, the way you present to an audience or the personal energy you bring to a room when you enter, each of us have distinctive qualities that make us stand out. What are yours?

What would your colleagues or your customers say is your greatest and clearest strength? What do you get compliments about most frequently; your perseverance, the quality of your business cases, your ability to mediate difficult conversations, your telephone manner with customers? What would you like it to be?

What benefits does ‘Brand You’ deliver? If you were a product, and indeed you are the product of Brand You, and had to pull a marketing brief together, what would you talk about as the benefits you bring? You’ve already worked up your Brand Values, so that should form part of your benefits story, you’ve already established what you’re passionate about and what makes you distinctive; and you’ve also established your greatest and clearest strength. Pulling all of these together should start to give you a compelling case as to why somebody would buy Brand You as opposed to Brand Them.

What do I want to be famous for? Ok, I’m not talking about going on a reality TV show, or getting 15 minutes of fame for rescuing a cat from a tree. I’m talking about the future of Brand You. What do you want to be known for?

‘He’s the best Project Manager I’ve ever met – you need him on this programme. He won’t be cheap though, he’s really in demand!’

‘She’s amazing! I saw her talking about Leadership at a conference last year. She’s so passionate about organisational change. We could do with her advice on the changes we want to make to our business’

You get the idea! How do you want to be known and talked about in 5 years time?

How am I measuring myself? Lastly, and arguably the one that always gets left behind with any brand launch, is a baseline measurement. How is your brand currently perceived? If you’re going to improve your personal brand, you need to understand where you’re starting from. What do people think of Brand You today?

There are a number of metrics / methods to use to gauge the success of your personal brand and that of the Brand New, Brand You.

The simplest way to test the effectiveness of any brand is to do market research. The same is true here. Ask for structured feedback – talk to your peers, managers, colleagues and customers and gauge their perception of Brand You. This could take the form of a 360 degree questionnaire, a face to face meeting with a focus on strengths and areas that could be improved or a combination of the two. You may wish to focus some questions to test out people’s perceptions to the answers you’ve given to some of the previous questions around Brand You benefits and what differentiates you from the rest.

Brand You Vision Statement

Now, you’ve had chance to work through the answers to these questions, it is useful to create a statement that encapsulates everything you want your brand to be. This will be your Brand New, Brand You Vision.

A strong vision statement should include:

  1. Your ambition for Brand You, describing the ideal future
  2. Encompass some of your core values
  3. Your differentiators and passions

I’ve posted some examples below, just to help you get your creative juices flowing:

‘I will provide the best technical support and customer service to our clients, helping improve their business and lives, striving to solve problems with a positive attitude that spreads to my co-workers’

‘I will be leading a small team of application developers to build market leading mobile tools for children with learning difficulties to make their lives easier and that of their families. That will fulfil my desire to make a difference to people’s lives, provide enough money for myself and my family to enjoy life and hopefully inspire others to take a risk and do something worthwhile.’

‘I am now running the restaurant I’ve worked in for 5 years. Through sheer determination, hard work, and my impeccable skills in dealing with customers of all kinds, I have a great reputation within the industry. I have also earned the respect of my staff, my superiors, and my customers alike.’

‘I have just published my fifth book on leadership and people management. I am now in the envious position of being able to leave my career  and share my time equally doing the things I love – spending time with family and friends, writing, walking, photography and being surrounded by nature’

That concludes the first step in START. Good luck with your Self-Discovery – I’d love to know how you get on!

In the next post in the series of The Brand New, Brand You, I will be covering the second step in the START process, Toolkit Development.

If you missed the introductory post of The Brand New, Brand You please click here.

An Elephant in the Room Part 2 – Leadership Breakthroughs

Word Cloud - Elephant in the Room

I see two distinct types of ‘Elephant’ in my line of work…and two ways of tackling them. The Management Elephant and the Leadership Elephant. This blog focusses on the latter.

If you missed Part 1 – An Elephant in the Room: Management breakthroughs, and are wondering what on earth I’m talking about, please click here

The Leadership Elephant

The Leadership Elephant is an entirely different animal to the Management Elephant. These Elephants often appear in Senior Management or Leadership Teams and are more difficult to fix.
I’m a firm believer that if you have a strong team that is truly focussed on the same goals and vision, plus believing in and displaying the same values you can be successful in any market, anywhere.
Easier said than done! And the larger the business or team you lead, the harder it can become.
By virtue of their position (but not always), Senior Managers are competent in their own field – Marketing, Finance, IT, Engineering, Sales, Manufacturing, Product Development, Human Resources etc. However, many of these managers have had limited or no development  / experience in Leadership and certainly not in creating or being part of successful Leadership Teams. They also tend to operate day-to-day in isolation to the other senior managers as they have their own teams, challenges, and budgets to worry about and so many Leadership Teams are not teams at all, they are a collective of Senior Leaders with the same boss.
The ‘unsaid’ or Elephant in the Room, within a Leadership Team can have a profound impact on the rest of the organisation, if left uncecked.Leadership Elephants centre around a few key areas:
  1. Clarity of Vision
  2. Positive conflict
  3. Accountability
  4. Honesty
  5. Commitment to each other’s success
  6. Delivery of results

1. Clarity of Vision

As a team, what are you leading for? Not as Marketing Director or Sales Director or Head of Product Development….As a TEAM, what are you COLLECTIVELY leading for?
When Leaders are pulling in different directions, the results are a tug of war and wasted energy. When everybody is pulling in the same direction, that creates forward momentum.
Lack of an agreed, cohesive vision can result in poor orientation, competing agendas and misunderstandings. Teams function much more effectively when working with one vision and one set of goals within a strategic plan.
If you haven’t got a clear vision and goals as a team – this has to be your first job. Full Steam Ahead by Ken Blanchard and Jess Stoner is a great book to help you get started!

2. Positive Conflict

Conflict can be useful. When used correctly and depending on the attitudes and perspectives of those involved, conflict can:

  • Diffuse a more serious conflict.
  • Spark action to search for more facts or solutions.
  • Increase team performance and cohesion.
  • Find out where you and the rest of the team stand on a particular topic.

So how do you get to a point where conflict can influence and help facilitate positive outcomes?

  • Accept conflict as helpful
  • Stay focused on defeating the problem, not each other
  • Be prepared with facts to solve dilemmas
  • Consider the main issue, circumstances and relationships involved
  • Remain open about the other people’s position (remembering anger is often natural reaction of conflict)
  • Be respectful, professional and focus on outcomes

Don’t over simplify things and falsely resolve a situation by avoiding the source of conflict. Avoidance is often seen by withdrawing from a situation to save the fight for another day, or smoothing the situation saying “let’s not argue,” or “It’s not really that important.”

You’re more likely to succeed if you identify the real issue, the circumstances and relationships that factor in to the situation, and consequences of the resolution.

3. Accountability

When we fail to hold others accountable, we reap the consequences. While everyone is busy pointing fingers at each other, deadlines don’t get met, work remains below standard, or customers continue to be dissatisfied. Worse yet, things won’t get better until people stop trying to affix blame and start addressing the issue that caused the problem in the first place. This cycle will continue until people take accountability for their contribution to the problem and focus on seeking solutions.

In my view, the greatest impact of not holding others accountable is that it creates a negative perception of the leadership team. When other members of your teams see you letting someone get away with not producing the agreed output or keeping commitments, they begin to wonder why they are working so hard. They wonder why you don’t take action to address a poor performer who is creating problems for the rest of the team.

Failing to hold others accountable reflects on you as a leader. It raises questions about your willingness to hold everyone to the same standards and creates the perception that you don’t treat people fairly and equitably. Pretty soon others on the team get the message about “what it takes to succeed around here” and the extent to which they can count on you as a leader.

Lack of accountability creates and reinforces a culture of blame-which, in turn, generates other problems. You may notice increased evasion and avoidance as well as a pervasive “don’t get caught” attitude. Innovation plunges as people become less willing to be creative and think out of the box. Employees take fewer risks (or stop altogether) because no one wants to be blamed if something goes wrong. Finger-pointing sessions proliferate, creating a cycle of blame that ultimately shuts down communications.

4. Honesty

If you want to receive honest feedback, start by giving it. As the people on your team observe your honesty, this will make them feel more comfortable being honest themselves. On the other hand, if you don’t practice what you preach, it’s much tougher to influence others to practice that same thing.

Where I find that most leaders have the biggest problem related to honesty, is in saying those things no one wants to hear: the bad news, the opposing opinion, the refusal, the negative feedback. This is why I think the trick to becoming more honest is becoming more courageous and talking about these kinds of things. When you can honestly talk about the sensitive stuff, being honest about anything else is easy.

People often get defensive when they hear something they don’t like. They start to deny, blame, explain and criticise others. This may lead to other team members restraining themselves from saying all they intended to say simply because they don’t like the reaction they’re getting. If you want your leadership team to speak freely and honestly, it’s essential that every time one of them starts saying something difficult, instead of getting defensive, you do something much more constructive: you get curious and ask questions. This way, you prove that you are not afraid of the truth and that your main interest is to understand facts and opinions, not save your own skin.

5. Commitment to each other’s success

Sounds easy doesn’t it? Why wouldn’t you want to commit to your other Leadership Team members’ success? Well you would be surprised…or maybe you wouldn’t.

Great business people are naturally competitive. They want to win in business. Some are quite happy to win at the expense of others in their team and even the success of the business.

To build a truly great business, I’m a firm believer that if each of you is truly committed to one another’s success you can achieve so much more, especially through the tough times.

I’m sometimes amazed at the tricks, lies, back-stabbing and U-turns that people perform to try to get themselves ahead in business. Maybe I’m naive, but I think this can only lead to longer term issues – lack of respect from your peers, your teams and no doubt your customers will suffer too.

If you want to take your business into significant growth, you need to support your team and they need to support you. You don’t need to be best friends with everyone, but you do need to watch everyone’s back, be there for each other when they need support and focus on your collective goals and vision.

6. Delivery of results

A team that is not focussed on COLLECTIVE results fails to grow, loses it’s best people, is easily distracted and focuses people on their own careers or internal quarrelling.

Every Leader has an obligation to deliver – for their stakeholders, their people and their customers and not just in financial terms.

To avoid distractions, leadership teams need to prioritise the results of the leadership team over their individual or department results.

All sounds straight forward and easy doesn’t it? Well there are a few things that tend to get in the way – Self-promotion, Career Progression and Money to name three. The ironic thing is that all three of things are likely to happen anyway if you are in a high performing leadership team, all working towards one vision, one set of values and collective results.

Most senior managers naturally focus on the results of the teams they manage, not the teams they’re members of. They spend more time with their own people, they probably get bonused on the performance of the teams they manage and they probably don’t invest as much time in building relationships with their peers. Imagine the possibilities of having really powerful relationships with your peers, where the team is accountable for the whole and not the part and when you collectively focus on your customers and positive outcomes in your marketplace….

None of the above can be fixed overnight, and needs a huge amount of collective energy to get results. But when the results come, your competitors better watch out!

Thanks for reading!

Mark Conway

There’s no ‘I’ in Team…but there is an ‘M’ and ‘E’

Building Strong TeamsI’m not sure who came up with the phrase – ‘There’s no ‘I’ in team’, and I’m sure it was meant with good intentions – focussing everyone on team work and collective goals and not individual egos. I’ve always used the hugely clever and witty repost whenever anyone has said the phrase in my presence…’Ah yes, but there is an M and E’ – Hilarious!

But, and I’ve been thinking about this a bit recently, I still think there is significant value in focussing on the individuals in a team – their individual strengths, skills, experiences and accountability as well as the interactions between team members. This is especially true of senior teams or teams where individuals within it have ownership of their own teams.

In larger businesses, teams come in all shapes and sizes, from an Executive Board, Senior Management Team, Divisional Team, Sales Teams, Customer Service Teams, Cross-functional Project Teams and so on. Teams are created for both long-term and short-term interaction. A product management team, an executive leadership team, and a departmental team are more often long-lasting planning and operational groups. Short term teams might include a team to plan the annual company event, or a team to respond to a specific customer problem or complaint. Not all teams can be treated or thought about in the same way.

When teams are getting results – all is good. People celebrate together, don’t really need to worry about improvement and feel they are at the top of their game.

What happens when things aren’t so great?

I’ve found that there are 4 key reasons that prevent teams from being optimal – ‘The best that they can be’

1. Goals and Objectives are not clear

In short, not everyone  on the team gets it! What’s the vision? What are the team striving to achieve? What metrics are used to measure team performance? What milestones are to be achieved by when….and crucially, why is what the team is doing important.  AND where do ‘I’ fit in?

2. Roles and Responsibilities not clear

How many times have you heard the phrase – ‘Oh no, that’s not my job, that’s ….’ or ‘Well I can’t do anything about that until Dave’s done his bit’ or ‘We were waiting for someone to make a decision’? Heard any of those recently? Symptoms of lack of clear ownership and accountability!

When building a team, it’s hugely important for everyone to know the boundaries they have to work within, what their key responsibilities are and what decisions are required of them in their roles.

3. Relationships – Non-existent or not strong enough for a successful team

Without powerful relationships, no team can truly achieve their potential. Fact. This requires work, honesty, straight talking, generous listening and a commitment from every team member to support each others’ success. At worst, you’ll have saboteurs in your team, actively striving for the downfall of others. With the best relationships, people will coach and support each other, represent each other with projects and play to win!

4. No Leadership

I’ve worked with some fantastic managers in my time, but few leaders. Great leaders inspire teams to be greater than the sum of their parts. Great leaders anticipate potential futures and plan from there, not from today. Great Leaders cheer the progress and not just the results. Leaders do think about the ‘Me’ in team. If they didn’t, I’m not sure they would get the best out of every individual…and certainly not the team.

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