Monday, March 26, 2012

Are you winning too much?

If the need to win is the dominant gene in your “success DNA”—the main reason you’re successful—then winning too much is a genetic mutation that can limit your success.  ~Marshall Goldsmith

For all of you competitive types out there, this quote may have both gotten your attention and either confused you or made you a little angry.  After all, how could winning too much possibly limit success?

Marshall Goldsmith is someone I’ve admired for a number of years.  Marshall is an executive coach and best-selling author whose focus is leadership behavior.  He has helped successful leaders achieve positive lasting change in behavior for themselves and their teams.

Here’s how Marshall explains this idea of winning too much.
One big issue of successful leaders is winning too much. If it’s important, we want to win. If it’s meaningful, we want to win. If it’s trivial, we want to win. If it’s not worth it, we still want to win. Why? We like winning.  
Winning too much underlies nearly every other behavioral problem. If we argue too much, it’s because we want our view to prevail (we want to win). If we’re guilty of putting down other people, it’s our stealthy way of positioning them beneath us (again, winning). If we ignore people, again it’s about winning—by making them fade away. If we withhold information, it’s to give ourselves an edge over others. If we play favorites, it’s to win over allies and give “our side” an advantage. So many things we do that annoy people stem from needlessly trying to be the alpha male or female in any situation….in other words, the winner.  
If you’ve achieved any success, you’re guilty of this every day. When you’re in a meeting at work, you want your opinion to prevail. When you’re arguing your point, you pull out all the stops to come out on top.
And I really appreciate Marshall’s example of how winning too much really can limit our success.
Suppose you want to go to dinner at restaurant X. Your spouse, partner, or friend wants to go to restaurant Y. You have a heated debate. You end up going to restaurant Y. The experience confirms your misgivings. Your reservation is lost, and you have to wait. The service is slow, the drinks weak, and the food bad. You have two options: A: critique the restaurant and smugly point out to your partner that you were right. B: Shut up, eat the food, and enjoy the evening.  
When I ask people: “What should you do, and what would you do?” the results are consistent: 75 percent say they would critique the restaurant. Yet they agree they should just shut up and have a good time. If we do a “cost benefit analysis,” we conclude that our relationship with our partner or friend is far more important than winning an argument about where to eat. And yet, the urge to win trumps our common sense. We do the wrong thing, even when we know what we should do.
Imagine how many times a similar scenario happens in your organization – when winning has a much greater cost than the benefit realized from winning.  So, maybe winning too much really can limit your success?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Leaders communicate their organization's purpose.

Purpose enables hundreds of employees to make thousands of decisions in unison.  ~Gary Burnison

Purpose seems so obvious, but is it?  I’ve used a TED Talk several times over the past few weeks and this quote reminded me of the point the speaker is driving home.  Simon Sinek makes a presentation entitled, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.”  Simon has also authored a book entitled Start with Why

Simon says he’s codified why some organizations are far more innovative and successful than other organizations.  He describes a very simple concept that separates these organizations from all others with something he calls the Golden Circle.  The circle is divided into three rings.  The center ring is why, the middle ring is how, and the outer ring is what.  He says that when we communicate most of us begin with describing what we do, followed by how, and on the rare occasion we actually make it to the center circle and explain why we do what we do.  The really successful organizations (and leaders) communicate in the reverse order.  They begin with why, then explain how, and finally end with what. 

The core of why is being able to both identify and articulate your purpose.  Why you do what you do, many times stated as beliefs or your reason for existence.  For example, below is the description from a prominent Chicago law firm, stated in the typical order of how most leaders and organizations communicate (what, how, why).
We consistently deliver excellence in the most complex and demanding legal matters, both litigation and transactions.  No matter what legal challenge is presented, our powerful combination of experience, professionalism and teamwork will achieve the best possible outcome.  We do not consider the practice of law a job, but rather a calling to serve clients, the profession and the community. 
This is the same description with a little editing and in reverse order (why, how, what).
We believe that the practice of law is a calling to serve clients, the profession and the community.  No matter what legal challenge is presented, our powerful combination of experience, professionalism and teamwork will achieve the best possible outcome.  We consistently deliver excellence in the most complex and demanding legal matters, both litigation and transactions. 
So, honestly, which law firm would you hire, want to work for, or follow their leaders?  Most of us would likely choose the second one because, as Simon says, our behaviors are driven by the part of our brain that controls our feelings like trust and loyalty.  When we fail to include why in our communication, or if we bury it somewhere behind what and how, we greatly reduce our likelihood to inspire action.

Now, getting back to the quote, imagine an organization where every employee fully understood and embraced its purpose, or why they do what they do.  Can you see how thousands of decisions really could be made in unison?  

Monday, March 12, 2012

Leaders make decisions and then make them right.

We need to stop spending so much time trying to make the right decisions and instead start spending our time making decisions and then making them right.  ~Rory Vaden

Have you ever been stuck in a decision loop?  You keep circling back because there are too many options, or the perfect choice isn’t standing out from all of the other options?  Or maybe you’re thinking one decision will make your life easier than the other decisions so you want to identify that choice.

You might think that Rory Vaden is suggesting the “quick fix” approach to decision making.  Actually, he’s suggesting just the opposite.  This quote comes from a book authored by Rory entitled, Take the Stairs.  He argues that there is one specific value that is diminishing in modern culture: self-discipline.  We’re looking for immediate satisfaction and we live in a shortcut society.  So when faced with the option of the stairs or an elevator, 95% of us will take the easier option and forego the stairs.  Rory states:
Ask an Olympic athlete.  Read Michael Jordan’s autobiography.  Listen to what Peyton Manning says is his secret.  They all attribute their successes more to having the self-discipline to work harder and push farther in practice than to an innate talent.  Sure, people who achieve greatness in any endeavor might be blessed with some natural talent; and sure, timing and luck play a part.  But as Malcolm Gladwell demonstrated in his book Outliers, there’s no substitute for hard work—10,000 hours of it, to be exact!
Getting back to decision making, if we’re honest, how many of us make a decision and then expect the outcome to somehow mysteriously materialize, because after all, we made the decision.  Many times we spend very little time (due to lack of self-discipline) making our decisions right. 

Let me illustrate.  I frequently spend hours upon hours with an organization’s leadership developing a strategic plan.  Making decision after decision about where the organization intends to head in the next few coming years.  Yet, far too frequently, it stops there.  The decision is made but then little to no intentional effort is made to make all those decisions right.  In other words, they look for the metaphorical elevator and skip the stairs.  Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Plans are nothing.  Planning is everything.”  As I see it, plans are essentially a decision but planning is the self-discipline to make it right.

Here we are in mid-March.  How many of us started the year with making decisions about what we would change, do, accomplish, achieve, etc. in 2012?  How many of us have already abandoned those decisions?  Is it because they were not the right decisions?  Or is it because we have lost our self-discipline to make them right?

As Rory suggests, imagine what our lives and organizations would look like if we shifted some of our time making right decisions to time spent making our decisions right?  What if we had the self-discipline to take the stairs?  For Rory, it’s more than a metaphor.  He, literally, really does choose to take the stairs as a visible reminder to himself and others that it’s not the quick fix, easy way, or short-cut that leads to success; it’s the self-discipline to make decisions right. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Leaders leverage the power of habit.

Champions don’t do extraordinary things.  They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react.  They follow the habits they’ve learned.  ~Tony Dungy quoted by Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit

Some of you might be surprised to hear that I know who Tony Dungy is; but I have to confess, my first exposure to Tony was through his book, The Mentor Leader. Then, I learned that he was the head coach of the 2007 Super Bowl champions, the Colts, who had defeated (of all teams) the Chicago Bears.  Tony’s approach to leadership extends well beyond football or athletics.  Many of his philosophies are foundational to effective leadership, regardless of the type of organization or “team” one is trying to lead.

Tony interviewed for a number of head coach jobs without success.  In each of those interviews he described one of his philosophies of coaching that focused around habits.  He would explain that he wasn’t going to try to create new habits with his players.  Instead, he would change their old habits.  This was based on a commonly held premise about habits.  A habit is the result of a cue, followed by a routine that results in a reward.  “To change a habit you must keep the old cue and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.  If you use the same cue and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit.  Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.”  (Duhigg,Charles, The Power of Habit, RandomHouse, February 28, 2012).  Obviously, when Tony was given the chance, his philosophy of habits worked quite well. 

Applying this concept of changing habits to leadership, I can see a number of circumstances where I tried, sometimes even desperately, to change the cue or reward for other people.  Looking back, I can now see that had I focused on gaining a genuine understanding of others’ cues and rewards and then focused on changing their routine, I could have not only potentially changed their/our habits, but with far less pain and frustration. 

For example, a friend recently told me about a practice his organization had instituted to change a habit.  The habit was staff holding a meeting after the meeting over cocktails.  Many times it was at these informal meetings that some of the best ideas were generated, but then lost due to the informal nature of the situation.  So while the leadership didn’t change the cue and the reward [cue: desire to discuss the topic further in a more causal setting, and reward: identify possible solutions], they did change the routine.  They set up a bar environment, literally, in their conference room.  Then they would take a short cocktail break during their meetings.  [I should insert here that I believe the cocktails were nonalcoholic, but that really wasn’t the core of the routine, it was the relaxed, informal setting.]  The cue and the reward didn’t change, but the routine did.  The result, the leadership was able to capture both the creativity and problem-solving that had been taking place after the meeting. 

As Duhigg states, it’s nearly impossible to completely extinguish a habit and it can be extraordinarily difficult to create a new habit, but it’s very possible to change a habit and transform behavior.  Effective leaders have mastered the art of leveraging the power of habit, both for themselves and others.