February 2019

Octavio and I sit in Books and Books café on Miami Beach’s famous Lincoln Road Mall. Talking about what energizes us in our work.

Octavio has held senior HR Leadership roles for Fortune 500 firms throughout Latin America.

Great jobs, Octavio affirms, but when I think back, 30% to 40% of what I did on a daily basis drained me.

Tasks either give energy or take energy away. 40% is a lot of energy depletion. As I listen to Gustavo I think of a conversation I had with Ann, Head of Engineering for a well-known manufacturing company, just this week. I start my days early, Ann says. I have a run at 5. My first call at 7:30. By 3:00 in the afternoon I am drained, with little left.

Yup. Been there. Drained.

The simple answer, of course, is this: Perform fewer tasks that don’t energize you. Tasks that call on your least developed mental faculties, tasks that you’re simply not proficient in.

Not an option to say NO to tasks that drain? In that case, consider some ways of undraining the tasks that drain you. Choose to undrain yourself. Here are a few mental levers that may help you do so:

  1. STOP the Pre-Drain

The mental battle before the task, the state of anticipatory dread, is often more draining than the task itself. Not only do we reinforce how unpleasurable a task will be before we engage in it, we in effect drain the tasks that precede the task we dread. We exponentially amplify the drain. Accept that the task will be done. Choose to ditch the pre-task drama. Instant drain reduction.

  1. Make a Temporary Commitment

When we’re not excited about performing a task, we tend to not fully commit to the execution of the task. We unwittingly prolong the agony. The moment we fully commit to something, the German poet Goethe famously said, then providence moves too. We fuel the drain by not committing. We disallow providence.

Flip the equation. Commit to reduce the drain. The commitment is just for now, for this moment. You’re not committing to perform this task for the rest of your life. And just for now, committing always beats not committing.

  1. It’s OK to NOT Love It

We love to compare and despair. Love to compare the task that drains to the task that thrills, the task we dread to the task we adore. It’s OK to not love every task equally. It’s OK to derive a different kind of satisfaction from the task that tends to drain.

It may be the satisfaction of executing it proficiently. Efficiently. The satisfaction of successfully harnessing your resistance. Discover what the satisfaction point is for you – and let go of the notion that you have to love this task. If loving it is your standard, the task will always lose.

  1. Reward Yourself

Reward yourself for performing a routine task. Sounds cheesy, doesn’t it? It IS cheesy – and it works! Here are my personal mini-incentives for executing a drainer: Hop in the car and grab a latte at the Scandinavian Bakery down the street. Take a dip in the pool. A beach break (I live in South Florida). 5 minutes in the sun, eyes closed. A quick inspirational read.

The beauty of rewarding yourself? You get to pick the reward. You get to decide what makes you feel good. You get to consciously give yourself an Energy Boost. Now why the heck would you not want to do that?

Get clear on what your these-drain-me tasks are. Name them and claim them. Choose to approach each one of these tasks differently. Experiment with drain-reduction habits.

And enjoy the surprising fruits of instant drain mitigation. 

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One of those weeks. Moving too fast.

A writing deadline. Crafting a keynote. Chasing logistics. Designing a new workshop. Personal conflict with a colleague who matters. That was my week.

You know how it goes. New information flies in before you have time to respond to the old one. You shift gears, readjust, every moment, at high speed.

Your brain is about to spin.

Too fast.

Yes, you remember what they taught you in time management class. Prioritize your commitments. Bundle tasks. Delegate. Take a break.

You believe in that stuff. This week it all seems just a little too cute. Not working.

When the stuff you think you SHOULD do isn’t working, try the stuff that will. Here are a few approaches that may do the trick:

  1. Accept it

Let go of the notion that this will be a balanced week. It’s not the week you got. Do not fight it, do not resist it, do not try to change it. Accept it. I mean, FULLY accept it. Surrender wholeheartedly to what is in front of you. Because fretting and fuming and wishing the demands would go away will drain even more of your energy.

If every week is a too-busy week, please reconsider why you have invested in an overly busy life. But just for now, board this week’s train. Ride it. And commit to the fast ride.

  1. Fuel yourself

A break would be brilliant. It’s not going to happen. When we don’t break we tend to also not fuel ourselves. We forget. At time when we need a lot more fuel, we succumb to less or none at all. FUEL YOURSELF. Consistently. With water, with nutrition, with healthy body-energy-fuel.

Notice the difference it makes. Instantly. So so simple.

  1. Articulate the experience

A disarmingly easy concept. And effective. When you start to feel overwhelmed, tell someone. Feeling overwhelmed. When your brain can’t think straight anymore, tell someone. Can’t think straight right now. The act of stating what we feel lessens the very thing we’re feeling. Part of the emotion gets released the moment it’s articulated. It also keeps us conscious of what is going on.

Because the other option – checking out – never gets us to the end of the day.

  1. STOP

When you absolutely must STOP, STOP. Not when you habitually STOP. Not when your calendar says take a break. No. When your mind, your body tell you to STOP. Listen, notice, don’t override. No, STOP.

When you STOP, don’t fill your STOP with distractions. No facebooking, no internet-cruising, no brain-feeding of any sort. Just STOP. You’ll be surprised by how little STOP-time you need when a STOP actually is a break.

Here is your bonus option.

The moment you find yourself resenting a week that’s moving too fast – and let’s face it, we all have made the trip to resentmentland many times over – why not ponder this question:

What part of the experience today could actually be fun if I let it?

I don’t mean to be glib with this question. Consider it. Really. Be ready to amaze yourself.

Now go execute.

And let it be.

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I like the old saying Fake it til you make it. Better yet, my colleague Alisa Solomon’s adaptation. Fake it til you feel it.

It works. Until it doesn’t.

I read lots of books on leadership. I love being inspired by new leadership thinking. Yet once in a while, someone utters something that puts all this new book wisdom to shame. Someone delivers a back-to-basics message.

Gustavo, a CEO with a resounding success record of turning troubled companies around, was addressing a group of mid-career professionals. His audience expected to hear insights on strategy, tips on execution, pointers on how to build great teams. Here’s what they got from Gustavo instead:

  • Be genuine
  • Care about people

You may go DUH. Of course. I know that.

Good. It’s the stuff we can’t fake. It feels especially compelling during Valentine’s Day week, a week when I like to celebrate my love of all beings.

Be genuine. Care about people. These tenets are the basics Dale Carnegie so compellingly wrote about in his 1936 classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Back to the future. One of those books, social media and technology and all, that feels as fresh today as it did back then. We can’t fake the basics with technology. We can’t fake them with charm. We can’t. We sniff out the fakers at once. Without these two basics, our personal impact in the world is forever diminished. Lasting impact is impossible.

Let’s dissect these two tenets, shall we!

  • Be genuine

We have created lots of code language around this notion. Be vulnerable, be transparent. Yeah, I like those words. If we’re going to go modern, I like be real best. Genuine has a more old-fashioned ring to it that I like even better. Allow me to translate: Don’t bullshit people. Don’t deliver fake-peppy talk. Don’t unload unexamined clichés on folks. Don’t dress up your conversation with lots of fancy jargon you’ve learned in a communication skills class. Don’t pretend to have answers that you don’t have. Don’t act like you have it all together when you don’t. Don’t hold me or anyone else to an idealized standard that no one can meet. Including you.

Have healthy boundaries, yes. But be real. Be human. Be genuine when you speak with me.

  • Care about people

It doesn’t mean act nice. Doesn’t mean showering folks with gifts or compliments. Doesn’t mean discussing career planning or feigning interest in someone’s personal life. It may, in fact, mean firmly holding someone accountable and offering a bit of tough love. On the most essential level, caring about people springs from an unwavering belief that in the larger scheme of things, you and the other person are one. Regardless of position, of education, or social standing, at the soul-level there is no separation or separateness between you and me. Act from that place. It is the well from which true caring springs.

Have healthy boundaries, yes. And do not hold yourself separate from others.

I believe in fake it til you make it – when it comes to confidence, when it comes to tackling that which you have not yet mastered. You can’t, however, fake the people stuff. It doesn’t work.

Drop fully into being genuine and caring about people. If you already embody these qualities, you know how they help you meet every challenge with grace. If you have a sense that you can drop a little deeper, go ahead, make the drop.

And if you were to hop into a dinghy and head for a desert island where internet distractions are not to be found, take Dale Carnegie with you.

A very happy Valentine’s Day to all.

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Last Friday, Cory Booker, the US Senator from New Jersey, announced that he will seek the Democratic nomination to become the next US president. His instant media blitz that day involved an appearance on the talk show “The View.”

I believe that in this moment, co-host Meghan McCain says to Booker, authenticity is the most important political currency you can have. And after some elaboration McCain asks: How do you convince people that you’re authentic and not a phony?

I cringe. Not at McCain or Booker. This is not about them. No, I cringe at the ease with which we toss about the word authentic. Ever since Bill George popularized the notion of Authentic Leadership in his book “True North,” we have steadily killed the meaning of the word.

I want to be authentic with people.

It has become the most overused leadership cliché of the past decade or so. Mind you, I am in favor of not being inauthentic. Or a phony. But you and I can authentically be many different things. Which authentic Self will you bring?

I think of a conversation I had with Jen Congdon, Head of a Business Unit within a highly profitable publishing empire. Jen and I were talking about how to play well with folks who have social power. She mentioned her relationship with Chuck, the empire’s legal counsel. Chuck, it was clear, pushes Jen’s buttons. She saw him as the quintessential young buck climbing the social ladder, with a lot of bravado in the mix.

In a way Chuck is so transparent, Jen sighed. You just need to stroke his ego a lot to get things done. Another sigh. But I have to be authentic with people.

Are there things you genuinely appreciate about his talents as a lawyer? I inquired.

Yes, there are, Jen sheepishly admitted.

And can you authentically let him know that you appreciate those things? I asked.

I guess so. Vera said it with a pained look on her face.

We say authentic when we mean vulnerable. We say it when we mean genuine, truthful, direct. Transparent. When we mean “act according to our values.” When we long to express a strong emotion we have. When we want someone to “fully own their life story and tell it.” Why not toss the word authentic and say what we actually mean?

Let us not pretend that we all agree on what the heck authentic is. And what it looks like. I urge you to be mindful of the following myths that are frequently attached to the word authentic:

Myth #1: Just Be Yourself

When you go on a job interview and your best friend tells you Just Be Yourself. When you have to give a crucial speech at work and your colleague suggests Just Be Yourself. Let’s be clear – nobody in a job interview wants you to just be yourself. Or when you give a speech. Chances are, we don’t want you to be boring. We want you to be prepared. We want you to make choices about which Self you bring.

You and I can authentically be many different things. My joy can be authentic. My enthusiasm can be authentic. My fear can be authentic. My doubt. In key business situations, we want you to bring your Best Self. And we want you to be intentional about it. That’s grown-up authenticity.

Myth #2: To Be Authentic I Have to Say What I Really Think

No, not really. A thought is merely a thought. It may feel authentic for a moment. A minute later another thought may feel authentic. Thoughts come and go. Repetitive thoughts may indicate a pressing concern. When you and I have a pressing concern, in a business situation or a personal relationship, let us consider context: Is this a good moment to express what I’m thinking? Is it essential that I express my thoughts right now? Will expressing my thought enhance the conversation we’re having?

Expressing a thought is a choice. Not expressing a thought is a choice. Both can be authentic choices. Sometimes not expressing a thought is the more enlightened one. And authentic, as well.

Myth #3: I Like to Keep It Real OR I Like People Who Keep It Real.

When I hear keeping it real this is what comes to mind: Gosh I’m tired of all the platitudes. The bullshit. The polite stuff. All the things we’re avoiding and not talking about. All the fake conversations. Let me cut through the crap.

A noble impulse, one I empathize with. Beware, however. We have all been with folks for whom keeping it real means going on an angry tirade. Attacking and blaming. Unloading pent-up anger. Going on and on. Dumping. Letting it rip.

Authentic expression? Perhaps. I think of this behavior as unfiltered narcissistic authenticity. Yes, I say what is on my mind, with little regard for my audience. It, more often than not, has scant positive impact and much unintended detrimental impact.

Myth #4: Being authentic means I tell you “my story.”

Bill George popularized the notion of telling our “crucible stories.” Stories of moments in our past when we overcame barriers and obstacles. When our lives transformed and we learned major life lessons. Crucible stories can often be inspiring. Old leadership thinking used to be that we hide our struggles and shortcomings from those around us. Current thinking, championed by the likes of George and Brene Brown, suggests that considered vulnerability fosters connection and personal impact.

I agree. I love stories. I love to tell them, and I have coached many folks on how to tell them well. Here’s the deal, however. Stories are often carefully selected for their potential impact. They are crafted and shaped. At times colored by all the things we leave out and don’t say. For every story we tell there are hundreds we do NOT tell. Each story we tell is a choice of omission. It is manipulated authenticity. We choose to highlight one facet of our narrative over others. Let’s not confuse this with being authentic. Because we could authentically tell legions of other stories that we withhold.

In case of doubt, bring the YOU that enhances execution and personal connection. Check the other selves at the door. Here’s a bit of wisdom from someone who pre-dates the likes of Bill George and Cory Booker and Meghan McCain.

I’ve learned that it’s what you leave OUT of a performance, not what you put INTO it, Tony Bennett says. Less is more. It’s not because of my age, but it’s the right thing to do.

Tony Bennett is 92. He knows.

When you style a song, there’s the craft of singing. And there are the choices you make while you sing. Yes, less is often more. Just one of many authentic choices a performer makes.

When you lead, please don’t be yourself. Bring your BEST self. Make sure your best self comes wrapped in a bit of craft. Be vulnerable when your vulnerability will be helpful to those you lead. Use keen judgment about what to leave OUT.

And stop worrying about being authentic.

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