Achim Nowak

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Achim Nowak Posts

When I tell friends that I’m helping organize a global event around happiness, I am often met with a pained roll of the eyes. A moment of polite silence. And attempts to contain the happiness conversation.

Well, you can’t be happy all the time.

Don’t you think being fulfilled is more important than being happy?

Happiness, I read between the lines, is deemed fluffy and fleeting. Not robust enough.

Meet a business leader who gets it. Cedric Bru, the CEO of Taulia, a maker of invoicing software for the likes of Coca Cola, Halliburton, Pitney Bowes, PayPal, Agilent Technologies, Hallmark and many, many others. Taulia has a 100% customer retention rate since launching in 2009. Taulia is doing something right.

How do you hire people? Cedric Bru was asked by Adam Bryant, the former curator of the compulsively readable New York Times Corner Office column (NY Times, 2/5/2017).

I believe that people overperform when they are happy. And I don’t believe that companies make people happy. People find happiness in a company, in their life. It’s not external. People have to be happy with themselves.

For Bru, the notion of happiness is more than a fanciful leadership idea. It’s an explicit part of the workplace conversation.

Happiness is personal; the way you find happiness in a company is different from mine. So I ask questions that are tailored to understanding how they will find happiness here. It becomes a shared assessment.

I will ask you how you will find happiness at Taulia, and I want you to think how feasible it is. Because if you don’t think you can find happiness here, I don’t want to work with you. It’s not good for you. It’s not good for everyone else.

We tend to hire folks for skill and culture fit. Cedric Bru taps a deeper animator. His comments make me think of a trip I took to Bhutan in 2017. Bhutan is famous for having created a Gross National Happiness index. Political and spiritual leaders are committed to creating conditions that allow their citizens to be happy. This commitment is supported by specific policies that are deemed to foster a happier country. And yet, every civic and spiritual leader I spoke with in Bhutan was unequivocal: We can create the conditions that make it easier for you to be happy. But we cannot make you happy. You’re responsible for your own happiness.

If these considerations interest you, tune in for an entire week of great chats about happiness. The virtual World Happiness Agora is taking place this week, March 18-22 (www.happinessagora.world). It is the most comprehensive global gathering ever of thinkers and practitioners in every aspect of creating happier lives. Happiness and Mental Health, Happiness and Education, Happiness and Self Mastery, Happiness and Technology, and Happiness@Work.

I had the pleasure of helping organize an entire day centered on Happiness@Work. March 21. This day alone, hear from Mo Gawdat, Former Chief Business Officer at GoogleX and the author of “Solve for Happy.”  Anna Gowdridge, Head of People at Virgin Unite. Blake Harris, Leader of the Happy Crew at Zoom. Peter Weng, Chief Business Officer Search Inside Yourself Business Institute. Doug Kirkpatrick, Author, TEDx Speaker, Global Authority on Self-Management. Pim de Morree, Co-Founder of Corporate Rebels. Raj Raghunathan, author of “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy.” Eve Simon, Founder of The Future of Leadership Salon. And so many other wise and inspiring guests.

Cedric Bru was right. So are our friends in Bhutan. Happiness it’s a choice, and it begins with us.

So come, be inspired. Brighten your happiness radar. Join us for some amazing conversations!

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Trust is an ephemeral thing. Sometimes hard to describe, harder to quantify.

And yet, every relationship – professional and personal – is transformed when trust becomes the guiding force in that relationship.

I think of an interview Adam Bryant, former columnist of the New York Times Business Section’s inspired Corner Office column, conducted with Tobi Luetke a few years back. Luetke is the young, German-born founder and CEO of Shopify, an e-commerce software company. Luetke holds a personal net worth of US $ 1.2 Billion. One of his secrets? At Shopify, they get explicit about trust.

We talk a lot about something called a ‘trust battery,’ Luetke tells Bryant. It’s charged at 50% when people are first hired. And then every time you work with someone at the company, the trust battery between the two of you is either charged or discharged, based on things like whether you deliver on what you promise. (NY Times, 4/24/2016)

At Shopify, the notion of charging the trust battery is not just a cute little phrase – it’s an integral part of the work culture. 

We decided to create a metaphor, Tobi elaborates, so that we can talk about this in performance reviews without people feeling like the criticisms are personal.

Marvelous.

A metaphor awash with brilliant allusions. A battery becomes depleted and needs to be charged. Most of us desire a long battery life. It behooves us to notice when a battery isn’t charged. If we don’t notice, trouble ensues. Clear, right?

Trust is not a fixed, static entity. There is no neutral, no holding pattern when it comes to trust. Our actions either charge or deplete the battery. Desire more success? Start to view yourself as a trust charger. It puts you into the driver seat for shaping the underlying and often invisible dynamics in any relationship.

Because each relationship is different, start with a little reflection to better understand how you currently charge or discharge trust:

  1. How do I experience the notions of “charge” and “trust?

For example: Charging, feeling charged, intentionally charging another person are more than nice ideas. How do you FEEL when you are charged, when your battery is full? How do you EXPERIENCE this sensation in your body, in your thoughts?

– Tip: When we know what it feels like, we have a better sense of what it is we’re seeking to invoke. And we have a better notion of when we’ve been successful!

  1. What are 3 everyday behaviors I already engage in that charge the battery? 

– For example: I genuinely praise colleagues or team members when they have done a great job.

– Tip: Do it more often, with more people.

  1. What are 3 behaviors I engage in that tend to deplete the battery

– For example: I give one set of instructions, and when I have a new insight I change my instructions and give new guidance.

– Tip: Think things through more thoroughly before giving instructions to your colleagues so you don’t become the leader who is constantly “changing his mind” and driving folks bonkers.

Yes, trust is ephemeral, but it is fueled by our simple everyday behaviors. How would you fare in the annual Shopify Trust-Battery-Review? Conduct your own trust-performance-reviews. Don’t conduct them merely once a year, conduct them often. Make them an integral part of how you “do relationships.” You will be amazed at just how quickly the batteries get charged.

Theirs. And yours.

Charge on.

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Yeah, we know.

Every aspect of work flows better when our business relationships work.

We know – and then we get busy. Transaction mode takes over. Execution fever. We forget.

Old-school wisdom is that if we desire stronger relationships, we need to spend more time with folks. Yup. Here, however, is the deal. We can be really really busy and still deepen our relationships. If you don’t have more time to spend, use language that accelerates connection!

“People with rich vocabularies,” success guru Tony Robbins suggests in his wise little book Giant Steps, “have a multihued palette of colors with which to paint their life’s experience.”

Multihued. Yes. Here’s the good news: The colors in your palette don’t need to be high-falutin’. A rich verbal palette works best when used in person – and it works equally well on the phone, in a Zoom meeting, in writing. So, busy or not, cultivate your connecting palette!

Here are my top 5 verbal cues that I know will strengthen any business relationship you’re in – and all other relationships, as well!

  1. I was touched by …

Most of us, even if we’re a little gruff on the outside, have a keen desire to impact folks. The deepest impact occurs when we touch someone’s heart. This simple phrase indicates to the other person that s/he has, indeed, via an action or a gesture, had that sort of impact on us. Powerful. Get in the habit of being touched, please.

  1. You really helped me …

It feels good to know that something we have done, no matter how small it may have seemed to us, has been of help to someone. It feels even better to hear this acknowledged. Whenever possible, let someone know that something they said or did, even if it was routine behavior for them, was helpful to you. “Help” is a fundamental relationship word.

  1. I never looked at it this way before …

Especially in a conversation that may have had its rough patches, acknowledge that the other person had a positive impact on you. Made you think of new possibilities, had you question hidden assumptions, forced you to reach beyond easy answers. This phrase celebrates the positive aspects of a potentially uncomfortable conversation. I mean – someone had an impact on you; how powerful is that! Relationship instantly enhanced.

  1. I don’t agree with …

You may wonder, hey, really – how is disagreeing with someone a relationship-builder? Folks who have strong relationships with others are not afraid to disagree. They don’t waste time dancing around a moment of disagreement. They state their disagreement “in neutral.” No raised voice, no elevated emotion, no drama. Just a fact. The moment a disagreement is stated, the conversation can shift to new ideas and fresh solutions. Instead of offering me platitudes or making me guess what you really think – you actually let me know. Honestly, respectfully. How liberating is that.

  1. I know we can come up with something better …

Even as we discard a present state that we believe isn’t working, we look to the future with unwavering optimism in our ability to deliver. The word “we” is a potent non-blame word. And the affirmation of my faith in the “we” is a sublime relationship-shaper. Add the verb “can” – and whoa, power magnified. Get in the habit of saying “we can!”

There are folks with whom it is tough to build relationships. Agreed. But even a tough nut tends to crack when s/he is approached with a relationship-enhancing cue. The most common objection I hear to the just-listed cues: This is simply not how I talk. That, of course, is the very point. Would you object in this manner when you learn a foreign language? No – you would learn the language.

Toss the objections. Expand the palette.

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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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5 Ways of Directing Your IMPATIENCE Well

Patience can be hard.

I was reminded of it again at the start of this year. Hanging out in beautiful Hoi An/Vietnam – and then I came down with a pesky cough and fever. Darn it, that’s not how this was supposed to go. I felt weak. Void of energy. Emotionally down. I could do little to affect what was happening. Couldn’t magically make it go away. You know what it’s like, you’ve been there. Impatient for this circumstance to change.

At once. Right now.

Yep, patience can be hard. Impatience is harder.

Not the petulant, self-righteous, I want it right-here-right-now impatience. That’s the easy kind, the one that may have gotten us what we wanted when we were a toddler. It rarely works for grown-ups.

No, I’m thinking of the sort of repetitive impatience that gets triggered in places of work. Impatience with the slow pace of change in your organization. Impatience with processes that plain don’t work. Impatience with colleagues who never get their stuff done in time. Impatience with questionable ethics. Impatience with glaring incompetence and the same tired excuses for why something cannot be done.

Our daily frustration with individual and systemic mediocrity.

I get it. You’re impatient for change. Impatience with the status quo is the hallmark of an inspired leader. You sometimes feel like you will burst out screaming if things don’t change fast.  

Scream at home. When you want to get things done in business, however, focus your impatience. Consider these 5 ways of directing your impatience well.

  1. Open the Door of Possibility – with Grace
    NOT: What we’re doing right now sucks. I know what will work better.

You may like the language of bluster and bravado. It may feel authentic to you. It really does capture exactly how you feel. Dump authentic for a moment and opt for skill and finesse. Invite folks into your point of view – don’t hit them over the head with it.

BUT: It seems we have been struggling with this same dilemma for a while now. I have a few ideas that we may wish to consider.

  1. Respect Tradition
    NOT: Really, I can’t believe we’re still doing this the way we did it 30 years ago.

Most of us have worked in situations where processes feel arcane. Like, really, who ever thought THIS was a good way of doing business! Work flows inhabit progress. Rituals seem rigid, not nimble, don’t make any sense. Truth is, they likely made sense to someone at some point. Especially when rituals are tied to a company’s core values. If core values and tradition matter where you work, find a way to publicly honor them before you go on the attack!

BUT: I can see why this way of doing things contributed to so many of our early successes. There are some very impressive companies that we all know who have found ways of improving how they do things. Let’s see what we can learn from them.

  1. Test Your Ideas – BEHIND the scenes first
    NOT: I will bring this up at our next Executive Meeting to make sure everybody is in the same room and hears the same message from me.

Yes, you will have a captive audience. You also run the risk of being labeled a loose cannon or a troublemaker. Before you bring up a potentially explosive topic in a large forum, test it in private 1-1 conversations. Float an idea by a colleague or two. Think of these as casual, low-risk lobbying conversations. Instead of forcing your idea on these colleagues, invite their honest reactions. Pay attention to what they say and what they don’t say. Truly listen. Then decide what to do with your idea.

BUT: I will test my ideas in informal 1-1 conversations to hear what others think and discover if my ideas resonate before I take a bold stand in the “big” meeting.

  1. Forge Alliances
    NOT: I will take this on as my pet project because nobody here is as passionate about this as I am.

Don’t be a martyr. Don’t assume that you’re the only one, or the most qualified one, to take on a cause. You may, in fact, be the most qualified. You will, however, have a lot more impact if you have allies. Your effort will be harder to dismiss. Take your lobbying conversations to the second level – that’s the level where you switch from testing an idea to getting a commitment of support from your conversation partners. That’s how allies are born.

BUT: I will work to make sure that at least 3 other key influencers are as fired up about making this change as I am. We will be a rebel tribe. Together, we will have a powerful voice.

  1. Accelerate the Process
    NOT: Great conversation. Let’s revisit this at our next monthly staff meeting.

We know that when we desire change and momentum, this is not a compelling way to end a meeting. And we’ve all been in meetings, especially those where new ideas were proffered, that end in deferment. Don’t accept deferment. Ask for more. Suggest next-step commitments. And make them time-bound, please.

BUT: Great conversation. Let’s commit to the following three actions! Can we get this done by the end of next week? Who will take on which item? Awesome.

Successful impatience is strategic, it is persistent, and it pushes the proverbial envelope while playing successfully with others.

Celebrate your impatience. Impatience with the status quo is a powerful incubator for new ideas and new ways of doing/being. Season your impatience with your ability to be patient. They are flip sides of the same coin.

Hard? Perhaps. Not harnessing your impatience is harder. Go and grab it by the horns – and direct it WELL!

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People have always told me that I’m very direct. Little do you know all the things I’m not telling, I invariably think to myself.

I come from a country that prides itself on directness. Germans like to complain about Americans. Their need to be “nice” and never say what they really think. Others, of course, may experience German directness as harsh. Americans like to complain about how some of their Asian colleagues never say what they really think. A Chinese person, however, may experience an American communication as brash. Yes, directness is culture-relative.

I’m a lot more direct these days. Directness feels good. I feel untethered, and directness has powerfully elevated my professional impact.

Then, the other day …

I come home from a dinner and think of a few things I have said to my host, and I suddenly panic. Wait a minute, that may have been way too unfiltered. You may have totally offended him!

Potential unintended impact. Not my intent. GoshI hope I’m not turning into a self-righteous jerk, I wonder. And I remember the two emails I sent. They contained difficult messages. They were to the point. I did not received answers right away.

Really, am I being too direct?

Maturity means you and I second-guess ourselves less. We have the courage of getting to the point. And we are, I hope, kind to others.

I want to continue being direct. Here’s my Directness Checklist. Memo to Achim. If it works for you as well – consider it a Memo to You:

  1. Don’t Make Them Wrong

In case of doubt, argue passionately FOR what you stand for instead of AGAINST what they believe in. Draw a contrast between two divergent positions if you must, but resist the temptation to hammer away at everything that is wrong about what s/he values. Chances are, you will get lost in a tirade. Directness gone wrong.

  1. Cut the Edge

The edge – that is any tinge of arrogance, superiority, sarcasm. Any touch of bravado or self-righteousness. Your swagger. Cut it. The edge tends to show up when we’re not aware of what we’re feeling, and those feelings suddenly hijack the message instead of informing it. When we speak with an edge all they will hear is the edge, and what we advocate for so strongly will be instantly dismissed.

  1. Keep it Brief

Direct goes hand-in-hand with concise. The danger? When we feel strongly about a point of view, we will always be tempted to go on and on. And on. Because we want them to “really get it.” The less they get it, the more we go on and on. Their wall goes up. A vicious cycle. It’s brutal. Brevity, please.

  1. The 1-second Delay

You pride yourself on being direct but others have labeled you a “shoot-from-the-hip” kinda person? You may think to yourself yeah that’s kinda cool, but chances are the label was not intended as a compliment. Direct with no impact. You know how they have a 7-second delay in live television so an editor can bleep the unacceptable crap? You may not need 7 seconds, but when you find yourself wanting to shoot from the hip, impose your own 1-second delay. Breathe. Think. Edit yourself. What comes next will likely be a little more direct with a lot more impact.

  1. The Essential Questions Scan

If you’re not sure if being direct will be helpful in a given situation, ask yourself these two questions during your 1-second Delay: Does it need to be said? and Am I the one who needs to say it? If the answer to either question is NO, consider being less direct than you’re inclined to be.

Here’s my Cruise-Ship Directness lesson. You know how there are those conversations we have over and over again? They are our splendid teachers. Here’s a conversation that is endemic to South Florida where I live. My home is 15 minutes from the Port Everglades Cruiseport in Ft. Lauderdale, and nearly everyone in my social circles takes advantage of this proximity. Folks here LOVE to cruise. And they LOVE to talk about it. I don’t love cruising. To me, being on a cruise ship feels like being locked up in a gaudy Las Vegas hotel with too many guests in the halls and no way to escape. This is a sacrilegious perspective in my neck of the woods, I know. I have learned to not indulge my disdain of cruises. I talk about the joys of vacationing in the Keys, instead. Very directly.

The two emails I wrote? The responses came in and all is well. I had a very pleasant social exchange with my dinner host. But I’m relieved that I considered my Directness Checklist again. A crucial tune-up.

I need it ever so often.

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I coach folks on personal impact.

Sometimes, I get a little fancy with my coaching. And then, once in a while, I am reminded that the simplest adjustment often produces the most compelling results.

I stumbled on a radio chat about upspeak and vocal fry a few years back, moderated by Terry Gross, host of the Fresh Air program on National Public Radio. Upspeak describes the tendency by some folks to raise their inflection at the end of a sentence. The individual wishes to make a declarative statement but what comes out sounds like a question.

Vocal fry describes the habit of drawing out ends of words and sentences with a low, creaky voice.

Both habits are often ascribed to women. I coach many men, however, who engage in upspeak and vocal fry, as well. These habits significantly impede personal impact.

I chuckle at a line of reasoning proposed by one of Ms. Gross’ guests. Upspeak and vocal fry are not the problem, she suggests, but our social conditioning that deems these speech patterns unauthoritative is.

It’s my problem and that of others in the room that we find your speech pattern annoying? Good luck in winning that battle! There are languages where an uptick at the end of a sentence is part of the cultural cadence. Global Business English isn’t one of them.

Here are 3 simple speaking adjustments that will elevate your personal impact by 50%. They are ridiculously simple to execute. It merely requires that you stay mindful of them. Here’s what you do:

1.    Keep your sentences short.

Stick to one idea per sentence. Have lots of ideas? Awesome. Start a new sentence for every new idea or message. Run-on sentences are horrid in written documents. They’re an even stronger impact-killer in verbal communication. A period and a pause are wonderful things – they bring your message into focus.

2.    Stop at the end of a sentence.

Your pause lets me know that a thought is complete. It gives me a moment to absorb your idea. And it allows me to tune into what you’re about to say next. If you don’t pause for 3 sentences in a row, I have already tuned you out – you are simply blabbering!

3.    Drop your voice on the last word.

No upspeak please unless you’re asking a question. When your inflection goes down on the final word, I get a sense that you mean what you say and that what you say matters. And while you’re at it, avoid vocal fry, as well. Upspeak can come across as uncertainty and lack of conviction. I’m making a point – but I’m not sure I fully believe it! I’m making a point – but please go ahead and approve it for me!  Practice the power of a declarative ending. Drop the voice.

Ridiculously simple, isn’t it?

A bonus tip: In case of doubt, speak slower than your instinct wants you to. We often conflate a quick pace and enthusiasm. Expressed enthusiasm is almost always a wonderful thing. Couple it with a rapidfire pace, however, and you run the risk of becoming the person that rattles on and on. Observe folks who are comfortable with their sense of personal power. They claim the moment. They take their time. They don’t rush.

Here’s what these simple adjustments do for you. They bring you into focus. They allow me to hear your message clearly. And even when you don’t feel very authoritative inside, these adjustments help you project a sense that you are.

3 little adjustments. 50%. The impact is that dramatic.

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