Leadership Excellence

The Mueller probe. Russia probe.

That’s what I think of first when I hear the word “probe.” Congressional hearings. Senators hovering in elevated seats, staring down at the solitary witness with a prosecutorial air. Probing, probing, probing, probing.

A spectacle.

Given this context it’s easy to forget that great things that can happen when we probe with a measure of grace in our everyday lives. Not the lawyer/prosecutor/interrogator probing. No, the probing for greater personal connection.

Lynne Waymon, my esteemed colleague, friend and the CEO of Contact Counts, a training firm that teaches professionals how to better network, told Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal about a survey her firm conducted with over 1000 professionals (WSJ, 5/23/17). According to Waymon, only 1 out of 4 professionals sees value in asking probing questions of strangers.

I’m shocked. We’re not talking senate-hearing-probe here. We’re talking probing to elevate everyday relationships.

Everyday probing, Waymon elaborates, involves taking a risk. I’m demanding more of you when I ask thought-provoking questions. I’m making an assumption that you’re in this conversation to make something of it.

Risky, yes. But business success tends to amplify when we take conscious risks. Business relationships blossom when we consciously probe.

Want to minimize the risk?  Here are my Top 5 Conversational Probing Tips. They work in business and in absolutely every aspect of your life:

  1. Always a 2-fer

When you ask someone a question, think Question/Answer/Follow-up Question. The second question confirms that you have heard, that you’re interested, and that you long to know more. It demonstrates curiosity. It’s the relationship builder.

The exception? When the first question creates clear discomfort or disinterest in your conversation, notice the discomfort and move on, unless it is time to have an intentionally disruptive conversation with this individual.

  1. The low-risk probe

Asking for specifics as you probe is simple, surefire, and the least risky way of advancing and deepening any conversation.

Statement:  I had such a great time in New York over the week-end.
Question:  What did you enjoy most during your visit?

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But how often have you spoken with someone who immediately starts telling you how HE always wanted to visit New York or how she had an amazing time on HER last trip to the Big Apple. Probing opportunity wasted.

  1. The high-impact probe

Asking for the WHY drives a conversation to the other person’s deeper purpose and motivation. Your conversation drops to a more intimate, more vulnerable and ultimately more enriching level. It is simply inevitable.

Statement:  I just love spending time in New York.
Question:  Why do you think you enjoy being in New York so much?

  1. The what-did-you-feel probe

Asking to name an emotion may seem a little therapy-ish to you. Overuse it, and folks may indeed tell you to stop “being my shrink.” But our emotions are the hidden level beyond thought where we commit to, or resist, any situation or experience. Naming an emotion will invariably invite powerful personal testimony.

Statement:  I had such a great time in New York.
Question:  So how do you feel while you run around in New York?

  1. Know when to un-probe

I hang out with professional coaches. Many of them are masters at asking probing questions. Coaches have also been trained to keep themselves out of the conversation. While that may work in a coaching conversation, it NEVER works in a business conversation. Keep probing and probing, and you become one of those senator-probing-machines, even when you do it with a smile.

Want to deepen a relationship? Probe, probe, and then find a sincere AND substantive link to your own experiences.

It’s oh so clear. If you want to succeed in your relationships – any relationships – asking a probing question is a non-negotiable skill. NOT probing isn’t an option.

Don’t ask the probing question like a prosecutor, ask it with grace. But ask. Ask it often. And reap the rewards.

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It’s a bruising paradigm.

We expect a leader to have answers. The level of your leadership pay is commensurate with the expectation that you execute strategy and don’t make a mistake. An apology is a very public acknowledgment of having erred. A sign of weakness. Or so the story goes.

Yup. Bruising.

Leaders are human. They err.

Here’s what’s even more brutal. The pressure to fake the knowing, to have a solution, to be in charge of the execution game, is relentless. We can fake the I’m-a-smart-leader-who’s-in-control part. For a while. We can’t fake the apology part. EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER.

An exquisite apology is a powerful reset point in any relationship. Professional, personal. It gets us to the human truth of events that occurred. It invites the possibility of redemption and a path forward. It unmasks the I-have-it-all-under-control game. It is ultimately liberating for every party involved.

Need to apologize? Here are a few essentials:

1. Choose unequivocal language.

Our choice of language needs to signal full ownership of the apology. No I regretI wish I hadn’t. Cautious words that signal half-hearted remorse. An apology requires an unequivocal verbal cue. I am sorry thatI apologize for. Amplify such cues by adding qualifiers that indicate the depth of your apology. I am so very sorry that. I apologize profusely for. Amplify with language that is authentic to you, not clichéd.

2. Convey understanding.

If your behavior has caused financial, physical or emotional harm to your business or the people you engage with, convey clearly that you are aware of this impact. We want to know that you understand the depth and scope of the damage you have caused – and its impact on people. For us to move forward with you, we need to know that you “get it.” When you don’t demonstrate insight, any apology remains a narcissistic exercise.

3. Drop all conditions.

No but I had a little too much to drink. No I didn’t have all the information. No circumstances were beyond my control. No other people have failed much worse. All of that may be true. It doesn’t matter. Assume unconditional responsibility. No butif onlyunder other circumstances. Own it. Fully. Don’t diminish your 100% ownership of your actions.

4. Feel it.

Clever apologies don’t stir us. Cognitive insight alone is never enough. We long to know that you had an emotional awakening which prompted you to apologize. That your emotions were stirred as you reflected on the impact of your behavior. Especially if your apology is caused by any misdeeds on your dark side. Yes, we need your apology to come from the heart. And that’s the part we cannot EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER fake.

A heartfelt apology is a sign of strength. Always is. It flips the narrow leadership story – hey, I have all the answers – to a human leadership story – I am a leader who loves to execute and win, but yes, I am human, and I own my mistakes with integrity.

More helpful story, right? More successful story, as well.

All it takes is an apology. Apologize freely. Apologize well. Apologize from the heart.

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I stumbled into a new restaurant last night, here in Hollywood/Florida where I live. Indonesian Cuisine. The food was sumptuous. Better yet, it was matched by the quality of the service. Attentive, energetic, consistent, helpful. The server, the busboy, the owner. Everyone.

Professional is the word that comes to mind.

Earlier in the day I had spoken with my chipper 94-year-old mom in Germany. Our chat reminded me of how two years ago, after mom had a minor stroke, I arranged for her to move into an Assisted Living Facility. The unforeseen part of that experience? Within a matter of weeks I had a seemingly endless stream of interactions with professionals I had never before met. Doctors, many of them. Nurses, even more. Physiotherapists. Social Workers. Bank Clerks. Receptionists. Taxi Drivers. Security Guards. Assisted Living Directors. Car Mechanic. Apartment Liquidator. Newspaper clerk. Clergy.

I was taking care of mom, and I was witnessing a whole lot of professionals being professional.

Being helpful, not helpful. Present, not present. Focused, distracted. Flexible, rigid. Warm, aloof. Grouchy, joyful. All while performing their jobs. And I thought of you and me. The choices we make, every day, as we show up for work.

It’s not like we don’t know. I saw it in my Indonesian restaurant, and I saw it so clearly while in Germany, tending to my mom. How we show up at work, moment by moment, human interaction by interaction, is a conscious choice. It always is. The fundamental choices we make in every human encounter change their day, and they change ours.

A little reminder of what works, regardless of your personality type or what line of work you’re in:

  • Choose Joy.

It doesn’t need to be big ra-ra joy, and no fake cheer, please. But the moment you and I have a professional encounter with another person, whether we know her or not, whether we like him or not, let’s infuse it with a sense of delight in the encounter. Let’s make this sense of delight our most elemental choice, and let’s make it a conscious one. The starting point, always. It will infuse every second that unfolds. The alternative isn’t pretty.

  • Manage Your Irritations.

When you’re having a “bad” day, don’t dump your crappy mood on others. Ever, ever. We have two choices, always. We can be transparent about what is bugging us. When that is not appropriate to the situation we’re in, we can manage our irritations. Not stuff ‘em, but be aware of them and mindful of containing them. Anything else is not cool. Bad-mood drip drip drip is poisonous. Show up as a grown-up, please, and don’t drip. Be cool.

  • Demonstrate Understanding.

We like agreement with others – but what we truly desire is understanding. You and I cannot always offer agreement, and we frequently don’t receive it. But we can always seek to understand. And we can, to the best of our ability, convey to the other person that we have understood. No fake “yeah, I get it.” No easy platitudes, no surface-skimming. No, an understanding of the deeper yearning, the stuff beneath the surface. The human and sometimes messy part. Agreement is nice. Being understood, truly understood, is better.

  • Drop the mask.

The professional mask, that is. It is so seductive. The “I’m efficient mask.” The “I know what I’m doing mask.” Don’t get me wrong. By all means, be efficient and know what you’re doing. We expect nothing less of you. But when this ability turns into your primary public demeanor, it becomes a professional shield. The “crisp” mask. Clean execution of required behavior – whether it is greeting a client or delivering a performance review at work – in a professional human exchange is never enough. Go beyond required. Warmth works. So does kindness.

Over the last two years, mom has had her good days and she has the not-so-good ones. Her social filters are gone. I think of a moment when she was in a Rehab clinic and complained, yet again, about the inattention of the staff at the clinic. We bantered back and forth about what transpires in a human exchange. I know that when I greet the nurse with a smile and a good attitude, mom admitted with a wistful sigh, I always get a smile in return.

It’s a two-way street. It always is. And the choice begins with us.

Always does.

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Empathy.

A great word. Like passion, like integrity, like synergy – a word in danger of becoming an easily uttered cliché.

What does empathy-in-action actually look like? Do I “feel” more for my colleagues? Do I behave more kindly toward them? Is it something I say that unequivocally articulates my empathy?

I remember an interview the great Cate Blanchett gave for her Oscar-nominated performance in the film “Carol.” In the interview, Blanchett defines acting as an act of empathetic connection with a character. When you act, you temporarily walk in another character’s shoes. And Blanchett draws the sort of distinction actors love to make: You don’t have to be a killer to convincingly play a killer. No, acting is a momentary, highly-skilled Shoe Swap.

Watching the tv show “Undercover Boss” is one of my guilty pleasures. In “Undercover Boss,” a CEO goes undercover for a week and, under the guise of being a trainee, performs some of the tasks that frontline employees in the business perform on a daily basis. A classic Shoe Swap. Invariably, the CEO is startled by the disconnect between the firm’s corporate strategy and the hardships faced by its workers in daily execution. As in a way cheesy and “manipulated” as the show is – the impact of the Shoe Swap experience is clearly transformational for most CEOs. By the end of the experiment, they are invariably reduced to tears.

A Shoe Swap is powerful.

When I received my Mediation training at the Brooklyn Courts, back in the 1990s, shoe-swapping was one of the techniques we learned to help shift an adversarial relationship. Yes, powerful.

Next time you wish to behave more empathetically toward a colleague, don’t just think nice thoughts. Do a mental Shoe Swap. Here’s how it works.

You sit in a meeting. You have a strong reaction to an idea proposed by a colleague. You feel the heat rise in your chest. Your mind is itching to reject the asinine suggestion put forth. You’re planning a brilliant retort. Uhuh, your mind is ready to do battle.

Go to your internal cue word: Shoe Swap.

  • For the next 45 seconds, intentionally abandon your thoughts, your feelings, your reaction.
  • For these 45 seconds, FULLY try to understand the reasoning, the rationale behind this colleague’s point of view.
  • Contemplate the challenges your colleague may be facing.
  • FULLY put yourself in your colleague’s shoes.

45 seconds. We can do that, right?

A Shoe Swap does not mean we agree with another person. It does not suggest we abandon our beliefs.  You and I may not be reduced to tears like the CEOs in “Undercover Boss.” But if we engage in our 45-second Shoe Swap with sincere intent, there’s a superb chance we’ll end up with a more complex understanding of the situation at hand.

Shoe Swap accomplished. Empathy in action.

You and I are responsible for our mental cuing.  A Shoe Swap does not magically happen by itself.

Incorporate the phrase “Shoe Swap” into your mental programming. Triggered in a conversation? Think Shoe Swap. Execute in 45 seconds. Powerful shifts will occur in your conversation. 45 seconds is all it takes.

Swap freely.

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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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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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