Steven's Own Words

Playing Hardball With “Soft” Skills

Playing Hardball With “Soft” Skills

Playing ‘hardball’ is tough, right? It’s supposed to be serious, difficult, dangerous and most definitely not for the weak of heart. “Hey! We play hardball here! Get used to it!!” Softball on the other hand–that’s supposed to be easier, gentler and more forgiving. We play ‘softball’ when we’re in it more for the fun than the game, not for serious competition. Right? Hmmm. Why then do they call them “soft skills” when referring to the intangible skills of human dynamics and interactions, or emotional intelligence and the ability to stay calm and compassionate when an angry client or upset employee is yelling at you?  It seems to me that when it comes to business, politics and life, the real “hardball” game is with people. That’s where the real skills are necessary. That’s a level of play that is far more difficult, volatile and dangerous than what we traditionally call the “hard” skills.   When will we learn that people skills are not the soft skills--they’re the only ones in the end that count the most! When it comes right down to it, it is only through people that profitability and dividend returns can be achieved long-term.  It’s not the skill of investment, or sales, or engineering that makes the money, it’s the application of those skills by a person that effects the bottom line. The most important skills we can learn are people...

Forget Learning – Start Forgetting!

Have you noticed how easy it is to get hung up on what we think we ‘need’ to know? When we ask the question “How can I be a leader?“, we proceed to look for the best book, the best class, the best something or someone to teach us the answer. We assume that if we just had the information, the right knowledge, the correct five step plan… we would be able to do it! Often, however, the real challenge isn’t learning new information–it’s unlearning and forgetting old assumptions. In order to create a new behavior or new belief, we have to make space for it. If there’s no space — if our inner selves are full of fear, self-doubt, criticism, etc — then new and good things won’t be able to grow. Too often the very answers we seek are right under our nose–the more information we gather just buries them deeper.  What we really need to decide is what to let go of. What baggage are you holding onto? What stories are you telling yourself that are standing in your way or holding you back? It’s not that you don’t know how to be a leader. You do. Andre Gide once said: “If you want to discover new lands you must first have the courage to lose sight of familiar shores.” What familiar shores must you let go of...

Discipline Is NOT The Answer – Part II

Last week we talked about how, if something is too difficult, you may need to consider whether it really does align with your goals. If not, drop it! Why force yourself to do something you hate? The danger, of course, is using this as an excuse not to do something we really need to do just because it’s hard. Maybe that activity really does align with your goals in life, with who you are and who you want to be — or more importantly, maybe it’s an absolutely necessary task to achieving the goal — but it’s still tough. That’s when you really need to be honest with yourself. If in the end it’s the right thing to be doing but it’s still HARD: Break it down. Most discipline, it seems, fails because we move to far, too fast. Let’s go back to the workout routine. If that workout demands you get up at 5:30 in the morning and you’re a night owl, it’s going to take some adjusting! Start small and just practice the ‘getting up’ part. Just like you don’t build a muscle the first bench press you do, new habits take time and repetition. So start by waking up at 5:30am for a couple weeks, without the workout! Then, as you get used to rising early, you can add the first piece of exercise as you build “the muscle” to achieve the discipline. Breaking the process down gives you a chance to catch up with the goal.  As a result, you’ll likely find that discipline is less a sheer act of willpower, and more a process of...

Discipline Is NOT The Answer (Exactly)

Every goal requires discipline, and that very discipline is exactly the trouble most people have–myself included! How does one develop discipline? Hellifiknow, because it usually looks like sheer willpower–which, as we all know, is a diminishing resource. You have way less of it at the end of the day then you do in the beginning! That’s why diets are most often broken after 3pm. Instead of focusing on sheer discipline, try asking yourself this question: what is it you want to be disciplined about? Then ask: does that thing – whether it’s exercise, health, or a business activity – does it actually serve you? Does it accurately align with your goals and who you want to be? If you are finding it difficult to stay disciplined, then the answer might well be ‘no.’ If it’s not in alignment, then like a car out of alignment, you are always fighting it. If you find you simply can’t stick to your workout routine, for instance, maybe that particular workout or way of working out isn’t for you. Try something new — get out of the gym and go bouldering instead, or drop a Shell in the water and go rowing! Find the exercise that energizes you, serves you, and matches your goals. Then it doesn’t feel like work. You no longer have to fight it–it simply doesn’t require as much forced willpower. It becomes a joy! I know what you’re thinking — not everything is joyful all the time, even those things that align with your goals. True.  But this is an important place to start, so we’ll discuss the hard stuff next...

The Peter Principle: Part II

Last week we talked about the negative effects the Peter Principle can have on organizations. But what about individuals? If you find yourself succeeding at your current job–thriving even–it’s only a matter of time before that offer for promotion comes along. That’s how most companies work! But what happens when you know that promotion will put you in a position you don’t enjoy? With responsibilities you don’t want? Requiring skills you don’t possess, leading you further away from that which made you successful in the first place and away from the direction of your dreams?  On the one hand, most promotions come with increase pay, not to mention a higher feeling of status. Those can be tempting, to be sure. But basing your decision on those factors alone is inevitably short-sighted. No matter your status or pay grade, if the promotions won’t give you joy, serve your goals, or allow you to live your dreams — you are on a collision course for a “mid-life crisis,” that point in your life when you wake up and realize that where you are isn’t where you intended to be. It takes courage to ask that question — to consider the consequences of that promotion instead of simply leaping head first into the opportunity because it “sounds good” or is shiny. Just remember: we are the leaders of our own life, and giving up that power just because of what others think you should do will not lead you or your team to success. So before you jump, remember: when given the opportunity to rise to your own level of incompetence, a perfectly acceptable answer may well...

Getting Rid of The Peter Principle

According to the Peter Principle, in any given hierarchy an individual will rise to the level of their own incompetence. If promotion is the only way to receive reward, people are likely to step on this land mine of incompetence, even if the promotion is for a job they don’t love or even want! For instance, you might reward an amazing salesperson by making them manager, then regional manager, and eventually VP — but just as the character Michael Scott from The Office taught us, an outstanding sales person doesn’t necessarily  make an outstanding manager. I see two important lessons to learn from this. The first is for current managers/leaders: If you are running an organization where the only way to reward a person is to promote them away from their area of success, ask yourself: is that really the best structure for your company? Be willing to consider how you might create an environment that rewards good work without falling into this trap. You might have to face certain fears around losing talent, because everyone thinks promotion is the badge of success. So what would have to happen in your organization to change that mindset?  What risks might you take? What traditional structure might you have to disassemble? If we look at the Peter Principle as a wake-up call to capitalize on and honor human talent, create loyalty, increase engagement and promote joy for each individual, what’s the first step you can take to achieve that goal today? PS: Wondering what the second lesson is? We’ll be talking about that next...

Where Does Power Come From?

I wrote this article a few days before the Orlando shooting and it seems more apropos than ever. At a time when I, and so many of us, feel helpless, powerless and at the mercy of so much hate, violence, and fear, it’s a fair question to ask: Where does power come from?  Does it come from within? “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” ~ Alice Walker Most people think power is something you acquire — when actually they have it all along. It’s just that most people fail to see it and therefore fail to use it. Don’t feel too badly; after all, we live in a society that rewards following. Questioners are seen as the oddballs and trouble-makers, or simply naive, and as we get punished, insulted and intimidated for stepping outside the box, too many of us begin the slow decent into forgetting that we all inherently had power to begin with. Let us remember:  “We are powerful beyond measure.” ~ Marianne Williamson But as long as our culture brain washes us into believing that power, authority, and leadership is bestowed upon us by someone else – by position or title or might – we will continue to seek it outside of ourselves. “Please sir, may I have another promotion? I’ve worked really hard, sir, I’ve done as I have been told.”  And if you are lucky, your boss might promote you.  But that isn’t your power nor is it your leadership. It’s theirs: the role they want you to fill. No one has the authority to give you your power. It is already inside of you...

Do You Have A Beginner’s Mind?

Many of us in positions of leadership often feel it comes accompanied by an expectation to be right all of the time. But that’s a feeling founded in fear. Leaders who are afraid of being wrong or vulnerable are afraid of losing their power and appearing weak. In other words, they believe confidence is synonymous with omniscience.  But being wrong isn’t what cause leaders to appear weak.  Being bothered by, ashamed of or upset with being wrong – THAT’s what causes leaders to appear weak! Leaders strong enough to admit error, courageous enough to apologize without justifying themselves, and insatiably curious enough to seek more and more information come across as anything but weak. In fact, the rest of us admire those people immensely! So here’s my invitation to you:  Let your Leadership inform you through a “Beginner’s Mind.”  A Beginner’s Mind is the ability to seek insight and understanding from people other than yourself. It’s the wisdom to recognize that some of the greatest insights come from some of the most unlikely sources. It’s the courage to say “I don’t know” with enthusiasm, opening up the opportunity for others to help and serve you....

Leaders Face People’s Fear

It’s been said that courage is not the absence of fear, but acting in spite of the fear.  This being the week of Memorial Day, such words take on many different meanings. All weekend, perhaps because of the holiday, I’ve had the 70’s song from Paper Lace running through my head: “Billy Don’t Be a Hero.”  Don’t take a risk, the song basically says.  Play it safe, come back and make me your wife, sings the words of the narrator. There something I’ve noticed lately about leadership, one responsibility that Leadership has which sets it apart from management. If we manage tasks and we lead people, then leadership has a responsibility to face and address fear. If we want people to join us, if we want to scale new mountains, discover new worlds, to Boldy Go… it can’t happen without paying due respect to fears, both ours as a leader and those of whom we lead. All the great leaders, whether world-renowned, office-renowned, community renowned or family renowned, have something in common. They face fear head on. Mind you: This doesn’t mean that they’re not afraid. We all feel fear, but a leader faces it. And the beautiful thing is that in facing our fear and in being willing to face other people’s fear with them, we can give them the courage to do the same. So how do you do this?  You name it and in doing so, you take its power away. There is Chinese story about a young boy who wakes up from a bad dream night after night, where a frightening and mysterious something chases him through the dark woods. Each night it gets closer,...

The Sunlight Theory

Do you know how long it takes for sunlight to reach the planet Earth?  Even traveling at the remarkable speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second,it takes more than 8 minutes from the time light is released from the sun’s surface to reach our humble planet, power our solar panels, nourish our plants, or tan our skin. What really blows my mind about this is the realization that when we look out and see the sun, we’re not actually looking at the latest and greatest version of the sun.We’re looking at sunlight that’s 8+ minutes old! You know what that means, right? The sun could have literally exploded -Boom! – and we wouldn’t know about it for 8 solid minutes. Last week we established that every business problem is a people problem and I elaborated on The Horizon Theory, the first of two theories to explain why people problems are so challenging. The Horizon Theory established we can’t really know as much as we think we do and new information requires action and movement. The second theory I call the Sunlight Theory. We want to believe that we are masterful creatures, so conscious and aware and present in the moment.  Many of us even pride ourselves on our ability to read people and think and act on the fly. While there is certainly truth in those gifts, the fact remains that we are so often reacting in the present to the past.  Consider this.  It’s one of those ‘bad days’ — you know the one. You sleep through your alarm.  You wake up on the wrong side of the...

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