Steven's Own Words

Stop Pushing My Buttons!

If people would just stop pushing my buttons, everything would be great and I’d be an awesome guy. That’s the obvious solution, isn’t it? Other people changing for me? Unfortunately, there’s one problem with that ‘solution’: it’s impossible. There will always be button-pushers. And my buttons keep getting pushed! So here’s the real question: How effectively can you name, understand and dissect your buttons?  Me? Oh, not so well as I would like. How about you? It’s the secret to happiness, you know. This is what I’m working on. The next time someone pushes one of my buttons, instead of getting mad, I want to notice that button. I want to get excited that they found it and thank them for the insight! I then want to use this insight to disarm the button. What sets it off? What is my emotional state? What am I protecting when I react? How do I feel? What’s at risk? How would I rather be feeling right now? How do I want to be with and for this person? Could they REALLY be as ridiculous as I think they are in this moment? You, know, stuff like that. All I know is that I have GOT to get rid of some of these buttons; I’ve simply collected way too many along the...

Of People & Pendulums

Here’s something to contemplate: People as Pendulums. They’re peculiar things, pendulums. They can’t change mid-swing. When you let one fly, it goes pretty much as far in the opposite direction as it started in the first. Equal and opposite extremes, one might say. It can’t, for instance, swing forty degrees left of center but only twenty degrees to the right. Have you ever noticed a similar thing about people? It seems to me the ones who are able to experience the highest levels of joy are also the ones who experience the deepest levels of sorrow.  I think it’s because both of those require a deep ability to feel. Because they can feel so deeply, they equally feel the good and the bad. Knowing that, remember to be careful what you ask people to stop doing. By trying to temper a negative quality you don’t enjoy, you might be limiting their “pendulum’s” ability to experience the other side of that coin–you just might be cutting off the positives in their personality that you do enjoy. It’s like asking an Italian not to talk with their hands. By tying their hands you may well be tying their tongues! By asking one to be “less emotional,” you may well be asking them to be less exuberant, less positive or less brilliant. Their emotions are their power, the force that allows them to swing that high in the positive direction, too. People, and pendulums–they’re peculiar things, aren’t...

Olympic Glory It’s Not

As we entrench ourselves in the Olympics this week, it’s clear: everyone loves winning. The pride of being the best, of being able able to exclaim, “I’m a winner!”  is exhilarating. And on the world stage, against the best of the best, OMG, that has got to be a feeling that can’t be beat! It’s the ultimate prize. One could easily argue the same for leadership–and in fact, many in our culture do. But here’s the thing: leading people is NOT about winning and losing. I know, I just lost some of you A-types that feel results are everything, and what’s the point if not to win? Well, I’m not arguing against that perspective. What I AM suggesting is that it’s time to ask ourselves who we are competing against. When it comes to our leadership, who is our real opponent? The vast majority of people many leaders compete with are not their genuine opponents–they’re employees, our own teams, staff, prospects, customers, suppliers, family members, neighbors, kids, clerks, fellow drivers, and more. These people are on our team. We work and live with these people to achieve our goals! So why then do so many “leaders” see every interaction with every individual as a competition, an ‘us vs. them,’ a battle with another teammate? Every interaction is an opportunity to build a stronger team. As leaders, our job is to emulate what it means to engage, to learn, to struggle, to question, to challenge, to succeed and to fail. To a real leader, struggling, failing and making mistakes isn’t an indication of poor leadership, it’s indicative of great leadership–we...

A Crying Shame

Let me ask you what I hope is an easy question: What do you do when a baby cries?   Usually, you pick them up. Right? You don’t yell at it, ignore it, threaten it, demand it find a different way to communicate with you, or any other action that requires the baby change and adapt to you. The cry is that baby’s only means of communication and you have spent months learning to interpret it.   So here’s a bold challenge for you: The next time you’re angry at someone for their “crying,” or poor communication, take a moment to see them as a three-month-old. Let that feeling we get when we look at a baby wash all over you. Smile knowing that, for the moment, this is the best they can do  (Perhaps they’re colicky 🙂 ). Am I advocating removing an adult’s responsibility for their own behavior?  No. I’m simply asking: what might it look like if we assume people are doing their best? Because, honestly, most of the time they are. They no more intend to annoy you then a baby intends to upset you as they cry through the night. They’re just crying for help, and this (whatever behavior is being exhibited) is the best they have to work with at that moment. It will get better, I promise! Babies grow up and learn to sleep and self-sooth and talk; adults, too, learn compassion and wisdom and kindness. Just not all at...
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...

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