Humility is a word that we experience in many different ways throughout our life. For many a young leader, it is a moment of deep learning – when the brashness and confidence of ambition finds a moment of deep discovery and realisation. This leadership moment is one to relish, to explore and grow through.
Lately, I finish almost every conference talk in the same way. Sharing with audiences that they are able to future proof their businesses if they stay close to the value exchange with their customers. A customer-centric strategy FUTURE PROOFS your business.
In the Thought Leaders pink sheet process the metaphor is the abstract right-brain tool we use to capture, package and deliver ideas and insights. In this month’s Talking Point I thought we could take some time to make metaphors a bigger part of your leadership world.
Randy Pausch knew he was dying of an incurable illness and decided that he would not go quietly into the night. Instead, he committed to making his last days on earth extraordinary. He would be present, connected and loving. A university professor he decided he would give one last lecture before he died, this presentation and the subsequent book The Last Lecture are elegant.
My most recent book, written with my business partner at Thought Leaders, Peter Cook, is called Think – Using Pink Sheets to capture and expand your ideas. This is the first chapter.
As the world shifts from bits to bytes, from products to services, from owned to shared, we all need to rethink our business models. Imagine that the primary way you make money got taken away, disrupted or deregulated in some way. What would you do next? How can you thrive through disruption?
Sometimes it's not even the doom and gloom of disruption that drives the shift, it's an opportunistic piece of positioning. What business are you really in? Can you pivot or adjust your model towards a different focus?
Do you talk to yourself?
If not, who just asked that question?
So, we can agree then, that we all have a voice in our mind. That incessant voice that drives what is often called our stream of consciousness.
The easiest way to get clear about something is to take action. Act, fire before you’re ready or even just take aim. It’s a bit counterintuitive but it’s solid advice; if in doubt, do something!
Many people spend time searching for motivation, asking themselves ‘what do I want?’ This is a great question to ask yourself often. It’s great to recalibrate, to choose what it is that you are creating on your life journey, and to know your ‘motivation’. But as I have found, it is through an experiment or after a result that you discover what you really want. So, the cycle of clarity starts with action, followed by clarity and then motivation, and not the other way around.
Perhaps the greatest tool we have as leaders is 'encouragement'. There is a poster on my study wall, one of those excellent 80's success posters. It has an image of a lighthouse and the saying, 'you can’t shine a light on another's path without also illuminating your own'. Loving everything maritime, I enjoy the image while also appreciating the importance of encouraging others. Encouragement is the verb or access point for being ‘attention out’.
In the martial art Aikido there is a goal for mastery. It is the metaphor of ‘walking through a battle field hurting no one and being hurt by no one’. For me, this journey occurs in three stages:
You start being able to defend yourself by hurting others.
Next, it's protecting others without getting hurt yourself.
Eventually, though, any pursuit of mastery in martial arts shifts metaphors and you simply ‘stop fighting’.
Any martial artist who maintains the pursuit of mastery will come close to this final lesson. They have learnt to fight so that they never have to.
I think the vulnerability journey is similar
When you lead others there will be some team members who need little guidance and others who need a great deal of your help to be the best version of themselves at work. This Talking Point examines how to manage team members who drop the ball and those who run with it.
Many different philosophies and methodologies are used to categorise and label people. From star signs to Myers Briggs profiles, these are just attempts at creating models of the world and therefore have both strengths and flaws. This idea was well illustrated by the statistician George Box, who famously said, “all models are wrong but some are useful”.
If you lead, it's important to have a point of view. To develop and share thoughts about your profession, your industry and your market. An expert knows something, a thought leader is someone who is known for knowing something. I am big on ensuring leaders are thought leaders.
What are you known for, what is your point of view and how do you share that?
Composure is something I wish I had more of.
I like to think of myself as a steady, at ease man who you can rely on to keep his head when everyone else is losing theirs. Well, my wish to be that calm person is not always how I have shown up. I get scared, I say the wrong thing, I put pressure on when I shouldn't, and I do let other’s stress response affect me — sometimes. Not all the time, and that's the point I think.
In every domain of life there’s a line. Without needing to define it, we intuitively know where it is, and where we are in relation to it. We don't often talk about it, but you know the line exists; you know when you are above or below it, and you know for sure when you have crossed it.
Things are complex and multi-facetted; anyone who wants to tell you otherwise is probably fooling you or themselves (or both). How do we take complex ideas and make them accessible? I suggest it’s not by dumbing them down but rather by smartening them up.
I imagined a few years back what it would be like to be retired, or more importantly, financially independent. Imagine through hard (smart) work and astute (consistent) investment, you had bought your time back. This exercise is less about money and more about how you might spend your time if this was true.
A common theme in my work revolves around the idea of getting fit for the future. It's about exploring what we can do to enhance our lives and our work as we head into the decade of disruption. Often the future will need us to have some new capabilities; like sense making, novel thinking or social intelligence. Sometimes it’s about capacity management; being fitter or removing the frictions or things that get in our way. This month’s Talking Point is about capacity and more specifically the capacity drain that email, meetings, Powerpoint and politics are causing in our teams and businesses. There are not enough hours in the day to achieve balance and enjoy progress if we are always in meetings, interrupted by memos, or managing the agendas of those invested in the status quo.
It’s a well known idea that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your effort. Similarly, 20% of your clients will contribute to 80% of your sales.
What kind of team are you building?
It’s worth getting deliberate as a leader when you focus on the teams you are creating. Awareness of the different team types and identifying your players is a giant step towards a better culture and your ability to build the optimum team.
Everything we have learnt about productivity in the 20th century is getting precipitously close to out of date.
The world is experiencing change at an exponentially increasing rate. It’s creating situations where leaders in every industry and every environment are under increasing pressure to perform. Pressure clearly affects our ability to work effectively. But it would be a mistake to think that pressure only affects us in a negative way. In fact, pressure is key to maximising the performance of some of the world’s greatest leaders.
How do you respond to pressure? Does it make you or break you?
It puzzles me that more people don’t commit more effort to becoming great public speakers. Becoming a confident and compelling speaker might be the most important skill for leaders in the modern business landscape. I’ve dedicated two decades to speaking professionally, teaching others the craft, and collecting and creating speaking resources.
Do you read non fiction books? My son remarked the other day about the similarity of the titles of the books I read. I explained the genre to him and, whilst agreeing that they sounded the same, pointed out that they were about different topics. I see them as mentoring lessons; ideas picked up from others’ hard work that I could use in life and business to make progress, change or money.
I have the auditory equivalence of a photographic memory. I remember pretty much everything that people say to me. Imagine living with that (poor Lexie!).
As a result, I have to be quite selective around what I choose to listen to and the level of conversation and depth I have in my day-to-day life.
Futurists spend time analysing the forces that drive change more than they do trying predict the actual changes likely to occur. It makes sense that outsiders cannot predict specifically the path of an industry market, technology or culture with any real accuracy. Instead it is more logical that the people who are within a certain ‘space’ are the ones to make the choices that shape the future of that space.
Communication should be measured less by what you say and more by what is heard. The greatest idea on earth is of no value if no one can understand or communicate it. Talk as much as you like, but if the message is not getting through, then you are not actually communicating. Too often leaders say 'message delivered', without checking or doing everything they can to ensure 'message received'. It is your responsibility as a leader to get your message understood, not the listener’s to understand it. For this to happen you cannot simply rely on just your natural or preferred communication style.
How easy is it to think that all advice is good advice? That you should listen to everything that anyone has to say to you. That a humble and open mind is the best thing to have, so you should take on board whatever criticisms get thrown at you.
Nope, that’s a totally flawed social assumption.
I have a confession to make. I came up with the ideas in this talking point when I realised that most time management/personal effectiveness programs I attended made me feel lazy and useless.
I have a history of nodding along at these programs, all the while knowing that something is fundamentally amiss. I wasn’t going to block out 2 hours on a Monday to plan my week. I wasn’t going to make a meeting with myself every Friday to run through roles, goals and priorities. I wasn't going to feel inspired to work if I cleared my desk.
We live in the exponential age. Progress is happening at exponentially increasing rates. Jobs – and indeed whole industries – are being made redundant. There will be more change in this generation than in the 200 years leading up to it. This is a fascinating idea, but what do we do with it? How do we react in the face of it? How do we evolve to keep ourselves relevant? How do we guide our children to best prepare them for the future?
Google Inc recently changed its name and structure to Alphabet Inc. The company’s mission as Google Inc was to organise all the information on the planet, and while that’s still true of Google the search company, the Alphabet mission is about “getting more ambitious things done.”
This shift is a major turning point in the world-changing business that was Google Inc. It’s a widening of purpose around the idea of realising ambitious projects. It’s symbolic of this first major revolution, this major technological revolution; the shift from information to implementation.
The business world is going through an era of massive disruption. Information is flowing faster, technology is providing for more leveraged activity and innovative new market players are disrupting industries. We have noticed an increase in competition; not only in market share or sales, but in finding ways to grab the attention of the market. Meanwhile the challenge of becoming an employer of choice means you are fighting on two fronts: new clients and a campaign to engage your best and brightest.
Business needs to undertake a new leadership imperative. This is first and foremost a strategic leadership issue.
Throughout history there have been countless examples of warmongers; entrepreneurs and politicians who thrive in the disruption of war. Warmongers profit by selling arms, trading in human lives, and preying on the negative impacts these disruption events create. As mercenary and unpleasant as the idea of warmongering is, perhaps it's the context of the behaviour (rather than the behaviour itself) that's distasteful.
Maybe the strategies mongers employed when profiting from war should be informing (to a point) the strategies we will employ in this decade of disruption.
There was a time when teachers would teach the way they had learnt, with little regard to the needs of the student. The world changed when Howard Gardner and others came along and turned education on its head by promoting an agile teacher model. In this model the teacher — be they traditional classroom teachers or coaches, speakers or mentors – would adapt how they taught to meet the varying student needs.
But now a third wave is upon us, disrupting the existing pedagogies.
The idea of specialisation or niching is a prevalent one. The argument goes that by focusing on one market or one expertise you focus your efforts and get more done. I reckon it's an easy idea to swallow. Who hasn't felt diffused at some point, distracted by multiple angles and overwhelmed by many projects? The thing is I am not sure it's right for everyone. It's convenient and functionally smart in a business, but I don't think it's what genius does. And I think that the only competitive advantage we have in the developed world against the massive flow of people coming down the line from Brazil, Russia, India and China is to work in our genius.
So here is an old new idea. Be a renaissance man or woman, be more like Da Vinci and less like Henry Ford
There’s a paradox in positioning — that we are not what we do, yet we need to be able to answer the question “What do you do?” in a way that makes it memorable. As a card-carrying introvert, I find the prospect of commercial networking about as attractive as having root canal treatment. Still, I recognise that without customers, clients, and attendees at my events, my business would dry up quicker than a well in the outback.
Are you a motivational leader, do you bring it? Are we better because you are in our lives? Do you have the X factor? Email, death by power point, and more boring meetings certainly won't help you achieve it.
Leaders today need to go ‘old school’—they need to get back to those original base actions of connecting, talking and inspiring the people around them. They need to get out from behind their strategy and bring leadership to life. They need to be able to make a difference personally. Their very role as leaders, the purpose of their existence, is to make a difference and the difference they make is one of amplification.
Thought Leaders Global is an educational organisation that focuses on growing practices, businesses and careers. In this talking point I wanted to tell our story and share the strategy we use to build a ‘specialist infopreneurial’ practice (we’ll explain this term in a little while if it is new to you). It is worth understanding the game we are choosing to play. It’s not the only game in town; we don’t even go so far as to say it’s the best game in town (although it is). It is simply a different game to the ones most people play.
For as long as we can remember the G7 nations have ruled the world. Now, apart from Germany, each is in debt akin to teenagers with credit cards. The macro economic conversation should not really be simplified to that extent, but one thing is clear: the nations that have ruled for the last 50 years won't be by the end of this decade, let alone for the next 50 years. This means that the workforce habits and ways of working in these countries are going to need to adapt or risk becoming extinct.
I’ve been thinking a lot about meetings; how much time we waste in them and how bad we are at running them. From the small meetings with mentors for advice, to the big meetings we call conferences. We meet to create joint ventures, negotiate deals or simply to get things done. There are a lot of really good reasons to meet, but so few meetings live up to their potential.
Basically, as a whole, we are really bad at meetings. But could we turn them around? Could we take them from time wasters to extraordinary agents of change?
In 1903 George Bernard Shaw wrote a piece of work titled Maxims for Revolutionists. A famous quote from it sets up this month’s essay,
‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’