What, How & Why, and a Foundation of Trust

I’ve noticed that we spend a lot of time defining the what – what’s the goal, what’s the metric, what’s the next thing we want to accomplish.

I’ve been guilty of this on a personal and professional level. I obsess on goals and defining the right metric to track them. I also see this happen at an organizational level. One thing that always seems to be clear is the what.

The what is an important piece of the puzzle to achieve a goal. Yet, we often fail to see that it’s just a piece, instead, substituting it for the whole. 

The what, I’d argue, is the easiest part of a goal. I could spend all day writing SMART goals that paint a beautiful and vivid picture of what I want to achieve. 

Alas, the what is useless on its own. 

The best leaders provide the what, but recognize that in order to really challenge people to grow and move towards a goal, they need to paint a vibrant picture of the how and why. 

And once the picture is painted, they are relentless in reinforcing it. 

The how tends to be a bit more malleable. There are many ways to get from point A to point B and the route will most likely shift based on changing conditions or ideas from the team on how to do it better (leaders must always be open to feedback from the folks who do the work).

The why, however, must connect to a larger purpose. For the more challenging goals, people must be bought into the why, especially, if it will require sacrifice (of time, energy, or emotional investment). The why must be clear so people understand what their work is contributing to. 

I’ve stated before that people want to be part of a journey. 

The best journeys are aligned deeply with our values. Great leaders see the what as a point on the horizon to reach for but spend more time amplifying the why in order to get people committed to the journey. Once people are enrolled in the journey, it’s easy to engage them in helping to define the how. 

If we spend enough time getting people to buy into the why and ask their help in shaping the how, the what will take care of itself. 

Most importantly, for any of this to work, there must be a foundation of trust in your team. Otherwise it’s easy to hide behind the what and convince yourself it’s all that’s required from you as a leader.

A Playful German Word Exercise Tastier Than Weiner Schnitzel

Here’s a fun creative exercise courtesy of Sam Apple via Tim Ferris. 

In a recent blog post, Sam, who teaches a writing class on noticing at John Hopkins, shares some wonderful insights on how to get better at noticing, in turn helping you become a better writer.

I highly recommend you read the whole thing, but I want to share one of the exercises he suggests. This particular exercise has got me feeling playful and has my creative noticing skills on high-alert so I can continue playing the game. 

What follows is a description of the exercise, taken straight from the article and some of my own examples (hopefully, you’ll find some enjoyment in them – I certainly had fun coming up with them).

The German Word Exercise

It’s often said that the Germans have a word for everything. The most famous example is Schadenfreude —pleasure one derives from another’s misfortune. But there are countless others: Politikverdrossenheit—a disenchantment with politics—is a word that English could really use. Then there’s Kummerspeck—the excess fat gained from emotional overeating. It literally translates to “grief bacon.”

But, of course, there are countless subtle experiences and emotions that have not yet been named in any language. This exercise asks you to identify an experience or emotional state that hasn’t yet been named and to write a short passage about it. (Make the word up too!)

Examples:

  • Geomelangraphy – the feeling of returning to a place that once felt like home or community and it feels foreign or you can no longer connect the place to the feeling of home.
  • Legouchpain – the distinctive, painful small death that occurs when you step on a Lego block barefooted.
  • Blade Frugalism – a stubborn belief that one must use a razor blade head for a set period of time, no matter how dull or badly it lacerates your face or skin, because that shit is expensive and you will not let the manufacturer win.
  • Date Voyeurism – the tendency to observe two people (same sex or opposite sex) in a public setting (such as a restaurant or coffee shop) and guess if they’re friends or on a date based entirely on body language.
  • Hydroketchup – that first bit of ketchup that comes out when you forget to shake the bottle and it’s basically just tomato water.

Now it’s your turn. I welcome you to give this a shot and, hopefully, you’ll find it as fun as I have. 

The real joy is in sharing our work, so feel free to drop me a note and share whatever you come up with. 

Who knew noticing could be so fun. 

Amplifying Moments by Choosing How We Narrate Our Story

Joy doesn’t just happen. It’s intentional and requires work.

We experience joy in proportion to our ability to practice gratitude. Gratitude in turn opens us up to noticing the moments in our day-to-day that are joy-worthy. 

Once we notice, we can choose joy as the emotional state to live in and find opportunities to amplify joy.

And after the last 16 months, there is plenty to amplify.

As the number of people vaccinated increase, life is slowly beginning to return to some semblance of normal. People are beginning to gather, families are reuniting, and we’re able to start exploring the world around us again. The most empathetic employers are rethinking what the future state of work looks like. The organizations most likely to last are evolving their approach on how to amplify a work culture that allows employees to continue bringing their whole self to work.

We’ve had to lean in to those closest to us for support these past 16 months. And while, it’s not been without its challenges, it’s given a deeper appreciation to being part of a community or family. 

This isn’t to say that all has been a bucket of adorable baby sea otters. There is still so much turmoil and pain and grief in the world. However, most of us have zero control over any of it. What we do have control over is what we notice or pay attention to.

Learning to notice gives us the power to narrate the story unfolding before us. 

We can choose to bookmark certain moments as worth remembering. We can look for the indicators of past moments that made a life-changing impact and be present in current moments that have the same markings. We can amplify feelings and experiences and shape them with meaning. We can reframe a challenging reality by intensifying gratitude, joy and growth.

The point is, we are all narrating our lives. 

It’s up to you to choose the stories you want to tell yourself and which emotions you want to give a greater voice to.

What to focus on

If it’s not going to matter in the next five minutes, five hours or five days, is it worth focusing on? Is it worth the energy or emotional output?

On the other hand, if it may matter or have lasting impact in the next five weeks, five months or five years, shouldn’t this get the lion’s share of your attention and focus?

Learning to ask better questions is a useful skill. But, getting good at asking better questions isn’t enough on its own. 

The answer to a good question will usually sort itself out.

For most of us, if we ask ourselves a question like this at the right moment, it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to discern which of the two categories the current moment would fall into. 

The hard part is training yourself to pause and recognize you are in a moment that requires asking the question.

Noticing is at the heart of it. 

Learn to notice and what to focus on will take care of itself.

The Myth of Genius

Beware the myth of genius. 

I’m sure it exists, but if it does, it’s the outlier and not the norm. 

If we look to those we admire and equate their accomplishments as feats of genius, it’s easy to get discouraged. After all, they must be a genius to have created such an elegant and moving work of art. The confidence they have in their craft must be something only reserved for those bestowed with the gift of genius.

I used to believe this myth. It made it surprisingly easy to justify playing small. If I’m not a genius, what chance do I stand at making an impact? Surely, I could never achieve the same level of mastery. 

Thankfully, the idea of genius is a bunch of bullocks.

We celebrate it in a higher proportion than what is reality. Sure, there are always going to be true geniuses in their field or craft but they are the exception. 

Instead, I’ve found a practice that’s accessible to all of us and helps us achieve more than we think is possible.  It’s simple but rare because it’s not easy. It requires commitment, which is no small feat in a world of ever expanding choices.

It’s consistency. 

Look at the people you admire. Examine their behavior.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet they decide to show up over and over again. They’ve made a discipline of sticking with their craft for the long haul. They have a desire to continue playing their game and finding ways to incrementally get better. They see failure not as something to embody, but rather an event to learn from on their journey. They don’t chase perfection or genius. They recognize the path is messy and hard but stick with it because not doing so is short-sighted.

Consistency is a long-game.

Success is a long-game. It compounds upon itself. But, there are no short-cuts. 

And it’s certainly not something reserved for the genius. 

It’s better than you think

Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

There’s plenty of reasons not to make art or share your gift. 

Others may judge you. Or they may laugh. You could get criticized. Or it may not meet the (unrealistic) expectation you’ve set for yourself. It may fall flat on its face. It could be misunderstood. Nine out of ten people may not see its value.

But (and this is a big but), one person is all you need.

This is the person that needs your gift. This is the person that needs your generosity.

And if there’s one, there’s bound to be more. 

And even if there isn’t, isn’t changing one life for the better still a success?

We all have the power to make an impact. It just requires we replace our fear with generosity.  

Give what you have as best as you can. I promise, it’s enough.

Leadership is a capability beyond ourselves

There are skills in life we pursue because we hope to improve ourselves. 

We exercise because we want to be healthy. We read because we want to be knowledgable. We work on being mindful so we can regulate our emotions. We practice gratitude to find contentment.

Leadership isn’t like these. It’s different from these skills.

Like parenting, leadership is something we grow into. It’s a capability with unlimited potential. 

But, our potential for greatness lies beyond ourselves. We cannot be great parents or leaders on our own. 

Rather, it’s a continuous pursuit to be worthy of serving the people we lead. 

If we don’t calibrate our true north to align with the people we hope to lead, we fail to grasp what it takes to be great.

It takes courage and vulnerability to serve others, to take honest stock of the part you’re playing in building people up or impeding their growth. 

No one is born a great leader or a parent. We learn by having the courage to try, knowing we may fail. And when we do fail, we honor failure with grace and a strengthened commitment to our responsibility. Because our failure isn’t ours alone, but impacts those we lead. We must own our part and reflect on how we can do better. 

We may not yet be worthy, but it’s the only way forward. 

It’s how we strengthen our capacity to be a great leader or parent.

A lesson in getting re-hired on a daily basis

In a split second, we all saw something was wrong. Our friends’ face showed it all. 

I was taking part in a weekly virtual co-working session, known as GoGoDone. The premise of these sessions is to virtually connect with others looking to accomplish some work. We share what we’re planning to get done, break off for 25 minutes to work on it, regroup for 5 minutes to share our progress and repeat for two more sessions. It’s 90 minutes of focused and productive work with a community unlike any other.

Whatever our friend had planned to accomplish during this session was about to take a back seat to the fire drill that had just landed on her lap.

At the end of the session, for our final regroup, she seemed relieved, a weight had been lifted. She and her team had resolved the issue that had popped up unexpectedly. 

In recapping the event, she said something that showed her wisdom as a leader and that resonated with me:

"I always try to remind my team, it's important to show up with your best self, do the work and contribute. But, we get re-hired by how we deal with problems. How we use the opportunities to strengthen our relationships with our clients. Because problems will occur, and how we deal with them is a chance to show our value."

This was a brilliant lesson and I appreciated her generosity in sharing it. 

In business, much like life, we work to present a polished, glossy narrative that shows us in our best light in order to convince others to choose us. But, life isn’t our best marketing material. Life and work are messy, complex and not always straight-forward. 

It’s not enough to convince others to choose you. You have to remind them why they should continue choosing you. 

Proving you are skilled, graceful, calm and confident at solving or resolving challenges is a good place to start. 

Rest and our responsibility as leaders

This past week I turned 37. 

In preparation for turning another year, I decided to take the whole week of my birthday off and use it to engage in the things I love the most. I wrote, I read, I reflected, I hiked, I spent time with my daughters, wife, and friends. It was intentional, regenerative and peaceful.

It was so powerful that I intend to make it an annual tradition. 

When I shared my plans with friends and co-workers, there were several that commented “how nice it must be to take a full week off,” or “I wish I could take a full week.

I’m sure some of those comments were said in jest, but some felt like conditioned response. And if so, what does that say about our culture? Why is the idea of taking time off to prioritize self-care and recovery considered such an outlandish idea? 

If you are a leader within an organization, this is something we must commit to changing. Our people are our greatest asset and this should be considered an investment in their health and well-being.

Thankfully, I work for a wonderful, empathetic company, Businessolver, that encourages employees to take time off – they even rolled out unlimited PTO earlier this year. 

But, what’s interesting is that even before this occurred, I noticed co-workers rarely used all their allotted PTO for the year. 

This is completely unacceptable. 

As a leader, it’s our responsibility to find out what’s preventing our people from taking time off and help them to make it a reality. That may also include self-reflecting on how you take time off. If you are unable to disconnect for a week’s time, what signal does that send to your team? Are you responding to emails while you are out or are you setting appropriate boundaries?

I know the feeling of thinking YOU are the only one who can do the work so you couldn’t possibly take time off.

But, suppose you were to quit or get hit by a bus, I would bet the work would still get done. You’re important, just not THAT important. 

It may feel like working is the right choice to do in the moment, but what’s the cost of doing so – what are you sacrificing? 

Remember, work is an infinite game – no one wins work, the point is to keep playing as long as possible. 

Sustainability is a balance of hard work and effort followed by periods of rest. 

We need leaders who are willing to push back against hustle culture and set the expectation that rest is not a luxury, it’s a necessity to stay in the game for the long-term.

More Rest, Less Hustle

I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is a mantra I rallied hard around for years. 

I equated working harder with success. Any time I hit a wall, I told myself to push harder.

There are times when we need to dig deep and push through. But too often, I assumed this state needed to be my baseline. 

Sleep often became the thing I sacrificed to keep pushing myself. I took pride in telling others that I only needed 5-6 hours of sleep and woke up at 3:30AM to begin my daily journey of achievement. I’d secretly judge others who said they wish they could be as disciplined but did nothing as lazy or uncommitted. 

For years, I identified this as my superpower. I’d casually drop it into conversation to impress people. My ego LOVED it.

I was arrogant and I was a fool.

I was burning the candle at both ends, not realizing the toll it was taking on my health. I was constantly anxious, overweight and despite my hustling, I’d spin my wheels on projects. 

Studies have shown that people who sleep less than 7 hours a night are more likely so suffer from a wide array of health issues – cardiovascular disease, heart attack, depression, and more likely to be overweight, to name a few.

Sleep has a tremendous amount of health benefits, from aiding in recovery, muscle growth and improving cognitive function. If you’re interested in the science behind it, I highly recommend reading Why We Sleep (it has helped me recognize the massive benefits of sleep and I no longer feel guilty about getting a good night’s rest).

When I started with a fitness/nutrition coach two years ago, he was adamant that I commit to getting 7 – 8 hours of sleep a night. It was the antidote I needed to the hustle mentality. 

I found that sleeping more actually gave me more focus, lowered my anxiety and helped me drop weight. By doing less and investing in my sleep, I was realizing better long-term results for my health – both physical and mental.

I no longer view sleep as optional – it is a responsibility. Hustle culture is nothing but a toxic lie that’s contributing to our societal decline in health.

As a recovering high-achiever, this has been one of the best lessons I’ve learned over the last couple of years – less can be more. By focusing on sleep, I’ve given myself the space to do less, which surprisingly has given me the ability to be more intentional with my time and accomplish more.

If you’re feeling burnt out, don’t underestimate the power of rest. Sleep is an investment in yourself with the highest ROI. 

And if you decide to keep hustling, I won’t judge you for it – I definitely empathize with you. But, I won’t lose any sleep over it – at least not anymore.