Student-Teachers Create Success

After delivering a keynote speech to a room full of Chiefs in 2014, I went back to my seat and continued a conversation that had started that evening with a Fortune 50 Chief. She wanted to spend more time swapping stories about building powerful teams.

She was clearly a strong leader in a company with a strong set of core values, but she had several things on her mind. While she had built her own strong team, she felt there was still room for growth. She also felt her team wasn’t being viewed broadly inside her company as the strategic asset it could be. Finally, she knew the right personal coach could help bring out more of her best.

I knew when I left the event that we could be great student-teachers for each other.

Two weeks later we agreed I’d do a keynote for her worldwide team at their annual meeting. Shortly thereafter, I began a three-year assignment with three objectives: help six individuals to become more powerful individually, and as a group, and help her organization to build broad companywide support.

Here is that leader’s assessment of the results we delivered:

“I knew my team was more than capable to take on the challenges that we were facing, however, I also knew we did not have a lot of time. I was confident that with coaching from someone outside of our organization who had experience with turnaround situations and a commitment to values-based leadership, we could create a synergy that would empower the entire team to accelerate our progress. I am pleased to report my expectations were surpassed. Here are some highlights:

  • We built strong companywide support. In fact, all business units that we support volunteered to transfer their people to us in areas where we demonstrated better leadership and leverage. (How many times have you ever seen that?!)
  • Our organization doubled in size.
  • All six individuals took on broader responsibilities and were ready for them.
  • My team was consistently invited to all strategic meetings for input. (Be careful what you ask for.)
  • Inside my organization, we demonstrated we could be agile-at-scale as 30% of our team changed roles as needs shifted.

Overall, we translated all our activities into value for the organization and focused our energy on better internal and external communications. Our people and our internal customers knew what we were doing, why we were doing it, and how it supported the organization’s overall mission. All six of us got better, and it cascaded throughout the organization.

When we invest in our people—who ultimately manage the change and the challenges we face each and every day—the payback is limitless, especially when that investment is in one-to-one coaching where the response is customized to not just address a bigger need, but also to address how that individual contributes to the bigger picture. And while each of us got better, we got better together too. I chose this particular coach because we share an understanding of the African proverb, ‘If you want to run fast, run alone; if you want to run far, run together.’

Believing in your team, investing in your team, and being willing to gain insights from someone who is not in the day-in-day-out environment will generate opportunities that you cannot imagine. The results are both bottom-line driven as well as individual people-development driven. Not everyone will embrace the opportunity but those who do will definitely be provided honest and transparent coaching and feedback to become who they aspire to be.”

—Fortune 50 Chief

From my perspective, it was great to work with such a hard-working, kind, values-based set of leaders who were committed to growth for themselves, their team, and their company. I was consistently reminded that i3k (intelligence, intensity, integrity, and kindness) mixed with humility and laughter is a powerful combination that delivers amazing results.

Yes, we began with the Power Compass and used other tools. But the real key to our success was the openness created by the understanding that we were all student-teachers capable of sharing counsel and learning something new. My client set the tone. She always sought input from all team members, worked as hard as anyone on her team, constantly created time to learn new things, and modeled healthy work-life integration. There were many gentle reminders as well as a-ha moments.

What’s the lesson?

Powerful leaders are always looking to improve themselves and their teams. They bring their A-game everywhere they go. And they surround themselves with other student-teachers to constantly raise their game and drive sustainable growth.

I am grateful for the opportunity to work with such powerful student-teachers.

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Set Your Own Direction, with ENERGY

Why are so many of us following someone else’s direction? Why do we run out of steam walking someone else’s path? Perhaps it’s because too many of us haven’t set our own direction.

Working with business leaders at all levels for decades, I’ve developed a simple five-step process that can help anyone set their own direction and bring energy to each new experience. Today, when so many of us are choosing to carve new paths where no one has gone before us, old “roadmaps” don’t work.

There are so many voices in the world always willing to tell us what they think we need to be, or to do, to be successful. Many of these voices are well-intentioned—they’re often family members or friends.

Others aren’t so well-intentioned. Many have a stake in the game, and aren’t looking out for your best interests. Specific companies advertise incessantly, while the media—traditional and social—are never-ending sources of direction.

No matter where this counsel comes from, it can distract us from the real mission.

In my experience there are five great ways to increase your insight and deepen your self-understanding, which is one of the best ways to energize any area of your life. The good news is each one is something you do. My advocacy is for you to simply do a little more of it!

Be Present – When you become totally aware and conscious, you can use all of your senses to learn everything possible in the current moment.

Be Accepting – When you choose to accept people and circumstances for who and what they are, you can escape the frustration of trying to change them.

Be Generous – When you choose to be charitable with your possessions, your money, and your time, you will experience inner satisfaction despite “having less.”

Be Grateful – It is easy to be grateful when things are going well. It takes inner strength and composure to remain grateful when facing life’s inevitable difficult periods. The grace required to face tough times and remain thankful is a blessing.

Be Still – Counter to many Western cultural norms, perhaps our most important choice is to develop the deeper understanding and truth that come with being still.

We each need to develop our own unique compass to help set a direction that “fits” us. Once we build our own distinctive compass, we find that outside voices lose their strength over us as they are replaced with the most important voice we’ll ever listen to—our own.

Listening to our own voice will enable you to tap into an endless source of energy that comes from within.

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Why Are You Following Someone Else’s Direction?

Are you tired of reading articles with yet another list of advice to follow?

Is it me, or does every publication we pick up during this New Year’s season include an article from a well-intentioned author who tells you what “to-do’s” you need to make you skinnier, smarter, kinder, or wealthier—or all four?! There are seemingly endless articles supporting what everyone should or should not be doing.

My question is, does one size (list) really fit all?

My answer is NO.

The most successful people I’ve met set their own direction rather than following someone else’s, and they have a personalized compass to guide them. This compass integrates simple, individualized choices in five areas and can enable anyone to set a course that fits their unique makeup.

And the best news is that not only can this amazing tool help you be more successful, but it’s also totally FREE. Grab it here. It will take you four to five minutes to create your very own compass.

With your own compass, you’ll be able to make choices that suite you and easily build the energy, confidence, clarity, influence, and impact you need to reach your goals.

Now to be fair, all these lists are simply trying to be helpful. And some articles set themselves apart. One of my favorites this season came from New York Times writer Susan Shain who offers research-based tips to reach whatever goals fit—again, for you.

Among other tips, Susan advocates for each of us to:

  • Think big: pick a personally compelling overarching intention rather than a particular habit.
  • Be patient: give yourself time to really figure out the cues and rewards that drive your behaviors.
  • Embrace the right rewards – if you can’t feel an immediate, intrinsic reward (energy, pride) you may need to rethink the habit.
  • Prime your environment – find a group where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.
  • Plan to fail – have a personalized recovery plan.
  • Celebrate often – celebrate your way, every day.

Key lessons: one size never fits all, but you can always set your own direction with a simple compass. Use it!

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“Self-Made” is Bulls#!t

The widely-held belief that success is available to everyone, simply with focus and hard work, is one among many positive messages regularly reinforced in our Western culture.

But in my view, our “cowboy culture” also over-celebrates individual accomplishment, particularly in business. Too many romanticize the importance of a single individual’s ability to enable a big impact. This idea that denies the reality that teams of people, along with some good luck, always play big roles in enabling any company, or an individual for that matter, to register true success.

But we love heroic stories.

And the media is well-served to regularly feed us the stories that we all enjoy reading and watching. Business icons are created in part to sell products. And while many of us can learn from and be inspired by stories about Steve Jobs, Meg Whitman, Larry Ellison, Mary Barra, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Cuban, at times the media goes too far. They sometimes build up super-human personas that more resemble Marvel Comic book characters than real Chiefs.

For me, one particular exaggeration goes too far. The hair on the back of my neck stands up whenever I read the characterization of a business leader as “self-made,” because that’s simply bulls#!t.

The good news is that few, if any, of these successful individuals would ever describe themselves as self-made. They know the truth. Anyone who actually refer to themselves as a self-made success might as well be waving a red flag. Proceed with caution.

The bad news is that people looking for role models might actually believe it. They want to believe that they, too, can create success from nothing—all by themselves. But that’s not how it works in real life when you pull back the curtains. No one works truly alone.

While we all love rags-to-riches stories, let’s be honest about a more realistic recipe for success.

Here is mine:

  1. Be focused and hard-working, and
  2. Be thankful for circumstances you did not create
  3. Be grateful for the (many) people who have supported you and those who continue to
  4. Be generous in supporting others
  5. Be understanding of those who may not have had the support they needed
  6. Be empathetic for those in circumstances they did not choose
  7. Be humble

We can still enjoy fantasy, but it’s important to stay grounded in certain truths. This reminder can be particularly helpful as many of us set new goals this time of year. Remember to identify who can help you with whatever goals you set!

We ALL need help.

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2019—A Year of Possibilities

In the book The Art of Possibility, authors Benjamin and Rosamund Stone Zander offer a message of optimism, hope, and choices available to everyone to create a great New Year.

“This is a how-to book of an unusual kind. Find the right framework and extraordinary accomplishment becomes an everyday experience,” say the authors. Specifically, the book offers 12 practices that together create that very framework to bring new possibilities to life.

Here is a summary of topics and actions to consider:

  1. It’s all invented – believe it and you will see it.

“Einstein himself said it was nonsense to found a theory on observable facts alone [when] in reality the very opposite happens. It is theory which decides what we observe.” How is your mindset as you close out 2018 and look forward to 2019?

  1. A universe of possibility – embrace a view beyond the world of measurement.

The world of measurement is a filled with “assessments, scales, standards, grades, and comparisons. On our path to success we experience scarcities of time, money, power, love, resources, and inner strength. . . . [Conversely] the universe of possibility may be characterized as generative, or giving, in all senses of that word—producing new life, creating new ideas . . . contributing, yielding to the power of contexts.” For example, notice the areas in your life when measuring generosity becomes difficult yet feels immensely valuable.

  1. Giving an A – work to understand what each person has to teach.

“When we give an A [to another] we can be open to a perspective different from our own. For it is only to a person to whom you have granted an A that you will really listen, and it is in that rare instance when you have ears for another person that you can truly appreciate a fresh point of view.” Have you been listening to everyone as intently as you could?

  1. Being a contribution – contribute without worrying about success and failure.

“When I began playing the game of contribution, I found there was no better orchestra than the one I was conducting, no better person to be with than the one I was with; in fact, there was no “better.”” When you contribute without expectations, status roles fade and you begin to see others—and life itself—in a new light.

  1. Leading from any chair – step up no matter where you sit.

“A monumental question for managers in any organization to consider is: how much greatness are we willing to grant people?” In my view, everyone can choose to be Chief. Are you doing all you can to create environments where those Chiefs find it easy to emerge?

  1. Rule number 6 – lighten up.

Humor and laughter are perhaps the best tool we have to get over ourselves. No one should take themselves too seriously.

  1. The way things are – accept what is and clear away judgements.

“Mistakes can be like ice. If we resist them, we may keep on slipping into a posture of defeat. If we include mistakes in the definition of performance, we are likely to glide through them and appreciate the beauty of the longer run.” There is no growth without failure. Encourage others to push past their current discomfort whenever possible.

  1. Giving way to passion – let go, let flow, and channel energy.

“Notice where you are holding back and instead seek to shape the streams of passion all around you into a new expression for the world.” Pay attention to your emotions. They will show you opportunities that are everywhere.

  1. Lighting a spark – enroll others.

“Enrollment is the art and practice of generating a spark of possibility for others to share.” Everyone can practice viral engagement. It starts with you.

  1. Being the board – take responsibility.

“When the way things are seems to offer no possibility; you can use our graduate course. In this practice, you rename yourself as the board on which the whole game is being played. The practice of being the board is about making a difference rather than gaining control.” Power is not obtained the way you think it is. It’s more about creating your life game than reacting to someone else’s game.

  1. Creating frameworks for possibility – establish a context for an “upward spiral.”

“First, make a new distinction in the realm of possibility that creates a powerful substitute for the current framework that is generating a downward spiral. Next, live it. Finally, continue to track what is on track and off track from your new framework.” Continually ask the crucial question: What is this for?

  1. Telling the WE story – sharing the things that connect us all.

This practice points the way to a kind of leadership based not on qualifications earned in the field of battle, but on the courage to speak on behalf of all people and for the long line of human possibility.  Usually what we mean by the pronoun “we” is “you-plus-I.” So the question, “What shall we do?” generally leads to a compromise between what you want and what I want. It follows that each will both win and lose. It encourages us to exaggerate our positions and often to hold back some of the truth, while pushing us into offensive and defensive postures. Instead, the practice of WE assumes everything each of us thinks and feels has a place in the dialogue.

The bottom line of the book is, we dramatically increase our chances to bring new possibilities to our lives when we have the right framework. In my view, we also have a powerful compass to guide us.

Wishing you a 2019 full of possibilities.

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Asking the Right Questions

In some ways, a recent board meeting at eXp World Holdings, Inc. was like many other board meetings I have “attended” with different companies over the years … first small talk among those early arrivers, including informal conversations between board members and management before the formal agenda follows with discussions of operations and strategy. But this meeting was being held in the cloud.

I sat at my laptop and lent my voice to the avatar I’d created to approximate my appearance … or a close facsimile thereof. My avatar sat in the executive boardroom on our virtual campus environment along with fellow board members ranging from Calgary to Boston to Austin. We actively worked with the avatars of our CEO in Seattle, our CFO in Reno, Nevada, our COO in Scottsdale, Arizona, and our CTO in Albany, New York. Our objective was sustainable growth for our publicly traded company.

Founded in 2009 by visionary CEO, Chairman and Founder Glenn Sanford, eXp Realty is a real estate company like no other. With virtually no brick and mortar, the company has attracted an amazing number of professionals who help people looking for the brick and mortar of their dreams. The growth of this industry upstart has been mind-blowing. Since its first year in operations as a public company in 2013 with $10.7M in revenue, eXp Realty actually has seen its growth rate accelerate—to $13.4M in 2014 (up 25% year-over-year), to $22.9M in 2015 (up 71% year-over-year), to $54.2M in 2016 (up 137% year-over-year), and to $156.1M in 2017 (up 188% year-over-year). Results to date in 2018 continue to be strong.

And, yes, this is a company that operates in the cloud with state-of-the-art avatar technology where individuals meet in virtual offices and hundreds gather together in the company’s auditorium to conduct company business.

I’ve always been drawn to companies pushing the envelope on how people can be more productive. In the 1990s, I was recruited by AT&T and served as President, Global Services. Harvard Business Review wrote about our innovative use of the virtual office design. In the 2000s, Ari Horowitz recruited me to serve as president at startup OPUS360, a company that enabled the project-based labor market with FreeAgent.

But neither of these companies can hold a candle to the new vision of work at eXp Realty.

“eXp Realty is transforming the real estate experience. Our virtual office environment compared to the traditional real estate office allows agents to collaborate and learn together—no matter where they might be located,” said Glenn Sanford, CEO, chairman and founder of eXp World Holdings. “Our agents can interact, share best practices and learn from industry experts and other top professionals at any time or any place—in real time.”

Specifically, at eXp Realty, I have seen the following commitments to excellence that raise the bar as we push ourselves by asking important questions:

  • Diversify: We need people with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives working together to deliver the most value. Can we be more diverse?
  • Balance: Gender balance increases the chances that we will produce optimal decisions. How can we improve the balance in our organization?
  • Recruit: How do we improve our process AND know when to hire and when to use project-based labor?
  • Decentralize: Empowering teams that are closer to the issues to actually make decisions will increase our success. How can we be clearer about who can make what decisions in our organization?
  • Engage: How do we build a better plan for our employees to buy into holacratic practices and accountabilities?
  • Organize: Establishing clear objectives with adequate time for thoughtful input from all participants will produce the best results. Do all participants have time to give input?
  • Educate: Making sure new employees and extended team members (customers, vendors, strategic partners) understand our expectations makes us more effective. Do we make it as easy as possible for newcomers to fit in?
  • Communicate: Acknowledging that a transfer of knowledge requires active participation from both the speaker and the listeners. Does everyone both listen and speak in our organization?
  • Accommodate: Group chats alone may inhibit great input from introverts. Do we get one-on-one input from introverted team members?
  • Integrate: Assimilating different perspectives to find common ground can move a group forward in their work together. Are we skilled at integrating?
  • Mediate: Recognizing when tensions arise and deal with them directly. Do tensions ever get ignored among our team members?
  • Document: Capturing and distributing action items and agreements from meetings to ensure accuracy. How well do we capture and document our plans and intentions?
  • Recognize: Bring attention to, and show appreciation for, individuals who go above and beyond in their support for and contribution to the team is critical. Who do we recognize, why do we recognize them, and how?
  • Evaluate: Regularly assessing what we each do and how we do it is critical. How will we evaluate our employees?

I am proud to be part of this organization in my role as an independent board member working with Glenn and the rest of the team. I am excited about the future and believe we will continue to push the envelope in support of our people and sustainable growth by asking the right questions.

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Neurodiversity and the ROI of Hiring Those Who Think Differently

By Jeff and Rick Miller

Articles and studies advocating diversity and inclusion programs in the workplace often cite the benefits of such initiatives on other business objectives. A 2016 Economist article noted that “Companies may starve themselves of talent” if they ignore diversity, while a recent piece in Forbes found that 85% of executives with diversity initiatives view those programs as “crucial for innovation.” A 2015 McKinsey study discovered that companies in the top quartile for diversity hiring were 35% more likely to outperform their competitors financially.

We can all agree that filling key roles successfully, improving innovation, and strengthening the bottom line are results any business would love to have. But while most large companies have pushed to be more inclusive in terms of race and gender, some pioneering firms are expanding their definition of diversity further—and enjoying impressive results.

Companies like SAP Software Solutions, Hewlett Packard (HP), and Ernst & Young (E&Y) are targeting individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as part of new “neurodiversity” recruitment programs. Individuals with ASD process information in ways that their neurotypical peers to not. They think differently. So do some of the companies that now employ them.

The results for these pioneering organizations have generally been very positive, and sometimes surprising. They include lower turnover as well as higher productivity and better overall employee engagement. HP has also had success with ASD employees in roles as diverse as product management and customer support, dispelling previously held notions about the social limitations of some ASD individuals. E&Y notes that they have seen their managers improve in their ability to get the most out of all employees by viewing individual differences as potential strengths. SAP has had such success that they have committed to the goal to make 1% of their workforce neurodiverse by 2020.

The neurodiversity programs themselves take time and expertise to construct. There have been some challenges and false starts for both employers and applicants. Interviewing and onboarding processes may need to be adjusted. Supervisor training and some amount of ongoing support are also critical. But organizations are springing up with the expertise to help companies who see these benefits and want to share in them.

This shift comes at a critical time. While overall unemployment is under 4%, ASD unemployment for college educated individuals is a staggering 80%. 50,000 new applicants with ASD attempt to enter the workforce each year. While misconceptions about this community persist, the data show that companies can benefit from broadening their inclusion programs if they adjust some of their current practices. Forward-thinking organizations have found they are well served to tap into this underrepresented source of talent. It’s good for the applicants and for the bottom line.

Could it be good for yours?

Jeff Miller is CEO and Founder of Potentia (potentiaworkforce.org), a social enterprise focused on matching top employers with talented applicants on the autism spectrum.

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Why Is Sammy’s House So Special?

Conventional wisdom tells us to look toward the most accomplished among us for inspiration, motivation, and life lessons. We are seemingly obsessed by those who have “made it” and what they had to do to get “there.” How did they get to that “level”? How did they make so much money? Or more recently, how did they get so many “likes”?

It is also common practice for many to be influenced by the most physically attractive among us. We give a lot of attention to those who haven’t done anything other than simply be born with attributes that our culture finds appealing.

And as a result of conventional thinking and common practice, many of us are missing something really important. We are missing the opportunity to learn from some of the most special teachers on the planet. I was missing it too until I met Melissa.

I’ve told the story before in a prior article and in a TED talk, but when I met this amazing six-year old girl with cerebral palsy I didn’t know the impact this teacher would have on the rest of my life. She opened my eyes to something I hadn’t seen before. This little girl in a wheelchair was more powerful than most people I’d ever met.

Perhaps the world’s most special teachers are those who have had to face the biggest challenges and those who don’t get the societal benefits of looking like professional models as they do it.

When I first learned about Sammy’s House is Austin, Texas, I was struck by their mission to serve and support families of the most challenged kids in the special needs community. From care for infants and preschoolers, to grade school summer classes, to continuing education and support for parents whose divorce rate skyrockets due the unique stresses of a special needs child, founder Isabel Huerta and her amazing team work miracles every day.

When visiting Sammy’s House, I learned that the staff designed each class such that 75% of the kids have two and three levels of major challenges and 25% of the kids are typically developing peers. Why? Because the staff has learned that the 75% will actually push themselves harder to get closer to the performance of the 25% with a “reverse inclusion” model, while the 25% benefit from an optimized learning environment. Amazing. And while all the kids learn from Sammy’s outstanding staff, the staff was clearly learning from all the kids as well. It aligned with everything that Melissa had taught me.

And it became a no-brainer for me to donate 100% of all author proceeds from my book Be Chief, in honor of Melissa, to such a special place that supports such special people.

I also encourage you to consider three choices:

  1. Buy a bunch of books to help your network become more powerful as you help Sammy’s House.
  2. Make a personal donation to Sammy’s House to support their important work.
  3. Hold a local fundraiser to raise money and visibility for Sammy’s House.

Wouldn’t it be great if we followed Isabel Huerta’s dream as many followed Danny Thomas’ dream that started years ago at St. Jude’s? Who knew then that St. Jude’s would grow into an iconic institution supporting kids with cancer, and their families, with fundraisers across the country. Why not Sammy’s House, too?

In any event, I hope you consider rejecting conventional wisdom and common practice and perhaps thinking differently about those with special challenges and what they have to teach the rest of us.

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Time to Set Another Goal

The Tuesday after Labor Day (today) in the United States always feels like New Year’s Day to me. The slower days of summer vacations are behind us, and the pace of work (and for many, school) jumps into high gear. And like on January 1st, many people use the turn of the calendar to set new goals.

If you’re like me, you wake up this Tuesday morning feeling like the energy all around you is up a notch. Everywhere you look people seem to be in a bigger hurry to get where they are going. And many of us are re-assessing where we are going and how to get there.

They may not be called resolutions like they are after the ball drops in Times Square in four months, but action-item lists will be on the rise just like gym memberships.

For me, this particular day after Labor Day is really significant because it’s the publish date of my new book Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title. I’ve written before about the 10-year journey that started with an article in O, The Oprah Magazine, and blogged about the amazing people this project brought into my life, like the amazing Spencer Johnson, author of Who Moved My Cheese and so many other great books.

So as I reach a long-time goal I’m feeling the need to set another. And as I do, I’d like to share my simple wish for all of us who are setting new goals and objectives.

Let’s set the goal to do better connecting what we do to who we are. Let’s set goals that “fit” us better.

There is no lack of voices around each of us, ready at a moment’s notice to tell us what we could or should do or be. There’s no doubt that spinning class or that kickboxing gym might get you to meet new people and get you in better shape. But if spinning and kickboxing aren’t your thing, go find something else that is your thing. And stop feeling guilty about it. (BTW, I do enjoy kickboxing training with a former MMA fighter!)

As for me, here’s my goal: I’m going to be more me.

Good luck with yours.

Or, good luck being more you.

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The Importance of Being

When I recently saw a post by Richard Branson titled How to Be Happy, I smiled while reading about his focus on being. I was reminded of a conversation I’d had years earlier with gifted creative Michael Black on the importance of the concept of being. Michael had taken upon himself to offer a new brand for my message and my company. After investing considerable time learning about who I was, what I did, and how I did it … he nailed it. And ever since my company has served others under the name of Being Chief.

It’s been interesting to note in subsequent years how many more people have commented on the word Chief, as opposed to the word Being. Perhaps it’s because Being is the more challenging of the two.

Our culture sends us lots of positive messaging around taking action. Everyone is always telling others to “get going,” often independent of a well-thought-out sense of direction. As a result, we confuse activity with progress. It’s a common problem and the main priority of the Being Chief philosophy.

Being Chief is about connecting your doing to your being. More specifically, it’s about developing your own compass to help you determine the direction you want to go.

At the center of your compass are your chosen values. Those values are rooted in your choices to be your unique self. But there aren’t as many people who will suggest you slow down to learn who you are as there are telling you to speed up.

So, I will.

If you’d like to stop confusing activity with progress, make choices to strengthen your being. Here are five:

  1. Be Present. When you choose to be present, you can use all of your senses to learn everything possible about the current moment. Specifically, when you give 100 percent of your attention to the people you spend time with, you’ll find that your relationships become much more fulfilling. Don’t think about your next meeting or get distracted by your phone. Keep your attention on what’s in front of you.
  2. Be Still. Contrary to many Western cultural norms, perhaps our most important choice is to develop the deeper understanding and truth that comes with being still. To maintain inner balance, choose the tranquility and peace of stillness. In that peaceful state, you will develop the ability to trust and have confidence in your own leadership and voice.
  3. Be Accepting. When you choose to accept people and circumstances for who and what they are, you can escape the frustration of trying to change them. When you take a nonjudgmental approach, you open yourself up to learning from all situations and every individual. When you accept your current reality with a certain degree of detachment, you will find that solutions come to you with a fraction of the effort otherwise required.
  4. Be Generous. When you choose to be charitable with your possessions, money, and time, you will experience inner satisfaction despite “having less.” When you are kind, helpful, encouraging, and gentle with others, the team around you will align. You may even feel aligned with a higher purpose. Try to balance giving with receiving to eliminate much of the possibility of arrogance; this way you can remain genuinely humble.
  5. Be Grateful. It is easy to be grateful when things are going well. It takes inner strength and composure to remain grateful when facing life’s inevitable difficult periods, especially when pressures from colleagues or board members mount. Try to remain appreciative of the opportunity to learn lessons from the challenges you face. As a leader, these challenges will only make you stronger.

Before you take your next action, consider how you will be as you take that action. The choice is yours to make a greater impact simply by being.

 

If you’re reading this blog soon after it posted, and you haven’t yet checked out my book, Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title, now is a great time to order. It comes out next week!

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What Are SDGs and Why Should We Care?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been around for over a half century. Generally, CSR has come to include six types of corporate social initiatives:

  • Corporate philanthropy – company donations to charity
  • Community volunteering – company-organized volunteer activities
  • Cause promotions – company-funded advocacy campaigns
  • Cause-related marketing – donations to charity based on product sales
  • Corporate social marketing – company-funded behavior-change campaigns
  • Socially-responsible business practices – ethically produced products and services

With the exception of the few companies truly engaging in the last initiative (socially-responsible business practices), until recently most companies have administered their CSR program from the staff side of things in human resources or public relations departments. It simply hasn’t been central to line operations in most organizations.

Oh my, how the world has changed.

Today, constituencies including customers, employees, shareowners, and the community at large take great interest in CSR. And for the last several years a fast-growing number of companies have stepped up to an even higher bar—Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

SDG > CSR 

The Sustainable Development Goals, set by the United Nations in 2015, are 17 bold, broad-based goals that cover social and economic development issues.

Here are the SDGs:

  • No poverty
  • Zero hunger
  • Good health and well-being
  • Quality education
  • Gender equality
  • Clean water and sanitation
  • Affordable and clean energy
  • Decent work and economic growth
  • Industry, innovation, and infrastructure
  • Reduced inequalities
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Responsible consumption, and production
  • Climate action
  • Life below water
  • Life on land
  • Peace, justice, and strong institutions
  • Partnerships for the goals

There are 169 specific targets that, if reached, accomplish all 17 goals. While somewhat overlapping, the SDGs are gaining momentum and attention.

Employees, customers, shareowners, and the community at large increasingly care about these issues. As a result, companies are increasingly caring too.

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Powering Through Friendly Fire

Challenges from inside your own company can require you to be powerful.

When Mike Armstrong joined AT&T as CEO years ago, change accelerated at the company. He had inherited an organization that was ill equipped to deal with the competitive threats. Mike began an acquisition phase to add the people and other assets he needed to compete on all fronts. As part of the change, Mike also shifted several executives into new jobs.

When it was my time to meet with Mike, he opened the meeting with news that made me want to shout out loud. “Rick, you’ve done a great job and I think you can do more to help the company. I’d like you to become Global Services President.” I was tasked to lead a 10,000-person organization that generated close to $12 billion in worldwide revenue. I was happy and stunned at the same time.

I knew that leading a Global unit was going to be a challenge, but I had a secret weapon. I had a compass. I knew the key to success was to build a team of Chiefs, but there were many things I could not know.

From outside the company, I couldn’t know that our primary competitor, MCI/Worldcom, was engaged in illegal activities, giving them unfair advantages in the market that would result in their CEO going to jail. From inside the company, I couldn’t know that my biggest challenge would come from my own boss. This is when I learned that my compass would help me deal with “friendly fire.”

Mike needed lots of cash to pay for the acquisitions he wanted to make in the consumer segment of the market. He turned to the business segment for that cash—and our new benchmark for success was Worldcom.

To my boss’s credit, he pushed back on Mike and asked for more reasonable targets and accurately carried the message that Worldcom’s aggressive pricing seemed inconsistent with their quarterly reports of improving revenues and margins. Unfortunately, nobody was listening, and my job in Global was about to get a lot harder.

My first blow came when the business segment was burdened with irrational growth targets and expense cuts that needed to be distributed among the business sub-segments. For reasons known only to my boss, he chose to place a disproportionately high level of the expense cut load—a 50 percent headcount reduction—on Global Services just one month into my new assignment.

Blow number two came shortly after when I learned the company had decided to move some of Global’s largest accounts into a new international joint venture with partner British Telecom. We now needed to convince a number of my Global Service customers, and the employees who served them, that joining this new entity would be preferable to remaining with AT&T.

Blow number three came with a decision to transition account control from Global Services to the separate AT&T Solutions unit for all outsourcing contracts, and I felt like my head was spinning. This new direction would have a major negative impact on my team’s earnings.

Finally, when my boss chose to move smaller Global Service accounts to yet another unit, I felt like a knockout had been delivered. In this case, customers would need to adjust to a reduced level of service and build new relationships with a new group of AT&T leaders, creating a great opportunity for a competitor to step in.

Any one of these adjustments would have been challenging for a unit to absorb. Together, they signaled to the entire organization that Global Services was being taken apart. It did not take long for rumors to start circulating that my boss was behind the effort to dismantle the organization. Everyone was nervous.

How could we succeed and build a team of Chiefs when everyone thought the organization was being taken apart? In Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title I describe what we did to drive record levels of employee engagement in spite of this dire situation, but it was every bit as important for me personally to “keep my head.” And my compass was the key.

Looking back now, the influence and impact I needed to have with my team could only be generated from inside me. Help wasn’t coming from anywhere else. It was the support I provided for my team that kept my influence strong, just as it was the internal and external creativity I demonstrated daily that preserved my ability to have an impact on my team.

To keep me strong, I focused in three areas. To keep my energy high I focused on staying present, increased my daily meditation routine, and worked to accept the situation as it was. To keep my clarity I focused on the vision I had for Global and on the strategy and tactical plans that I could control to realize that strategy. And to keep my confidence, I reminded myself regularly about the values I stood for and took great comfort that I was living them.

At the end of the year, Global Services was indeed split apart, and we did miss the growth targets that had been established for us based on the misinformation of our primary competitor. We did have a large number of our team members select the voluntary force reduction plan and many more follow their clients to units outside of Global.

But employees who remained with Global sent a clear message to senior management by responding to the employee engagement survey that year with the highest engagement and confidence in unit management scores in AT&T history.

And with energy, influence, clarity, confidence, and impact I remained true to myself. I’m grateful for the experience.

How powerful are you?

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Be All-In! Here’s How

Ever since my first blog on the topic of All-In Leadership in 2011, the concept has led readers to ask for more. I obliged with blogs on All-In Women Leaders, 10 Reasons to Be All-In at Work, 12 Ways All-In Leadership Increases the Value of Any Team Meeting, and All-In Leadership—NOW!

The All-In concept advocates that we all have leadership potential, but too many of us are looking to others to lead. We need to stop looking “up” when we all should be looking in. All-In Leadership is a term I use to remind all of us about our individual choice to lead and how we can best approach this opportunity to be more powerful today.

But your feedback has been consistent: Rick, can you make it easier for me to see my All-In choices? Well at long last I can say YES!

I’ve just added a simple tool to my website that can provide you with a super-quick way to assess how All-In (powerful) you are today, and to decide what you might change to be more All-In tomorrow.

All-In Power

I believe that All-In power comes when we connect what we do to who we are. All-In power is comprised of five elements that can be found in every one of us:

  • Clarity – the quality of being certain or definite in a process or course of direction.
  • Influence – the capacity to have an effect on the development or behavior of someone or something.
  • Energy – the drive and vitality to live and engage fully.
  • Confidence – the feeling of self-assurance that comes from an understanding of one’s own priorities, abilities, and qualities.
  • Impact – the strong and/or immediate sway on someone or something.

I believe strongly in equality and that these opportunities can be available to everyone. I also believe we are all connected and that when we go All-In it affects those around us.

All-In Power Spreads

Research supports my view that once anyone in a group goes All-In, the chance that others will too increases.

Specifically, research has found that positive emotions spread from person to person in a work environment. An individual’s or group’s emotion plays a strong role in the behavior of an organization. Studies show that positive mood or emotion enhances creative problem solving, cooperation, decision quality, overall performance, the search for creative solutions, and confidence in being able to achieve positive outcomes. One study by Yale researcher Sigal Barsade, PhD, found that a spread of positive emotion is associated with improved cooperation, decreased conflict, and better task performance at work.

I’ll close this blog with the same paragraph that closed my first All-In blog 7 years ago: “All-In Leadership also requires courage. The serious challenges we face individually and collectively can feel daunting if they fall to only a few to solve. We need leadership from senior executives, group managers, and individual contributors. Together, our combined leadership capabilities and skills can make the difference. Why not start today?

Take the survey to get started!

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Do You Know When to Quit?

“Never give up.” “Persistence alone is omnipotent.” “When the going gets tough . . . ” and on and on. Our culture is awash in historical reminders to keep our “nose to the grindstone” until the job gets done. We’ve gotten good at the hustle. But the truth is that our culture doesn’t know when to quit, literally.

What if the best decision is to give up? In his book, The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit, Seth Godin reminds us of the strategies that can help us stop working in a dead-end job or project. There are times when it’s best to cut your losses.

The business world understands how the law of diminishing returns works; at some point additional investments of time, money, and resources are not justified by the return. The best strategy in many cases is simply to stop.

But how will you know when to quit?  The answer is to focus on two costs, and ignore a third.

Opportunity Costs

In The Dip, Godin suggests it is time for “strategic quitting” when the opportunity costs are greater than the benefits of continuing on your current path. An opportunity cost is a big deal. But what is it?

An opportunity cost is the value of what you’d lose by not pursuing a better alternative. As I shared in my recent TED talk, I decided to quit my job as President of Global Services at AT&T when it became clear that the benefit of staying wasn’t as high as the benefit of doing something else. The result of leaving in fact became the opportunity to run an internet startup that gave me a very different set of skills and experience that are critical to my current role today.

Figuring out what you could do at any point isn’t easy, but it’s crucial.

Personal Costs

Sometimes, we wrap too much of our own ego into a project to be able to step back and say with conviction, “It’s time to quit.” But, according to research from Northwestern University cited in a recent New York Times article, “. . . when we discard unrealistic goals and switch to alternate goals we’re happier, physically healthier, and less stressed.”

That means separating failure from your sense of self-worth and viewing it as a needed stepping stone to success. Such a perspective can help you calculate personal costs you’ve already invested into a project.

Sunk Costs

While opportunity and personal costs are often difficult to quantify, it’s a third set of costs—sunk costs—that are the easiest to quantify and, as a result, often become the biggest problems.

As people get overly invested in the decisions they’ve made in the past, sunk costs from the past loom larger than they should as we look forward. The best advice I can offer regarding sunk costs is, ignore them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Translation: Know when to cut your losses and go build something better.

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