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Happy Thanksgiving 2019!

I am always drawn to the romantic view of the first Thanksgiving.  Not sure this is fully accurate, but the story informs, nonetheless.

A group of people new to a foreign land begin to build a community completely out of nothing.  They didn’t arrive well-versed in how to do this, but instead figured it out as they went along.  Their motivation was pure and simple: freedom to live their lives as they wanted without fear of retribution.

Another group of Native-American Indians saw the settlers struggling to adjust to their new surroundings and ended up helping them learn to adapt and survive in their new environment.

I am sure there were those on both sides who feared their respective differences, but somehow, they collectively managed to figure it out and respect one another.

Both groups came together at a feast and shared food and traditions from their respective cultures.  They didn’t just eat with one another but also spent several days enjoying each other’s company and getting to know one another better.

I am sure there are holes in the simple retelling of this story (and we all know how it ended up for the Native American Indians), however it did seem for a brief moment in history people of vast differences figured out how to coexist, support and learn from one another.

This is America at its best.  People coming together and rallying around our shared objectives of individual freedom and collective responsibility.  Our diversity of perspective and capability is our strength.  Sadly, our basic human reaction is to fear difference.   However, we are strongest as a country and society when we don’t succumb to these fears and instead strive to understand and respect one another.  Throughout history, it has always been easier for leaders to divide rather than unite us.  All they have to do is prey on our instinctual weaknesses.  In contract, the best leaders encourage us to unify around common goals and objectives that serve all of us better.  This is much harder work especially as our country has grown in size and diversity and become increasingly segmented around differing points of view and socio-economic realities.

Life is not a win-lose proposition.  My gain doesn’t have to be your loss or vice versa.  We can both win just maybe not as much as we’d personally like to.  Living an ethical and moral life always involves some level of sacrifice. I’ve often wondered how different things would have turned out if we embraced the spirit of Thanksgiving and instead on conquering and removing the Native American Indians, we would have instead figured out a way to coexist with them peacefully.   This may sound naïve and Pollyannaish to some, but so be it.  There is always a gap between the “ideal” and the “real.”   That doesn’t mean you don’t strive to bridge the chasm.  Abraham Lincoln during a very dark time in our nation’s history implored us to tap into the “better angels of our nature,” It would be nice if we would heed his advice.  Not just for one day or a holiday season but as an ongoing commitment to one another.

I sincerely hope your family and you have a joyous and peaceful Thanksgiving.  As the year draws to a close, my wish is that 2019 ends better than planned and if not, that you gain the wisdom and resilience to make 2020 a stellar year.  I also hope that instead of yielding to the negative energy of what we all assume to be a difficult election year, we elevate the dialogue amongst ourselves striving to find common positive ground.  In a metaphorical sense, I envision us all sitting around a large Thanksgiving table being thankful for our many individual blessings and shared American destiny.

All the best,

Ed

Leadership Thought #286 – You Either Hit Your Goals Or You Don’t

As we finish off the final accounting on 2019 it’s a useful exercise to reflect on the past year and how we actually performed against the goals we set out at the beginning of last year.   I believe you start by being honest with yourself about whether hit your goals or you didn’t.   There should be no wriggle room or rationalizations.  Progress is certainly good, but it is no substitute for achievement.  Too often in business and life we accept less than stellar results.

There are only five main explanations as to why people don’t hit their goals:

  1. They didn’t believe in the goal in the first place;
  2. There were too many other competing goals;
  3. The goals are set too high and were unrealistic;
  4. Lack of support/buy-in from others critical to goal accomplishment;
  5. A significant personal or professional event intervened and diverted your focus.

First, too many people commit to things they think they should be doing rather than focusing on what they truly believe needs to get done.  Success requires some level of passion and commitment.  If the WHY isn’t big enough, then the HOW won’t matter.   It’s easy to lose focus and get off track if you aren’t really committed to the outcome.  Sometimes something sounds important and makes logical sense, but if your heart isn’t in it, it won’t happen.

Second, people have a tendency to set way too many goals.  In their enthusiasm at the beginning of the year they take a laundry list approach to everything they want to get done and lose all sense of perspective and prioritization.  If everything is a priority, then noting truly is.  Goals shouldn’t be something that would be nice to do, but rather those things you feel compelled to do because of their importance and overall impact on your personal or professional life. I advise my clients and friends to have no more than 5-7 major goals in a given year.

Third, there’s a difference to setting a stretch goal and being completely unrealistic.   There has to be some reasonable chance you can hit your goal. I do have some colleagues/clients who believe that if you set very challenging goals you may not achieve them but the act of trying to get there pushes you to perform at more elevated level than expected. Personally I don’t subscribe to this mindset, but even if you do, there should be some minimal threshold of what is acceptable progress and this bar should be relatively high otherwise you will get used to the idea of ”good enough”  which rarely ever is.

Fourth, no one lives in a vacuum. We are dependent upon other people all the time to get what we want and need.  If your goal requires significant input/effort/support from someone else, you better make sure they are on board with the goal in the first place.  The quickest path to frustration is to assume that your priority is someone else’s priority (even if you pay them to help you).  Goal alignment is the necessary lubricant for success if you want to have any chance of getting there

Finally, the first four reasons are within the realm of our control.  If we are aware of the obstacles going in we can do something about them.  However sometimes extraordinary (often unseen) events do occur and derail our focus and progress.  There is not much you can do when this happens except re-prioritize your efforts around what’s now most important.  Instead of beating yourself up for not being successful, revisit what you originally planned and make reasonable adjustments based of the first four explanations and impact of what you are now dealing with. Don’t lose site of the original destination, but instead design a different possibly longer route to get there.

I encourage you never to get comfortable with non-performance.  It becomes too easy to rationalize why things didn’t happen and live a mediocre life.  As time goes by, the gap between who you wanted to be and who you have become only widens and leads to a negative self-image, bitterness, worry and discontent.  You either hit your goals or you don’t – it’s that simple.

Leadership Thought #348 – Do You Know What Truly Makes You Happy?

Quite a few people out there claim to know what will make us happy.  I am always a bit suspect of accepting general answers to mostly subjective questions.  One person’s happiness can be another person’s burden, obligation or chore.  My contention is that most people don’t spend enough time truly trying to get in touch with themselves as individuals and what honestly makes them happy.  In fact, we often feel a bit sheepish or odd when we don’t follow a conventional formula for happiness.   There is this overriding sense that it is better to fit in than be different – which is nonsense and a direct pathway to personal malaise and/or unhappiness.

The media tries to sell us a package of success and happiness that typically involves good looks, money, sex, fame, power, prestige and acquiring things.  You can’t blame them.  Media executives are mostly in the business of selling us things we do not need, so if they work hard to create perceived deficits in our lives so we will try to fill the gaps.  If only you were thinner, had whiter teeth, better hair, a more expensive car, bigger house, nicer things, cool gadgets, perfect kids, a more understanding spouse, and took luxurious vacations, you would be happier.

We all know this is not true.  There are no shortcuts.  Look at Hollywood – there is never a shortage of unhappiness fodder for the tabloids (and with network media that is unfortunately becoming the same thing).

I don’t claim to have any answers except that you need to keep asking the right questions, having new experiences, stepping outside your comfort zone, and embracing your own individuality.  You need to fully explore being you!

Each one of us is a miracle of nature full of many gifts and talents.  Pay attention to what makes you feel good about yourself, to what fits your natural abilities, to what prompts you to be more charitable towards others, and to what leads you towards healthier lifestyle behaviors.  It is always preferable to spend time with people who help bring these things out of you.  I’ve read about and also experienced myself that when you are truly in a space of pure joy and contentment, time seems to stand still and life feels almost effortless.   I am fairly certain we would all like to experience more moments like this.

As Shakespeare so aptly put it, “To thine own self be true…”

Happy Holidays 2019!

Every year I look for inspiration to help me create this message and I must admit this year it has been a bit of a struggle.  The external environment seems so divisive at the moment and good people just can’t seem to figure out ways to respect each other’s views.  Many of us are having monologues we think are dialogues with another person.  It’s not enough to think you are right, you must ram in down the other person’s throat and prove to them they are wrong (which probably will never happen by the way). Our public leaders take advantage of this fact and divide and conquer us as it suits their individual purpose.  Moreover, our media instead of being objective, takes sides and wags its finger at those it deems ripe for judgment; prioritizing ratings over reporting.  We force the complexities of life into “black and white’ constructs with no appreciation for the “gray” that exits in most individual circumstances.  Whatever happened to trying to understand where another person was coming from? What about one of our most revered historical leaders, Lincoln,  reminding us to act “with malice towards none and with charity to all.”  And, as the Biblical saying goes, “We are all equal before the eyes of God.”  I sometimes wonder if people really fully digest the teachings of those sources they revere. 

 

All people form beliefs and act based on personal experience and their own perception of good intentions.  Very few people wake up wanting to make the world a worse place and harm their fellow man/woman.  As human beings, we all basically want the same basic things: meaningfulness, love, friendship, security and opportunity.  When these things are lacking in a society or community, cracks in its foundation start to emerge.  There is much more that unites us than pulls us apart.  We seem to take our blessings for granted and embrace every opportunity to feel slighted and/or a victimized.  Everyone should read Stephen Pinker (and others of his ilk) to see how much better we have it than ever before in human experience.  Our societal foundation is comparatively strong.  Why aren’t we more grateful instead of being so perturbed? 

 

Then it hit me.  The story of Christmas is exactly what we should be focusing on.  A refugee child from a family of meager means is born in the humblest of circumstances.  He is raised by a loving unsuspecting mother and understanding and supportive stepfather who do their best to raise him in the right way and let his spirit shine.  He spends his short time on the planet as an adult reaching out to all types of people to help them find the best within themselves through a compelling unifying message. His default emotion is empathy.  He does his best to serve as an inspirational role model.  He is especially interested in crossing socio-economic boundaries and seeing the good and common humanity in all people.  He has minimal interest in material things but instead is generous to fault with what little he has.  He relies on the kindness of strangers to help him survive and do his important work.   He speaks truth to power and challenges societal conventions that are either corrupt or not working effectively.  He most certainly has the courage of his convictions.  When confronted by enormous temptations he finds the strength within himself to resist and stay focused on his true path and mission.   When ultimately asked to put the needs of others before his own, he avoids the easy way out to benefit himself and instead pays the biggest of personal prices to fulfill his purpose.  He is what we could be…

 

Whether you are a person of faith or not it is an important story that has stood the test of time.  Regardless of your particular faith, the overall message hopefully rings true.  Why?  Because it shows the depths of the potential courage, compassion and good within each of us.  Of course, it is a high bar and we all fall short quite often.  However, that doesn’t mean we can’t be inspired to do better.  It’s easy to judge, but much harder to try to understand and to forgive.  Anger and resentment are relatively easy emotions to embrace.  We often resist what is hard to comprehend and even harder to put into practice.  We crave familiarity and fear difference.  Our preference is to choose the easier route when possible.  Our scarcity mentality allows us to survive, but in most cases hinders our individual and collective ability to thrive.  We confuse more with better.  We feel sorry for the less fortunate but mostly leave them to fend for themselves.  We like to feel we are better than other people and more deserving of what we have without fully appreciating the advantages we started with (and they did not).  We put our own needs above the more desperate needs of others.  We put our own tribe on a pedestal whilst casting stones at other tribes.  We like to believe we are more courageous than we are and truly won’t know until tested.  In essence, we are human and a continual work in progress until the day we depart this earth-bound journey.

 

The good news is that we have ample opportunity to grow, improve and evolve in ways that benefit one another.  I am by no means a pessimist.  Actually, I am very much the opposite.  I see the good in people all the time.  There is a light of goodness than runs through the universe that is hard to miss if you are paying attention.  I see regular examples of selflessness, charity and helpfulness every day.  I’ll go to my grave believing our default human behavior is to “do good unto others.”   The story of Jesus shows us all what is possible when we tap into this energy.  We may not be God, but we can all strive to be more “Jesus-like” in our thinking and actions.  He doesn’t need to be your “Messiah” or “Son of God” for you to get the point.  The story itself has value regardless of the religious interpretation.

 

I sincerely hope that 2019 is happy, healthy, successful and enjoyable year for your family and you!  

 

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Christmas poems:

 

The House of Christmas

By G.K. Chesterton

 

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Daily Leadership Thought #139 – When You Commit – Fully Commit!

I am regularly flabbergasted by the number of professional people I interact with who think it is okay to just miss or be late to meetings and/or under-perform on commitments as it suits them.  This is especially true when it come to peer group, philanthropic or voluntary responsibilities.  I do my best to give people the benefit of the doubt and understand that they can be stretched way too thin, but after a while, why should this be anyone’s problem but their own?  Whatever happened to personal responsibility?  We are all busy. We are all striving to find work-life balance.  Life is about making choices and establishing priorities.

Once you commit to something you should fulfill your responsibilities.  This doesn’t mean that emergencies and/or scheduling mishaps won’t happen, but they should be the exception not the rule.  Being disciplined is hard but it’s a requirement if you ever want to get anything significant accomplished in work or life.  It is also rude to always have the burden fall on other people who are more dependable and responsible than you.  Your actions are ultimately representative of your personal brand – good, bad or otherwise.

Your intentions may be pure, but ultimately it is your actions that matter.  Doing just what you can should never be viewed as good enough.   Excuses are the refrain of people who are too self-important for their own good.  They are also quick to pass blame on to others.  Why is your time any more important than anyone else’s?  Have you ever noticed that truly successful people tend to get things done and live up to their commitments?  People quickly learn that you can count on them and respond in kind.  There is an ease that forms in relationships where there is mutual accountability.  When you have limited time, you want to invest in people who make your efforts worth it.

A regular refrain I hear from people is that there is too much to do and not enough time.  However, if you are being honest with yourself, whose fault is it when you find yourself in this situation?  You! If you are over-committed then scale back. If you are struggling with establishing priorities then seek guidance or help.  Be more realistic about deadlines and allow yourself some more flexibility on the back-end.   Calendar meeting dates and deadlines and keep them to them in all but rare cases.  Learn to say “no” so that when you say “yes” it actually means something.  If someone has offered you the courtesy of their professional time, then be respectful of that gift.  However, don’t overload yourself with things that truly don’t interest you or you don’t have time for out of some misguided notion of respect.  Honesty is always the better policy.

It’s not okay to leave other people hanging.  It’s not okay to regularly miss meetings or deadlines.  It’s not okay to talk a good game but then fall flat on execution.  It’s not okay to over-commit and under-deliver.  It’s not okay to always rely on the good graces of other people to make up for your own shortcomings. When you commit to something – fully commit!  It really is that simple.

 

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Leadership Thought #492 – Too Much Judgment of Others Without Facts?

It feels like we live in a world today where rushing to judgment on the behaviors and actions of others without all the facts has become the norm.  It is especially convenient when the person in question thinks or looks differently than us.  American is still a place where you’re innocent until proven guilty unless something has changed in our system of jurisprudence that I am unaware of.  Of course, some people do hateful and terrible things and should be held to account for their actions, however, behavior does exist across a continuum and context does matter.  There are two sides to every story and rarely is one person’s recollection 100% accurate and another’s 100% wrong.  This is why we have a legal system based on Due process.

Winning elections is important but not at all costs.  Thinking differently shouldn’t be a zero-sum game.  Diversity of thought is critical to our democracy.  Our country was built by flawed people who debated great ideas and ultimately found common ground to rally around.  People you disagree with aren’t always the enemy.  To think that you alone or your like-minded friends and colleagues have the market cornered on good ideas or morality can be dangerous.  Extreme thinking can bend in either direction.  Ideologues on the far left and far right have wrecked a lot of damage throughout the history of humankind.

Sanctimony is also an unattractive trait no matter who is the author.  Should someone closed to other points of view really have free reign to architect the future for others?  Why would someone who feels you haven’t even considered their opinion in a fair-minded way listen to what you have to say?  If they feel you’ll attack at the slightest hint of vulnerability, then don’t be surprised if they withhold information or attack first.  In addition, who likes to feel inferior to someone else?  There is as much emotional energy in the universe pulling us apart as putting us together.  Tribalism always lurks beneath the surface of our common humanity and there are people waiting to leverage this dynamic to their own benefit.

Many beliefs I held firmly in other periods of my life haven’t always stood the test of time (or at least my experience of it).  The circumstances of my life have altered my perspective.  Experience is both intellectually and emotionally humbling.  There have been people I’ve looked up to who have let me down.  There have been others I’ve harshly judged who have later surprised me in positive ways.  I have assumed things that weren’t true.  I’ve overestimated my ability to read others and predict their behavior.  I am an often proven wrong, uniformed or too emotional to be rational about things.  I also get influenced by the media and people I respect to think in certain ways without really reasoning it through.  In short, I am human and a work in progress as we all are.  None of us are omniscient or omnibenevolent.  We should always be in search of the highest version of the truth regardless of the circumstances.

My worry is that a knee jerk mob mentality is starting to form (in what we take for granted as our free and open society) and it is quick to lash out at every opportunity.  We want to punish others because of separate conclusions we have drawn from our own often quasi-related individual experiences. It’s almost as if we want to get even with people we don’t know just because feel they represent something similarly bad that happened to someone we know or ourselves regardless if there is a true connection or not.  As long as there is a whiff of similarity it is sufficient grounds to shift into overdrive and act aggressively.  It’s also easy to mete out or own version of justice based on strong opinions rather than uncovering the facts and testing conclusions.  It’s much harder to step back, reflect, and weigh different versions of the events in question and remove our own individual biases.  Our Founding Father rightfully knew this and did everything possible to protect us from ourselves.  I hope their work continues to stand the test of time but we, as citizens, must be mindful when we get off track.

Leadership Thought #202 – Do You Always Wait Until The Last Minute?

I have heard many leaders tell me they always wait to do something until the last-minute because they perform best under this type of pressure.  Sounds like a bit of rationalization to me.  I know that when I procrastinate on something it is not because it is the best way to work – it is often quite the opposite.  I just don’t want to do whatever it is because I view it as drudgery, am unsure how to proceed or I’m not sure I’ll be pleased by the outcome.  I cannot imagine any scenario where purposefully putting yourself under time pressure until the last-minute makes any sense.

Most of us are very bad at managing our time.  We waste many hours and minutes throughout the day and then try to push all of our productivity into only a few intense bursts of energy – hopefully we are focused when this happens.   Unfortunately, this work style only adds up your burdens over time and we get further and further behind on important responsibilities that require any significant amount of thought and/or work.  In addition, the little things that are seemingly less important at the time start to fall through the cracks.  We have all experienced that a bunch of little things untended to can lead to bigger problems.

I’ve also seen in myself and others that managing your time poorly only leads to a bad mood and increased stress for you and those around you.  There is enough stress in life as it is without creating it unnecessarily.  It also should be obvious that working until the early morning hours and adversely affecting your sleep isn’t a great plan for your performance the next day.  How many times have you seen someone yawn, struggle with focus and fight to keep his or her eyes open during an important meeting?

Many years ago, when I was in college I was talking to my mom on the phone about schoolwork and a big test that was coming up the next day.  She encouraged me to go to a movie and take the night off.  Her advice was that cramming rarely works and that you can’t make up for a semesters worth of lessons in one night.  You were either paying attention or you were not.  You were either doing the assignments or not.  If you didn’t understand something you asked for help or you didn’t.  She believed that putting yourself under this type of pressure only made things worse the next day and you would confuse the information or even if you got it right, you would never remember it after the test.   I still remember her saying, “Knowledge is about studying, practice and application not memorization. Give your brain a rest it knows what to do…Being an adult is about being responsible for your actions.”

The major problem with procrastination is that it usually leads to less than ideal results despite what we would like to believe.  You may get the job done but at what cost and are the results optimized.  There are many resources out there on time management including David Allen’s great book – Getting Things Done.  You also should be honest with yourself about what you can and cannot do well and seek help from other people who are better at certain things than you are.  They may even like to do what you hate doing.  If you are honest with yourself, you will realize that the biggest barrier to your own happiness, productivity and success is you and how you view and manage your time.

Daily Leadership Thought #174 – Success Is Open To Interpretation

I was lucky to spend time the other day with some colleagues I respect a great deal.  They have all achieved what most would consider a high degree of success in their professional lives.   We began talking about the whole concept of success.  How much growth is enough and how quickly must this happen?  Is it worth going into debt to accelerate your growth curve or should the business be self-financed?  What’s the ideal market size and penetration?  How much diversification should there be in your client base?  Is it better to grow the depth of your product/service offerings or the breadth of your product service area?  How profitable should you be and what is the impact of this decision on your business model?  How much money do you want to keep and how much should you leave to your children?  How many and what type of employees to do you need to hire and why?  The list went one and on, but what became readily clear was that there was no one answer that would suit everyone.  In many cases it came down personal interpretation.

In small business settings once you get past the obvious knowledge and competency screens, success decisions are most often a matter of personal choice.  The owner(s) gets to decide how much risk (financial, employee, market, competition, legal, etc.) he/she wants to take, how quickly they want to receive the return on their investment and how much effort they are willing expend to make this happen.  Success isn’t one common destination where only the few and the lucky end up, but more like the Thousand Islands were the landing options are innumerable and open to navigation.

Of course, there are common metrics of performance that work across industries and businesses.  All of us should use industry benchmarks where available and be open to accepted “rules of thumb” where applicable to help guide our way and give us a gauge of our relative performance.  However, this information really only increases our awareness of what’s possible instead of serving as a hard and fast rule driving leadership behavior.  I would argue that this individualized reality is actually a good thing.  Every person who decides to take the plunge of entrepreneurship has earned the right to create his/her own reality.  They just need to understand that decisions, like actions, have consequences.

The bigger question I urge my clients to ponder is, what is the personal legacy you want to leave behind and how is your business a conduit to this happening?  Are you doing something that matters to you and is it aligned with your personal values?  Do you feel you are making a positive contribution to society?  Are you effectively leveraging your personal talents and abilities?  Are you making informed personal and professional financial decisions and are you comfortable living in accord with these decisions?  Are you happy with the current level of stress in your life?  What types of relationships are you building with your employees, co-workers and other stakeholders to your business?  Are you happy with the person you are becoming?  How is your family being affected by your business decisions? Knowing what you know now, would you invest your time and money in this endeavor again?

Whereas business is easily quantifiable in terms of financial success, measuring the impact of a life is more qualitative and difficult to discern.  It’s all about choice.  What you have to believe is that business success and personal happiness aren’t mutually exclusive.  In fact, when viewed correctly, they are largely interdependent.  My only caveat is that whatever filters you end up using to drive your success decisions, make sure the intentions behind them are sound, honest and life-affirming.  Build the business that allows you to become the person you want to be, rather than simply striving to become wealthy.  In the end, the money is only as important as you make it…

Leadership Thought #367 – Be Authentic and Honest In Your Communication

The most important thing we do as human beings is communicate with one another.  Without communication we would have no idea what the other person is thinking or be able to fully express our thoughts ourselves. In essence we would all be in the business of mind reading which is an inherently flawed skill at best.  We’ve all been there and wrongly jumped to conclusions about another person’s motivations without speaking to them first.  I’m always a bit suspect when someone says they are good at “reading people” because in my experience most people are somewhat complex and not always that easy to read.  I guess you could become an expert at body language and verbal intonation; however the books I’ve read on these topics haven’t been all that enlightening once you get past some pretty obvious answers.  How many times have you thought you knew how someone was truly feeling only to be surprised later that in reality you were way off the mark?

I find that most of us tend to avoid the emotionally difficult or awkward conversation.  Instead of addressing an issue head on, we “beat around the bush” or try and avoid the issue altogether.  This puts the onus on the other person to become a verbal detective and/or force the issue.  This isn’t fair to them or us.  Moreover, I find that most of these types of exchanges devolve into a passive-aggressive dynamic which is unhealthy for the relationship.  You ever notice that avoidance never works – it just delays the inevitable.   In matters of importance to you or someone else, when you don’t say what you truly mean (or feel) this is the textbook definition of being inauthentic.

Dealing with emotional discomfort is part of becoming a mature adult.  It is an absolute requirement if you want to lead people.  If you tell people what they want to hear rather than what you need to say, the relationship is beginning to erode anyway.  You will never feel as close as you can be to another person if you can’t be honest with them.   Trust will never fully exist without honesty and safety requires trust.  You will only ever let your guard down if you feel it is a safe and trusting environment.

This doesn’t mean you say everything that’s on your mind all the time without any filters.  Not everything you think is worth saying or warranted given the context of the situation.  You should also always check your intentions to make sure they are pure and well-intended.   Sometimes we say or do things to hurt not help the other person.  However, when it comes to the relationship itself, always default to being truthful and emotionally authentic.  Be real rather than fake.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.  All great relationships are built on a foundation of constructive dialogue and honest communication.

Leadership Thought #491 – How To Avoid Self-Sabotage

It seems like almost every day we read online or in print media about another famous person or business leader who commits self-sabotage.  It’s almost as if they can’t help it.  There is something about success which turns certain people against themselves.   You would think getting to the top of the mountain in life would be its own reward, but this can amplify an individual’s shortcomings and vulnerabilities, as well as, their strengths.  Here are six reasons why I believe people end up sabotaging themselves:

First, speaking your mind is a good trait as long as it doesn’t degenerate into personal attacks on others.  Just because you think something doesn’t always mean you should say it.  We all have to exercise our own personal censor button on occasion.  What is a funny observation to you may not translate to a larger audience.  Of course, in a free society you should be able to say just about anything you want, but certain lines you cross at your own peril.

Second, it’s also important to have a reasonable familiarity with the key facts before stating a strong opinion.  Something our public leaders seem to have forgotten these days.  Just because you have strong feelings about something doesn’t make you right.  Emotion without thought can be a dangerous combination.  You also regularly need to expand your information inputs, so you aren’t succumbing to groupthink and ideological tendencies.  Sadly, once you have a following, if you are not careful with your statements and assertions, you can ignite behaviors in others that can prove harmful.

Third, some risks are worth it, others are not.  Just because you hit it big once before putting all your chips on the table doesn’t mean this is a perpetually wise strategy.  Once your decisions start to impact others this has to become part of your calculation.  You should still dream big and push yourself to excel, however, replicating unicorn strategies is much harder to pull off with time.  Consequences almost always exist when you make choices and should be weighed accordingly.  Not all cliffs are worth jumping off especially when you have something significant you could lose.

Fourth, never forget the people who made your success possible.  It is rare that someone is successful alone.  There are usually colleagues, friends and supportive family members who made it all possible.  People who cared about you before you were successful are tremendously valuable in life.  They tend to tell you the truth and have your back.  They are also wary of putting you on a pedestal which is never good for your ego.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen many instances of individuals discarding people in their lives for the attractive allure of a new set of people who they feel are more equal to their new standing in life and /or feed their continual need for validation.

Fifth, change for the sake of change is silly, but I’ve observed many people who have become addicted to change anyway.  They just can’t stand the status quo even when it is going well.  Sometimes you need to pause, catch your breath and reflect on where you are at and where you are going.  There usually is a preferred roadmap if you think it through and most successful journeys have periods of straight lines.  It often takes time for change to take root.  Change without appropriate execution is just manufactured chaos.

Sixth, enjoying your success is a good thing.  Taking it to an extreme is not.  There are only so many toys/things you can really enjoy at any one time.  In addition, something stops becoming special once it is commonplace.  People will also to varying degrees succumb to obvious temptations: food, alcohol, drugs and sex.  We all are vulnerable to certain vices.  Be mindful because too much of a perceived good thing is usually not a good thing.  There is a reason why the respective highs of certain activities diminish with overuse and become unhealthy habits.

In conclusion, be wary of self sabotage by not thinking through the ramifications of your communication, jumping to conclusions without adequate understanding of the relevant facts, taking unnecessary or unwise risks, leaving the people who made you successful behind, becoming a change junkie, and enjoying the fruits of your success too often and in a detrimental manner.  It is very hard to first achieve, then sustain happiness and success over a long life.  There are many landmines along the way.  Do your best to avoid them and learn from the mistakes of others.