Take good care of your ego

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Success, Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 2 min.

Many good teachers, friends, and colleagues make the mistake of attacking the ego. They see it as a low, bad part of each of us. They encourage us, maybe with their words and certainly with their attitude, to fight the ego and all its manifestations.

This is dangerous and unhelpful. Your ego–to the extent it really exists–is part of you. Any form of judgment, attack, battle, denial that you launch against your ego you actually launch against yourself. You really can’t separate one part of you from another. At some level, attacking the ego will feel bad and reinforce unhelpful behaviors.

A more constructive model, perhaps, is that of habitual thought. To see how this works, temporarily set aside the idea of an “ego.” Then explore a powerful facility we all share: habitual thought. This is the ability to create habits of behavior and thought that, once set, “run in the background” to use a convenient computer analogy. This facility lets us do complex things like walking and driving a car without thinking about it consciously. It also lets us build routines to navigate the emotional and intelletual complexities of life.

Problems happen when the routines that worked long ago stop working as we mature and grow in life. Examples: as a younger person, I formed the following habits of thought. Each one served me well at the time. And each one, left unexamined, can create unneeded friction on my road to greater happiness and success.

  • “In social situations, I’ll be outgoing and talkative.”
  • “I will be my strongest critic; this helps deaden the pain of others’ criticisms.”
  • “I avoid work that somehow feels tense.”

The solution to my no-longer-supportive routines and yours is not beating ourselves up for having them; they have served us well. We just need to replace them with more productive ones.

So, in your quest for success and happiness, care for yourself. Go calmly, assertively, and with great love for all of you.

The Long View

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Success, Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 1

“When you’re going through hell, keep going.” -Winston Churchill

That Which Was is big.
That Which Was is no longer acceptable.
That Which Is Coming looks and feels great.
Evolving That Which Was takes time and focus.
Creating That Which is Coming takes discernment.
This long view helps my energy.
The good news is I am not in this alone. Not by a long shot.
That Which Is Coming is going to be awesome.

What is Success?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Success
Reading time: 5 min.

Success is a word that needs some help. We all want success in our life, our careers, and for our organizations. Even people who say they do not want success do want to be successful in living a life well lived.  It seems to be an innate drive. Yet we struggle to create success, to be successful, to feel good about where we’re going and how we’re getting there.

I believe confusion about the term “success” is, in part, what’s getting in our way. So let’s define it in a way that works. We’ll start with why it’s not working.

Confusion abounds

To many, being successful in life means having some unspecified amounts of wealth, status, organizational or political power, and fame. Sometimes qualified as “economic and political success,” most people and their organizations strive to attain or struggle against this version of success.  And when the struggle, some people even come to dislike the word “success” and disengage.

It’s not hard to see why we have this default definition of success. Our institutions, habits, and traditions all seem to run using this version of success as fuel. The economic and political crises we have seen recently and throughout history came in part from fear, greed, and despotism. These, I believe, are natural outcroppings of our traditional definition of success. And it’s not true that economic and political successes are wrong or bad in and of themselves. They just, on their own, form an incomplete picture.

Five things missing

Most of us know, consciously or unconsciously,  that “economic and political success” is an incomplete definition of success. We know or eventually learn that after achieving some level of economic and political success, something always will still be missing. And we know or eventually learn that further attainment of economic or political success will not fill the void.  There are five related things missing from our traditional definition of success:

  1. It’s not specific. We strive or struggle with an amorphous goal of success. No where in the definition do we see a specific goal. We never hear, “When you make $X million, you are a success,” or “When you’re the president of the company, you are successful.” With nothing specific to measure, we have no way of knowing how or whether we’ll succeed.
  2. It’s not iterative. The traditional definition of success seems to imply that there’s just one goal to attain (even if it is amorphous). “If you achieve that goal then you will be set, life will be grand, and you will be happy. You will have arrived!” That’s not how life works. Life is an apparently never-ending quest for success. Whenever you succeed at anything big or small, it feels good. That good feeling eventually fades as you look about and see more things to do and opportunities to succeed.
  3. It doesn’t make room for the rest of life. Money and power are important. They help us do stuff with more speed and ease.  And they are not enough. We all know or have heard that money and power can’t buy you love, health, or happiness. We’ve heard about or experienced the pain of loss when a rich and powerful person or organization ignores the rest of life: their family/partners, community, health, environment, or understanding. And we’ve seen how the a not-so-rich or not-so-powerful person or organization struggles when they want to care about “the rest of life.”
  4. It’s “either-or.” Many of us believe that we and our organizations can either “be successful” (in the traditional way) or pay attention to “the rest if life.” Doing both, we think, is too difficult.
  5. It’s not personal. The measures of success are somehow defined and held outside of us or our organizations. We compare ourselves and our organizations to unspoken external criteria. Whether we meet those criteria or not, we have the feeling–sometimes ignored–that something is missing or wrong. The child who asks, “Why do I have to do this?” in school, the adult who asks, “Is this all there is?” and the organization who asks, “How do we differentiate, compete, or make an impact?” all struggle against externally–if amorphously–defined criteria for success.

Clarity will help

Despite this faulty definition, we are making progress. More and more, we recognize the needs for things like work-life balance, smarter ways to make money, an education system that works, and even political institutions that serve something more than their own desire to be in charge.

A better definition of success–one that fill in the gaps listed above–will help us all have even more of it.

A better definition

Here’s what I think is a better definition.
Success is the result of us improving something we’ve desired and decided to improve.
It’s kind of simple isn’t it? There are three more statements we can add to this definition to round it out.

We know it’s a success because it feels good.

We will never be done because as soon as we’ve created one success, we’ll see what else there is to improve.

Being successful, or leading a successful life, means recognizing and using our capacity to create successes.

Together, these statements make up a working definition of success that us specific (“improving something we’ve desired and decided to improve”). iterative (“we’ll see what else there is to improve”), personal (“something we’ve desired”), and includes everything (there’s room for making money and having a life, for sustaining organizational health and being the top in the field, we just have to desire and decide for it).

Let’s hear from you

Would this work for your or your organization? Have you already been operating as if this or something like it was the definition of success? How might your re-state it?

Top Business Books: Career Edition

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Success
Reading time: 1

Following up my post about classic business books for an Insightful Leader, here are my picks for excellent sources of career inspiration. These help one get over the main, faulty assumptions about jobs and careers that strangle would-be pursuers of their passions and life work.

  • What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles. This perennial is popular for a very good reason: it gives practical, current, and hopeful advice and tools to find a job, change or grow your career, or start a business. Best part: the Flower, a powerful exercise for discovering your career passion, calling, or life’s work.
  • Zen and the Art of Making a Living by Laurence Boldt. Pick up this book, scan it. Pause anywhere and dive in. You’ll come out with insights into most every aspect of your career development. Zen is deep and yin where Color is direct and yang. Use these two books together for best effect. Best part of Zen: the quotes from the world’s philosophers and leaders that invite needed personal reflection in uncovering mission, values, passions, skills, etc.

Classics in Insightful Leadership

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Success
Reading time: 4 min.

Bookstores have many great books about business and leadership. All shine a strong light on ways to be a better leader, run a more effective business, or play a stronger game personally and professionally. I read many of the books that hit these shelves because, as Tim Sanders (author of a couple of good books himself, including Love is The Killer App) says, “books should be your (knowledge) diet’s staple.” Each one usually has something of value to teach and that I can pass on to others. Yet time and again, I return to a small set of books that cover the issues so well. Listed below, in no particular order, are my top 10. Many are long-time popular titles that still sell well, even many years after publication. Others are lesser-known gems. These ten I recommend whole heartedly to all Insightful Leaders. (more…)

Set your (personal) mission (a.k.a. We goofy consultants)

Posted 1 CommentPosted in Success
Reading time: 3 min.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cited this “fact” to my clients: in a study of Yale graduates tracked over the decades, the most successful (the top 3%) had one thing in common: they all set their goals. Turns out I should have done my homework. A recent article in Fast Company shows that this study never happened. Just goes to show how silly we consultants can be.

This debunking notwithstanding, goal setting has its place. You benefit from simply going through a goal setting exercise. Pausing to take stock, question assumptions, and look freshly at things in your world leads to helpful insights. Your biggest insights are those that highlight your purpose(s) in life. (more…)

The First Obstacle to Leadership

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Success
Reading time: 6 min.

What’s your reaction to this idea?

As a leader, you may be Overvaluing Your Individual Contribution.

You may cringe, shrug, or have a different reaction. If you cringe, you may face this obstacle in leadership. If not, read on; you may know and need to help someone who must overcome this obstacle. (more…)

The value of opinion

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Success
Reading time: 1

“Every person takes the limits of their own field of vision for the limits of
the world.”
— Arthur Schopenhauer

Value, seek, and hear the opinions of others. Doing so always creates a better solution. Failing to do this leads to misunderstanding, division, and ineffectiveness.

Note, I did not say “accept or attack others’ opinions.” Other people’s opinions are valuable because they help you see beyond your own limitations. They need not be accepted, raw, as your truth. Nor would you be wise to defend aginst opinions that don’t seem to match your own.

What do you want to do?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Success
Reading time: 1

Are you experiencing career angst? Great! Knowing what you don’t want to do is helpful. The real challenge is, of course, knowing what you want to do. The secret, I’m learning, is to connect to something bigger. Go beyond your personal preferences, desires, direction. What bold path can you tread? How can your serve but not be subservient? How can you lead powerfully by example and not by force? What talents, passions, joys reside in your good heart that our world desperately needs to have out and active, despite all fears? Listen to and follow your heart. If that sounds trite, tough! 🙂 Does it look too big to tackle? Tackle it anyway. Do you fear losing your lifestyle or your life? Place trust in yourself and goodness of others and act anyway. For so long as fear guides you, you will ache. Hint: if you’re not acting, you’re likely afraid of something–even something of which you’re not fully aware. Acknowledge your fears and act anyway.

Guess what? Leading change is really hard!

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Success
Reading time: 3 min.

Read the cover story of the May 2005 issue of Fast Company: Change or Die. When you read that changing people’s behavior is difficult–really, really difficult–are you more shocked or are you more relieved? As a leader, do you see this as sad news or is it justification of what you’ve always known? Either way, there’s cause for excitement. Sure, the odds are against you; they are against everyone. But you can beat the odds. Here’s how.