Play to Strengths (#92)

One of the worst pieces of leadership advice I ever received was when I was 24. Someone with a military background told me that his approach to management involved identifying his teams’ weakness and focusing intensely on improving them.

While this may seem logical to some, I have come to realize over the years that this approach is very misguided. Sure, it’s important to know our weakness and mitigate them by becoming more self-aware, but focusing on them instead of what we do well doesn’t help accelerate our growth path.

High-achievers and great leaders focus on their strengths. We all have areas of superior skill sets, something that Dan Sullivan, founder and president of Strategic Coach, coined Unique Ability®.

When we are working within our Unique Ability, time flies by and money isn’t the motivation. Studies of success have found that those who have tapped into their Unique Ability are happier, wealthier and contribute more to the world.  A few years ago, I heard Lewis Schiff, executive director of the Inc. Business Owners Council, speak about his findings from his own wealth research. Here are a few that stood out:

  • 58% of those in the middle class put effort into getting better at things they are not good at.
  • 0% of high net worth millionaires put effort into getting better at things they are not good at. Instead, they outsource those skills and tasks to people who naturally are.
  • In response to the statement, “Failures have taught me what I am good at” 17% of middle class respondents said yes whereas 95% of those in the high net worth category said yes.

Gaining clarity about your Unique Ability is a key component of high achievement.  However, tapping into it is often challenging for most. It can take time, patience and even involve a few dead ends. Whether you want to uncover yours, or help others discover theirs, here are a few tips:

For Individuals: If you don’t know what your strengths are, consider taking a few personality tests such as DISC or Strength Finders. These can help you better understand your natural talents, passions and even what types of environments you work best in. Another tip is to look back at the comments on your report cards from elementary school to see if any trends emerge. I recently did this and found the process to be both insightful and a bit eerie.

Here are a few comments my preschool teacher wrote about my strengths and weaknesses when I was five:

“He continually impresses me with his creative inventions and his zealousness toward new projects.”

“He is not afraid to say what is on his mind, but often does so without realizing the impact that his words might have on others”

These comments could have been from my most recent 360 Review.

As you take stock in your own strengths, it’s also important to be self-aware about your “weaknesses” and for your awareness of them to match what others would say about you. In this process, keep in mind that, when known, these are just areas of your personality that you can better manage and, in some cases, neutralize. If unknown, they are areas of weakness.

For Managers and Leaders. Great leaders recognize their weaknesses and use that knowledge to build teams with complementary skills. They also understand the strengths and weakness of their team and play to individuals’ strengths. For example, if your top sales person struggles to fill out paperwork, don’t berate them about it. Get them an assistant so they can focus on selling more. In addition, having your team complete the Delegate & Elevate tool can shed light on what people on your team want and don’t want to be doing and where you can better support them.

I would describe my role today at Acceleration Partners as “Head of Creative Inventions and New Projects.” I have also put a lot of effort into a candid feedback system I call “Respectful Authenticity.” Turns out, my preschool teacher had me pegged.

Quote of the Week

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Albert Einstein

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Preventative Maintenance (#89)

Despite there being over 40 million flights per year, it’s rare for an airplane to crash or fall out of the sky. A main reason for this is this is that the airline industry is focused on preventative maintenance.

There is an understanding that the costs associated with being reactive is likely to be catastrophic, both in terms of loss of life and money. Therefore, planes and parts are routinely inspected and replaced before they go bad.

This concept of preventative maintenance and being proactive is something we teach our account managers here at Acceleration Partners. Instead of just waiting for a client to bring up an issue or comment on a trend, we encourage them to proactively address it before the client does.

It’s understood that waiting until the client brings it up is too late. The cost of inaction is always more expensive than addressing a problem proactively, whether that’s a financial cost or damage to the relationship or reputation.

With hurricanes Harvey and Irma dominating the news and compelling millions to evacuate, this topic of preventative maintenance comes squarely into focus. While there are heated debates about the causes of such devastating storms, its undeniable that the world is warming and the seas are rising. Yet, the increased likelihood of more catastrophic natural disasters is often ignored or overlooked, despite repeated warnings from experts.

A perfect example is the White House making a statement on Wednesday that, “This is not the time to talk about climate change.” Then when is?

It’s almost impossible to get state or federal governments to act on preventative measures. Politics, budgets and special interests all come into play; debates happen yet nothing gets done. Sadly, no one gets elected or becomes a hero by protecting us from the future. The glory is gained from the firefighting.

Then, a disaster like Irma or Harvey strikes. Suddenly everyone bands together. Budgets open up and unlimited funds are made available to clean up the mess. Heated discussions over the debt ceiling subside. This nonsensical cycle of focusing on the problem after it occurs—at an extraordinary expense—simply continues.

Contrast this approach with how the Dutch have managed to keep Amsterdam, a city that sits several feet below sea level, from flooding year after year. As this well written article outlines, the Dutch have developed a world-class flood prevention model with the goal to be able to survive a 4,000-year storm. They’ve also done an incredible job of getting everyone on the same page about the cost of inaction.

In other words, they are maintaining the planes before there is a crash.

This all circles back to the concept of Urgent versus Important. If we don’t take care of the important, we will be forced to deal with the urgent. Shouldn’t it be most important to protect against the realities of global climate change and rising sea levels?

Our inability to act in a preventative way keeps forcing us to deal with urgent situations and devastating consequences. It leaves us all hoping and praying that the worst-case scenarios don’t come true.

Today, we are in desperate need of leaders who can make decisions proactively around important issues as opposed to just reacting with urgency.

I never thought I would say this, but we need to learn from the airline industry.

Quote of the Week

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Benjamin Franklin

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Conventional Wisdom (#85)

Here is the thing about conventional wisdom and thinking: it’s usually conventional. This may sound obvious, but in so many situations, we fail to make choices that would move an opportunity forward or make a big impact. Instead we choose the safer option; the one that feels more familiar or has the popular vote.

This point was brought home for me recently as I listened to Brian Halligan speak at a leadership event. Brian is CEO of HubSpot, a title he’s held through the company’s inception, its IPO and $2.5B market cap.

In his discussion, Brian shared his perspectives on decision-making and following the conventional path, which include:

  1. Conventional wisdom is the conservative path and usually means doing what everyone else is doing.
  2. Leading companies and people aren’t satisfied with doing what everyone else is doing so they need to think about things in new and different ways.
  3. For many of his big decisions, Brian sought input from his team, but rarely went with the majority opinion.
  4. If the choices are black and white, never choose grey. Not only is picking the middle the easy way out, it’ll likely ensure a suboptimal outcome for all.

Great leaders buck conventional wisdom. They take risks, listen for the best ideas from the quietest voice and try to find where they can make that tenfold impact. This is the reason why companies such as Google have formed groups to work on new ideas—even ones that may have a high degree of failure. These are “moonshot” ideas that challenge conventional thinking.

One of the best ways to escape conventional wisdom is to gain perspective from those who think differently from you and to encourage debate. If you surround yourself with everyone who thinks the same way and has the same views, the decisions are likely to be similar. This groupthink is how Volkswagen ended up in a giant emission scandal a few years’ back.

If you want to expand your thinking, travel. Travelling is a wonderful way to gain perspective as are mastermind groups. Both have been invaluable to me and many others that I know, especially in terms of bringing new ideas to the fore and looking at problems and challenges in different ways. Some of my best new ideas have come from travelling outside of my physical and mental comfort zone.

The next time you ask someone for input on a key decision, think about whether they are giving you the answer that they know you want or a new perspective you might really need.

Quote of the Week

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

Henry Ford

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Calm is Contagious (#79)

Last week, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at my third Tugboat Institute Summit, promoting the Evergreen business movement of market-leading businesses looking to make a dent in the universe.

One of my favorite speakers at Tugboat is Commander Rorke T. Denver. Rorke has run every phase of training for the U.S. Navy SEALs and led special-forces missions all around the world. His lessons on leadership, such as last year’s takeaway on “playing without a safety net,” are incredibly insightful and valuable.

This year, while leading a segment on the “warrior mindset,” Rorke was asked about the biggest lesson he learned from his time in the Navy SEALs; the answer was surprising.

To graduate from SEAL basic training (BUD/S), something approximately only 25 percent of those who start will do, there is a final exercise that requires rehearsing a mission and then executing it on time. About midway through the mission, his group realized they could not complete it on time. In response, the class leader was frenetically running around screaming at people, which only served to make effective decisions impossible.

Having witnessed this erratic behavior, a Master Chief Petty Officer, the most senior enlisted member of the U.S. Navy, gave Rorke’s group an invaluable piece of advice that he’d learned from another Master Chief during the Vietnam War. The advice he gave was simple: “Calm is Contagious.” He explained that their team members would mimic or amplify their behavior, whether that be calm, chaos or panic.

There are definitely a few times in life when we need to fully engage our fight or flight response with an appropriate level of panic, adrenaline and even stress. However, when a leader of one of the most elite and deadly military units in the world counts his biggest learning as “Calm is Contagious,” it should give us pause to how we approach many of our everyday situations.

We all want to be around people who are calm and in control. But we also have an opportunity to be that person for our colleagues, our families and even ourselves. Our ability to calm ourselves and reduce stress fundamentally changes how we react and how we make decisions.

Given that others are likely to mimic or amplify your behavior, think closely about what you want that behavior to be.

To watch Rorke tell this story himself, check out this YouTube video.

Quote of the Week

“Pretend to be completely in control and people will assume that you are.”

Walter Isaacson

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The Peloton Principal (#72)

I am a huge fan of my Peloton Cycle bike and have been incredibly impressed at the company’s amazing growth over the past few years. They came out of nowhere to dominate a brand-new market with sales estimated at $200M this year. The Co-founder and CEO of Pelton Cycle, John Foley, attributes the company’s success to its two core philosophies, which he outlines in this short video.

The word “peloton” comes from road bicycle racing and is derived from the French word “ball.” As many of us have seen when watching the Tour de France, the peloton is the group of riders who ride/partner together in a formation.

In this formation, riders who are positioned up front allow for those riders in the middle of the formation to “draft,” thus reducing their drag (effort) by as much as 40 percent. The peloton rotates throughout the journey, giving everyone in the group the opportunity to take turns pushing and resting. This concept is actually modeled after the formation of a flock of birds who fly in the same way.

The peloton is a successful strategy as it allows each team member to perform at their best while also efficiently conserving energy. Teams also often use this strategy to help support and protect the rider who has the strongest chance of winning the race.

The concept of a peloton is also an instructive metaphor for those times in our personal and professional lives where we need to step up to the front and take the headwind for others, allowing them to catch up and perform better over the long haul.

Yet, just like it wouldn’t be a good use of a rider’s energy to be at the head of the pack for an entire ride, it also doesn’t work for us to always be at the front. What’s needed is self-awareness for when we need to fall back, regain our energy, and let others take the lead.

As their core philosophies reflect, Peloton Cycle’s success has come by making steady progress each day. This serves as a good reminder that achieving success and reaching our goals requires that we continue moving forward while also being mindful about how we’re performing along the way and being aware when we need to step forward or drop back.

Quote of the Week

“Decide how badly you want it; proceed accordingly.”

Robin Arzón, Vice President of Fitness Programming and Head Instructor at Peloton Cycle

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Acting on Feedback (#70)

Giving and taking feedback is a popular topic these days. Companies are going to great lengths to solicit more feedback from employees and customers – especially those regularly turning to social media.

In my many discussions with high-achieving individuals and companies, one thing that consistently sets them apart is their willingness to not only receive candid feedback, but to then act on it.

Acting on feedback is harder than it seems. It means that we need to first accept what people are telling us about how we can improve and overcome our inherent cognitive dissonance. It also means admitting that we don’t always have the best ideas and be comfortable giving credit to others. These are hallmark signs of a great leader. Individuals who want to do and be better don’t care where the best ideas or suggestions come from.

Here are two examples of CEO’s who have recently accepted and acted upon customer feedback:

If you want to be an effective leader, it’s vital that you demonstrate a willingness to act on feedback. Doing so conveys that you are approachable, solution-oriented, and are looking for the best ideas—regardless of where they came from and irrespective of credit.

When people see and experience this positive feedback loop, they will be even more open and honest with you or your company; it’s that open, honest communication that leads to major breakthroughs within an organization, and it costs you nothing.

To do for next week: Act on someone else’s suggestion, let them know, and see what happens.

Quote of The Week

“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”

Elon Musk

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