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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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Showing Some Love (#67)

It’s hard to turn on the news these days. Between partisan politics, random acts of violence, and company scandals, we’re inundated with stories about people and businesses treating each other poorly.

Nowhere was this more evident than when United Airlines visibly dragged a passenger off an airplane this week because he refused to be bumped from an overbooked flight. The man was a doctor and had surgeries scheduled for the next morning. Apparently, United couldn’t get anyone to accept their final offer to give up their seat, so front-line employees decided it would be better to resort to brute force and physically remove a paying passenger from the plane.

Companies spend millions of dollars a year on advertising to attract customers, yet, when they have the chance to embrace relationships with their current customers, they repeatedly fail.

Contrast the actions of these United employees with those of Southwest Airlines. In 2015, they forever changed the lives of Peggy Uhle and her son. Peggy’s Southwest flight from Raleigh-Durham to Chicago was getting ready to take off when the pilot suddenly turned around and headed back to the gate. Peggy was asked to get off the plane, which led her to assume that she had boarded the wrong flight. What she discovered, however, was that her son had been in a terrible accident in Denver and was in a coma.

Not only had the gate attendant re-booked her on the next direct flight to Denver, Southwest employees offered her a private waiting area, rerouted her luggage, let her board first, and gave her a boxed lunch when she got off the plane. They also delivered her luggage to where she was staying, never asked for payment, and an employee even called to ask how her son was doing.

While the press and goodwill Southwest Airlines received from this incident was significant, it was not the driving force behind their actions. The employees were simply demonstrating Southwest’s core purpose to “Connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, low-cost air travel.”

These values empowered key stakeholders (the employees) to do what was right for the customer, without question or hesitation. Contrast this with United who, very generically, aspires to be the “airline of choice.” In fact, the only other reference to core values I could find online was a very legally worded “code of ethics and conduct overview

There are a few key takeaways from these contrasting stories. The first is that the culture and values we create in our business and homes will lead to specific behaviors by our employees and family – for better or for worse. Therefore, it’s imperative that we be very clear and explicit about what we stand for in terms of each.

The other major lesson is that we need to focus more on seeing people as human beings, not simply as a client, partner, or competitor. If we treat them with respect and/or help them selflessly in a time of need, we will create more positive outcomes all around. United employees decided it was better to drag a passenger off a plane than to up their $800 offer and own their mistake. Southwest just decided to do the right thing. Karma took care of the rest.

Quote of The Week

“A company is stronger if it is bound by love rather than by fear.”

Herb Kelleher (founder of Southwest)

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Management Principle: True Leaders

What are the beliefs and the behaviors of true leaders? With so many people articulating different views, it’s hard to decipher a universal model upon which everyone would agree.

Some people believe in the “end-justifies-the-means” approach suggested by the likes of Niccolo Machiavelli, author of “The Prince,” while others relate to the more servant-leader approach articulated by Jim Collins’ in his book, “Good to Great.” We could easily move to a debate about what’s ethical versus effective, and totally miss the fact that all leaders work with human beings who possess the facilities of mind, will and emotions, rather than the hoped-for robots that respond to commands with precise execution and blind obedience.

The bottom line is this: those leaders who focus on winning the active support of those they lead, utilizing wholesome influence skills, historically have better results than those who use the coercive, stern discipline approach, supported by shame and humiliation, to get people to act. Anyone I know, if asked to choose between William Wallace and Adolph Hitler to be their leader, would align with William Wallace based on his ability to lead from the front and inspire his people, and, whose dedication and love for his men were clearly known and demonstrated. So what guidance does this provide for us in our quest to become true leaders?

True and good leaders are those who have the ability and energy to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves, while focusing on the welfare of those under their charge, leaving their own personal concerns and desires for last. This choice and lifestyle is professional behavior, and not something one arrives at easily–anything less than this is something other than true leadership. If our motive for becoming a leader is rooted in a desire for power and/or money (cast as “career growth”), we will likely harm our people and the overall cause, doing ourselves no good in the end. The proper motivation for leadership is rooted in the discipline of service. And, while we may fool ourselves regarding our true motives and desires, they will be crystal clear to everyone else.

Here is a good prescription to follow, to make sure we are walking down the right path.

1- Do justice. Do right by the company and its clients, as well as your staff. When there are tensions between any of these constituencies, ask yourself the question: What creates a fair, win-win for all concerned? Don’t be satisfied with anything less. If someone is misbehaving in some way, violating the principle of justice, move toward them in a spirit of wholesome conflict and stand strong. Follow the principles of justice and fairness.True Leaders

2- Love mercy. The way to get people to act as a volunteers, and serve with a whole heart, is to adopt a development mindset and avoid being accusational or judgmental. Being judgmental harms people, regardless of your intention. Most people are eager to learn when given a true opportunity in a safe environment. Just because someone can’t read your mind doesn’t mean they are intentionally trying to make your life hard.

3- Walk humbly. The egotistical leader is a total turnoff to almost all followers. For those who embrace the narcissistic model, people will bemoan their leadership. Don’t assume that you are exempt from this pitfall. We can’t see pride in the mirror. If you’ve made it about you (put yourself in the center) and fail to truly serve your people with whatever degree of power you have, you’ll never have the respect and therefore the sacrificial volunteerism of your people. If you make it about them, versus making it about you, they’ll follow you forever.

Coaching questions: Where might you need to grow in your own motivations and therefore in your leadership skill? Who can help you to manage that growth and provide accountabilities for your success? Write your answers in your journal.

Read more coaching principles from Dean Harbry on the Internal Innovations website.