December 28, 2011

Can't does not exist

15 years ago doctors told me I needed knee-replacement surgery. I said I'd wait for technology to figure out how to save my knee. 

Earlier this year, I was told that my knee had to be replaced as soon as possible and that any other options wouldn't work, or, at  best, would be a short-term fix. I took my chances and in July had cartilage implanted in my knee.

Climbing the last of the stairs
Today, less than 6 months later, I climbed Mount Masada in Israel at 5am, reaching the top in time to see the sun peak out over the Jordanian mountains across the Dead Sea.Thank you Doctor Norman Marcus for your superb job on my leg.

I was told by experts to take it easy and that I couldn't climb. I did it anyway. Without pain, medication or assistance. It felt great. Okay, I had a hot stone massage after at the local spa for my aching muscles, but the knee is still holding firm.

I felt triumphant reaching that top. All I needed was the theme to Rocky playing in the background to complete the scene.

Here's what this experience taught me.

There are experts all around us - even when they don't know what they're talking about. 

Some of what they say is useful to consider. All of it is sourced in their own particular view of the world which becomes a filter through which the brain notices some bits of information and ignores others. Also, there will always be people around us to tell us what we can and cannot do based on their own filters, fears and concerns.

If we accept their opinion as truth, then it has the power to derail our dreams. If we see it as just an opinion, then we can choose how to deal with it. 

I vote for selective hearing.

At the end of the day, it is our faith in our own abilities that really matters. While there are no guarantees, that faith is extraordinarily powerful and has proven over the centuries to cause miracles.

Our shortcut - steeper but shorter
It's no magic or mystery how I made it to the top. I simply had faith. Given that absolute certainty that I was going to make it up that mountain, I trained like mad to ensure my body was strong enough to make the climb.  I rode my stationary bike, walked or went to the gym every day, often twice a day. I pushed myself to be as fit as possible to give me the best chance of success. 

It was my faith that kept me going up the mountain, even when it felt like it was too steep to climb one more step because my heart was pounding and I couldn't catch my breath. I was making it to the top, no matter how long it took.

Most importantly, I learned that the phrase "I can't" really does not exist.

That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.

December 26, 2011

Free to move forward

We're in Jerusalem right now amidst incredbile history at the epicentre of the three major religions of the world.

Besides the historical significance and beauty of the city, we have experienced many perspectives on everything from the current conflict, to religion and life in general. 

The other evening, we had dinner at the home of friends who are very religious orthodox Jews and I learned something quite interesting and important that can be applied to leadership, relationships, family and parenting.

It is the effect that gossip has on our lives. 

The people we were with are part of a community that do not gossip.It is one of the basic laws of Judaism that they adhere to. Even to the extent that they do not have negative thoughts about others. If they do have these thoughts on the rare occassion, they keep them to themselves.  


Conversations centre around ideas, possibilities, interests, etc. versus people. You know who are your friends and who aren't. They'll let you know straight, versus smiling to your face and talking behind your back.

What's really worth noting is the impact on their kids. They don't experience the level of insecurities kids feel growing up in our society. Even teenagers. 

They know who are their friends and who aren't, without the backstabbing behaviours we've all witnessed and experienced ourselves growing up. Instead, their kids are part of a community that supports and nurtures them, leaving them free to focus on what they are passionate about and interested in for their future.

They are free to move forward.

Imagine working in an environment where formal and informal communications build communities and support the future success of all involved.

Imagine living and working around people who respect what you are up to. Who will stick around for the hard times and even offer support, and also be happy to share in the good times. Even people you barely know. 

Gossip is a killer. It isolates people, derails strategies and undermines leadership. 

Gossip is picked up by our brain as uncertainty which triggers a threat response, driving stress and curtailing performance.

What if you eliminated gossip from your corporate or family culture? What becomes possible when a group of people cease to nitpick about each other but instead focus on building a collective successful future? 

It's not a pipe dream. Companies and communities around the world do this. It is awesome to see it in practice.

December 20, 2011

Why People Do (and Don't) Take Action - Part Three

While there are serious implications and repercussions when people fail to take action, the real problem is when they are acting in the lower right quadrant, the one I refer to as corruption.

Not corruption in a moral sense. More like a pipe corroding. But, it can also lead to corruption in the moral and legal sense.

At it's most benign, when people take action without integrity they may be dysfunctional. Their actions may disrupt the company's workability, relationships, communication, teamwork, etc. They may do small things that are borderline illegal, immoral or just simply unsavory. 

Maybe they are bullying a colleague in subtle ways, or seeking to undermine another person's position. They might make suggestive comments to a subordinate, gossip about the boss, come to meetings late, then sit and read text, emails or simply not pay attention. 

Personally it's when you say "I shouldn't eat that piece of cake." Then do. 

Do this often enough and your thinking and actions will move so far away from integrity that you are in danger of losing (or have lost) sight of what is right and wrong. People who are at this level are descending into a world of lies, cheating and deceit from which they are most likely not going to emerge without a catastrophic event. From there, bankruptcy (moral, financial, emotional, etc) is a likely future.

It's when companies fall apart like a house of cards (Enron is my favourite example), or when a person's health is so compromised from destructive behaviours such as smoking, alcohol, drugs, or overeating that they end up in the street, with a life-threatening illness or grossly overweight.

It's what we have witnessed and been at the effect of globally since 2008 (and before) and what persists on individual, company and government levels.

It is anywhere someone says "it's just this once." "It's not that big a deal." "No one will know." "It will be fine." "Someone will sort this out." or any conversation that justifies the action. We all do this at times in small ways. But, there is a major difference between eating one too many chocolates and cooking the company books.

Why do people do this? Because, the very first time they stray into this area, either they experienced a payoff, or didn't suffer any consequence large enough to deter them.

What can you do as a leader?

If you see dysfunction - cut it fast.

If a person is acting in a way that suggests they are too far down the track, lose them. They will compromise the company's integrity and if they have the power to, can even endanger your company legally. 

This is the quadrant where people are unable or unwilling to be responsible for their behaviours. They are uncoachable. No matter what they say.

When corruption is present, it is in their thinking first and foremost. Your chances are slim at best if you try to get them to see they have a problem.

December 15, 2011

Why People Do (and Don't) Take Action - Part Two

Last post I started the conversation about what it takes to be successful in any venture. Now that we know how to succeed, let's look at why people fail.

Below is a diagram that shows the different combinations of action and integrity. To the degree to which a person takes action with integrity, they will succeed. Pretty straightforward.

So, what's going below the line? Now it gets interesting.

In the lower left quadrant is where poor performance occurs.

So, I said I would get that report to you and didn't. I know I need to do it, but didn't. Why? Something came up.

I should go to the gym but don't.

I should clean my day.

I want to find a new job that I really love but haven't yet done anything.

I want to make a change but am afraid to.

Do this often enough and you lose all sense of possibility. You forget that you are capable of achieving. You become comfortable in your resignation about yourself and your life.

I call this quadrant learned helplessness. It is where we stray for a moment or two when our performance drops (and we ALL stray there from time to time) and where people stay when they believe their actions will not amount to anything.

If they think they can't affect change or make a difference. If they are told often enough that they don't matter (and this happens all over the world).

If you are at the effect of unconscious bias from a boss or a board. They don't recognise your talents, or might have concerns but don't honestly deal with them. If you are working in a job that is not congruent to your values, talents and interests. Or if you've outgrown it and failed to move on.


If you believe in your people and share with them the company vision and mission - they will know they matter and can make a difference.

Whatever you say - you will also communicate your real belief about them to them and they will live into it. So, if you let them know that they have areas to improve on but overall you believe they can do the job...they will!

If you think they're not up to the job, guess what? No matter what you might say, your unconscious bias will be communicated to them. They'll live into your belief. Their performance will drop even further as they try to impress you and fail. Even worse, you will prime your brain to notice only what they do wrong and miss the times that they actually succeed!

EVERYONE has something they do well and something they need to improve on. You just need to look for it and you will find it, whatever that is.

Why is this important? Because the effect of belief on individual performance is profound.

In their book Pygmalion in the Classroom, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson demonstrated how students' performance was affected by a teacher's expectations. The same applies in companies. We perform in line with people's expectations.

What are you communicating to your people?  How are they living into your expectations? What have you primed your brain to look for and what you are then finding?

Notice it creates a viscous circle of expectations and performance that can only be broken when you start to recognise the dynamic.

It takes an act of great generosity to believe in someone who you have lost faith in. But worth it as it might result in a massive turn around.

If you really do not believe they can improve, fire them. It's saving them a slow death.

Next...what happens when you take action with no integrity.

December 13, 2011

Why People Do (and Don't) Take Action - Part One

If you think about what it takes to achieve - from the most complex strategic plan involving a multinational organisation to a single request - what it comes down to is very simple. Taking the right action with integrity.

Integrity as in whole and complete, not in a moralistic sense.

I promise to write a 400 word summary of yesterday's meeting and have it on your desk by noon. If I do that then I have taken action with integrity. If I don't, I haven't. Simple.

But human beings aren't so simple. We are programmed to move towards entropy or randomness. We live in a perpetual state of decline. From the moment we formulate any plan and put it into action, we are bound to move away from integrity. It's not bad or wrong that we do this, it's just what it is to be human. The more people involved in any plan and the more complex the issues involved, the more likely we are to move towards entropy.

We say we'll start the meeting at 9:00am and even if we start at ten seconds past, it is indicative of a move away from integrity.

Before you take up a battle cry at that last statement. Let me explain something important here. 

I am not advocating living a pedantic life where you start every meeting on the stroke of the promised hour. It's not how human beings operate. Trying to live and work that way is actually exhausting and counter-productive. Living in a state of the highest level of integrity with massive action allows for evolution and breakthroughs, but it is unsustainable for any length of time and impossible in a complex system of many human beings. Stuff happens and you need to adjust.

Now, when formulating a plan, it is important to do so with a high degree of integrity. The degree to which you do will be directly correlated to the level of success you are likely to achieve. If you engage in all the critical thinking, consider as many obstacles and issues as possible and take the time to plan accordingly, you maximise your probability of success. Makes sense? Of course!

However, as you start to move from formulating and planning to start-up and so on, integrity does rise and drop. Actions will be taken, or they won't, or not exactly at the promised or planned time.

I didn't get the 400 word summary to you at noon, it was actually 700 words and you had it by 12:30pm. At 10:00am I received an urgent email that had to take priority over the report. However, the extra half hour wasn't critical and the extra 300 words provided important insights. I communicated to you the issues and you knew to expect a longer report at the later time. You also appreciated the added information.

As long as the level of integrity stays above the line, you pretty much will succeed. Again, your success will be dependent on the level of action with integrity that you and your people maintain.

While it's unrealistic to aim for the highest level of integrity at the greatest level of action, you do want to maximise your time in flow.

Peak performance - or flow - is that state of existence Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identified where we are totally immersed in what we are doing and our emotions are positively channeled to the task at hand. When we are in flow, we operate at our best and are able to sustain this level of action for long periods of time without exhausting ourselves because we have found the right balance of challenge and stress for our ability. We are working at something we are aligned with and enjoy so are highly motivated to succeed. Flow occurs when what we are doing is congruent, or true to our values, talents and and interests. It is a sustainable level of high productivity that allows for great success. And it feels great!

Think about something you achieved lately and notice that the above really makes sense.

So, with that in mind....why don't people take the actions they know they need to take, even when they say they want to take them?

Stay tuned.

December 8, 2011

Being a True Leader

Just this week, I finally launched my book True Leadership – which is all about finding your source of success as a leader.

The book was spurred by a niggling question that’s plagued me (and others) for decades.

What is it about great leaders - why are those people so great?  That, as opposed to those with a leadership title, but lacking the important qualities of a leader? Was there some central commonality that could be universally applied to any industry, gender, or personality type?

After many in-depth interviews, the answer became abundantly clear.

Whilst each person has their own expression of leadership, ultimately at the source of those great leaders’ success – is congruence. While there are other qualities as well (as outlined in my book), it starts with being true to your self.

Being congruent, or true to their values, talents and interests, is the main source of their business and personal success.

Notice I said business AND personal success. Just in case you are reading this thinking you’re not a great leader or nowhere near the top of where you’d like to be.
Congruence or True Leadership, are not limited to CEOs in the corner office or for those in positions of power. It’s available to everyone – from the CEO of the world’s largest organisation to the coach of the local soccer team.

True Leadership is for anyone who says “it’s up to me”.

But as a True Leader, success is not about you personally (although personal success is likely to eminate from it) – True Leaders’ endeavours are much bigger than that.

True Leaders seek to give people memorable experiences, create better outcomes for communities, make the world more beautiful and workable, connect leaders, create opportunities for writers, for families and for communities. 

They do this from their heart and inspire others to join them.

Someone once said that the student asks how – but the master knows why. These leaders know why they’re doing what they’re doing and how to share that purpose.

If you can give your people, whoever your people might be, their why – they take ownership and become accountable.  And then, only then, do you have an enterprise beyond yourself.

At last I have a book that shows you how to instill that why in others and in so doing unlock the source of their (and your) success.

Thank you for joining me on my journey. 

Now let’s go change the world.