If you want to be the best, you’ve got to work with the best…

I was working with some friends last week. They are a husband and wife team who are both passionate masters at what they do. They also have a brilliant team who deliver an outstanding service to their clients… If they’re allowed to.

Unfortunately they made the mistake of working for a client who wanted them to deliver an excellent service whilst keeping them in the dark. Mushroom management at its best. My friends had been hired by an events company who out of fear, wouldn’t divulge who the end client was or allow my friends to engage fully with the planning process.

As it turned out, all the attendees really enjoyed the event, although the events company staff were less than pleased with my friends. So although a great job was done, everybody travelling home that night did so with a deflated feeling.

I pointed out to the couple that their first mistake was accepting the work on the terms of the events company. Bending over backwards to get the work is rarely a recipe for a successful working relationship with a client. My friends had lowered their price, been poorly briefed and still managed to upset the event company. You can’t please everybody and you shouldn’t try to either.

When I got home I received a package from Amazon, it was Dan Priestley’s latest book ‘Oversubscribed’. One particular point he made (amongst many) resonated with me, especially in light of what had just occurred.

“Businesses who become oversubscribed know what they want and have no problem saying ‘NO’ to the rest”

(Italics are mine!)

If you want to be the best, you’ve got to realise that a working relationship is a symbiosis. The client has to be the best too. You’ll hopefully have had an experience of working with a perfect client. They love your work, they achieve great results with you and they come back for more, whilst singing your praises to others. I sent my friends a copy of Dan’s book, sometimes you’ve got to hear it from several sources before it sinks in!

In my own work I have made it a pre-requisite of working with people who adhere to certain values:

Virtuous: Don’t work with clients who don’t stand by their word or are trying to pull the wool over your eyes or maybe the client further down the line. The events company we’re trying to convince the client that my friend worked as part of their staff. Trying to keep people in the dark resulted in a less than perfect outcome for my friends.

Accessible: I have clients who run massive operations, but when I call they either answer straight away or return my call within 24hours. I’ve had dealings with people who run smaller outfits and yet they’re impossible to get hold of and don’t return calls for days or even weeks.

Whilst I think of being non-responsive as bad manners, it maybe that they are just very busy. If they’re too busy to return your calls, then they’re too busy to implement the work they’d have to do with me. The value of a communication is the response you get back. If it leaves me feeling frustrated, then I can’t get into a ‘flow’ state in my work with them.

Love: I want my clients to love the work we do together, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. You’re not on this planet forever, you want the time spent here to be spent doing something you feel is worthwhile and if clients love and value your work, they’ll want to do more of it together with you.

Understand: The prospective clients must understand my terms and conditions, and not only agree to them but agree to them willingly. I don’t want people to feel like they’re being strong armed, but I want the details around when I get paid, when the work will commence, how the work will happen; all to be sorted before we begin.
I don’t want to have to divert my energies on chasing details when I could be delivering excellent value.

Exemplar: Will the client likely be a shining example of what happens when clients work with you?

Ask yourself this question at the beginning and you’ll more than likely have an intuitive feel for the answer. If they’re not going to be a stunning example. Leave space in your diary for the clients who will be.

Sharing: Will your clients share theirs and your success stories of working together?

I had this challenge with a lot of executive coaching clients in the past. They loved the work we did together, but were very reticent around letting others know about me and the great work we’d done together. Once the money gained from working with these clients is spent, you’re left with an empty feeling.

You want to work with clients who share their experiences freely, often without being asked. Who will broadcast to the world how great it is to work with the best.

Whilst many potential clients will have legitimate reasons for not adhering to some of the values stated above occasionally. Overall I want to work with people who do. To facilitate this you’ve got to create a perfect client profile which will kick-start your reticulation activation system (RAS). The RAS is a filter in your brain that allows what you’re looking for to stand out, including the right people who you’ll meet at the right time.

To get a great reputations, you’ve got to create outstanding results. To do that you’ve got to work with the best clients. It’s a virtuous circle which leave both you and the clients happy to be working together. Happy hunting!

Leader insight, entrepreneurial intuition and the extreme sport of business

Martin contemplation sunriseI lived and worked in Scotland for a while giving talks on entrepreneurial thinking at colleges and coaching business owners. In the evenings I would often go running in the hills nearby. There were several reasons for doing this. I loved the scenery, it was a good way of keeping fit and it also helped me tap into new insights. I would arrive home with fresh ideas with which I would write articles or design new models for my work. It never failed to occur unless I was particularly stressed about something. I wondered how this worked and if it was possible to re- create the conditions that produces insights, intuition and peak performance in the workplace.

One could argue that the reason we’re at the top of the evolutionary tree, is that we have the ability to remember and predict where danger is and relate that information to others. I believe this was the turning point for us. Instead of reacting to danger, we avoided it. Others could pass on information vital for our survival and we’d pay special attention because of our ability to empathise. We felt their fear. When scary emotions are attached to memories, it makes them easier to access. This was humankind’s advantageous evolutionary trait and as an off-shoot, it’s useful today in lots of social situations. A disadvantage to this style of thinking is that it is difficult to turn off. In fact, even though there are less predators, whilst we’re awake, our mind is busily predicting and remembering. In fact you might even be predicting what I’m going to write ….. next?

We also know that there are different levels of brain wave activity thanks to the work of Hans Berger who developed the EEG machine. The more relaxed we are, the slower the brain activity. There is a difference in the types of thinking we can do based on our state of arousal. Generally when stressed or scared, blood drains from the brain and we practically stop thinking. When we’re busy mentally predicting and remembering, we’re in the Beta or busy zone. When we’re relaxed, we move into the slower Alpha zone. We can also slow right down and drift off into theta and deeper delta which happens when we’re asleep. So mentally we can be stressed, busy, relaxed and focussed, relaxed and unfocussed or asleep. Guess which is the best state to be in for peak performance?

I’ve used this understanding about arousal and the way we use our brains to help people become more effective. Whether it be in sports, therapy, business or coaching leaders who want to access their deeper intuitions and insights at will.

For example, if a client wants to ride their horse more effectively, I’ll ask them to use their busy beta mind to focus on a simple task such as counting the horse’s footsteps. The busy mind – the part you can hear talking to you – has always got to be doing something, so direct it. This allows the body mind i.e. muscle memory and intuition, to ride effectively because there is less interference from the busy mind that wants to predict disaster scenarios. I’ve found that the busy predicting mind and peak performance are mutually exclusive, but as mentioned previously, you can’t just shut it off. If you want to perform at your best or access deeper wisdom, we have to do three things. Achieve a sense of calm, control the busy mind and connect with the deeper reservoir of our wisdom mind.

Calm-> Control-> Connect

My running in the hills followed the model above because the running would fill me with endorphins calming my body mind. I’d focus my busy mind on counting my breaths in and out developing into a rhythm. This would soon lead to me being able to connect to my wisdom mind. Ideas would begin to pop into my awareness. If I started thinking about anything stressful, I’d let it go by returning my attention to my breathing.

Intuition vs insights

Good Ideas (2)Intuition is our ability to access information without having to consciously figure out the answer. As humans we like to reduce the amount of conscious thinking we do – because it uses up a lot of energy- by making everything a habit, an unconscious process.

All the knowledge and experiences we’ve amassed becomes programmed into our intuition or gut instincts. So again, referring back to ancestral times, we didn’t need to make a conscious decision about whether a predator might be dangerous, we knew intuitively.

In the workplace, problems we’ve encountered before and resolved successfully can be become part of the knowledge and experience we’ll use as our intuition in the future. Experience in the workplace therefore is valuable and is more easily accessed if you’re relaxed. Stress is the antithesis of peak performance and hence why happy people are judged by researchers at Warwickshire University to be more productive and profitable.

Insight is primarily an unconscious process like intuition, but it is looking into the future. It often involves accessing disparate sources of information and making unusual connections to arrive at new conclusions. Think about Einstein dreaming about riding on light beams and coming up with his theory of relativity or Newton relaxing under a tree, having an apple fall on his head and discovering gravity. In my experience, the workplace generally doesn’t tap into our ability to insight as much as they should.

So the ability to solve challenges based on previous experience, when done in a relaxed state is through the use of intuition. Producing novel solutions done in a deeper, relaxed way I refer to as insighting.

Entrepreneurship, the extreme sport of business
Entrepreneurs are often very intuitive. Generally they tackle challenges with their intuition and jump to solutions. Being tolerant of risk is an essential ingredient in the ‘start-up’ stage of an organisation. The autonomy to make snap decisions despite the risks, being fully immersed in the activity, creatively solving problems and setting clear goals are all triggers that lead to flow states which are autotelic – that’s psychological code for addictive. Most flow research is done with extreme athletes because they often access flow states in the pursuit of their sport.

It’s also risky setting up in business so one could argue that entrepreneurship is the extreme sport of the business world because the mental and emotional activity is similar. However, if the entrepreneur is moving into uncharted waters just as an extreme surfer might choose to, they need also need to be able to penetrate into the future with insight.
It’s a common misconception that extreme athletes are tolerant of risk to the point of being foolhardy. Actually the opposite is true, they spend a lot of time in preparation, minimizing the risk as much as possible. Once they’re committed to action they quickly move into a flow state and use intuition to guide their actions. Their lives depend on using both insight and intuition skills to the nth degree.

The rise of adaptable entrepreneurial leaders
An adaptable entrepreneurial leader also needs to be able to tap into both insightful and intuitive powers at the appropriate times. When you’re looking at complex situations, normal busy mind will not be effective and jumping into novel situations using only intuition isn’t always the ideal answer either.
This need to be able to understand and access various mental states has become an important part of today’s entrepreneurial leader skill set. It means developing the ability to move instinctively then think strategically and then be able to jump back again as the situation requires.
I use and teach the following method for accessing paradigms shifts into new territory so leaders don’t just solve problems, they soar to new heights:

If in doubt …SOAR!

Suspend Judgment: Not jumping to conclusions sounds easier than it is because we’re meaning searching animals. Our minds don’t like not knowing all the answers, so we come to quick conclusions about situations even if we don’t know the answer. We’ll often fill in the blanks based on our intuition and biases. In rapid succession we’re constantly making ‘judgements’. To stop doing this, we’ve got slow to down and be more self-aware or as its becoming more commonly known; be mindful.

Developing insight can mean the difference between coming to a symptomatic solution or a fundamental one. For instance, you might be stressed at work, come home, kick the cat off the sofa, drink a bottle of wine and begin to feel better. That’s a symptomatic solution because you’ve escaped feeling stressed…for the moment.

The next day when you go back to work, you find that the same problem is still there and giving you more headaches to add to the one you’ve already got from drinking the wine. Furthermore, when you go home after another stressful day, your cat’s not speaking to you and because you’re spending so much time on the sofa sulking, you’re getting unfit and less able to handle the stress of work. A vicious cycle ensues.

A fundamental solution is to be able to come up with an insight that solves the challenge once and for all. It doesn’t mean that all your challenges will disappear, you begin to get better problems though. So what’s the next step?

Observe keenly: Just as a General doesn’t command a battle from the front line, you need to get some space, at least mentally, from the situation. You’ve got to achieve an enlightened perspective. Remember a beach ball might look a certain way to you but from the other side the colours are different. You’ve got to see not only many sides, but also into the future too.

An entrepreneur at this point would probably take a glimpse of a situation and then jump to a conclusion. Filling in the blanks as they go because they’re use to having more control. A leader of a growing business has to deal with more complexity due to the increasing numbers of people involved. It also can’t change direction or recover from mistakes as easily. Intuition is okay when you’ve a small agile team, insighting is also necessary when you’ve a bigger organisation.

Allow time for wisdom to arise: When I first go out running or walking or I decide to meditate, everyday ‘stuff’ intrudes in on my mind. This continues until I’ve burnt some energy off or done some deep breathing and the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, are slowly replaced by calming endorphins and others which allow access to different areas of the brain. Steven Kotler of the Flow Genome Project, describes this as the ‘release’ stage of entering into ‘flow’ states.

Emotions are mutually exclusive. You can’t be stressed and calm at the same time just as you can’t be drunk and sober. Different bio-chemicals produce different ‘states’. If you want to access wisdom thinking and peak performance, you’ve got to become relaxed and focussed.

This state takes a bit of effort to achieve with will power alone. It’s easier if you focus your attention on something mundane and repetitive, like washing the dishes or counting your breaths. You’ve probably found this happening when driving your car, although that’s probably not ideal!

I will often pause a coaching session after the observing stage and ask a client, who is dealing with complex issues, to go away and sleep on the problem. This letting go of effort also enables them and me time for processing the information. I find clients will often come back with fresh insights that they wouldn’t have access to without some release time in between. Don’t rush to conclude the process, let ideas percolate up from your wisdom mind.

Respond entrepreneurially: Once an insight has arisen, it now becomes time for the enlightened leader to move quickly. To be entrepreneurial again and with high emotion drive the new idea or solution into creation. This means garnering the support of others. Gathering resources and focussing on implementation. Now they can get back into the zone of extreme sport in business and rely on their entrepreneurial intuition to guide them.

Co-Founder of the Wellbeing Lab and MIT lecturer Otto Scharmer said:

“The ability to shift from reacting against the past to leaning into and presencing an emerging future is probably the single most important leadership capacity today.”

An adaptable entrepreneurial leader has to have the ability to step off the merry-go- round mentally and access a quieter space from which they can co-create with the universe, the future. It means tapping into something deeper than everyday thinking. Being mindful and self-aware isn’t just a new fad in leadership thinking, it’s an essential element of adaptive leadership necessary into today’s complex and transforming world.

Inspirational leaders, universal paradigm shifts and the art of smooth sailing

Paradigm ShiftsOrganisations are being born, growing, consolidating, sometimes evolving, sometimes collapsing and then recovering. Or they can die with the components being assimilated into other things. There are infinite possibilities but all are following a similar pattern, the universal life cycle.

It’s been said that an organisation’s greatest asset is its people. This may be true, but it takes an enlightened leader to guide those people. A leader needs to be able to recognise what reality is occurring in the moment and where the team are heading. Along the way there will be paradigm shifts. When the behaviours that led to success up to a particular point, will not get the team to the next level. Knowing what these paradigm shifts look like, helps leaders generate the appropriate message to inspire new behaviours.

Metaphors, stories and analogies are powerful tools in a leader’s repertoire. A relevant story told by an inspirational leader can cause an immediate shift in perspective and direction. Research by McKinsey suggests that telling meaningful stories which include various themes leads to higher engagement. It makes sense when presenting the case for change, to attend to the various personalities of the audience.

Four points to consider when preparing for a paradigm shift:

Rewards and recognition: Explain how individuals will benefit from successfully completing the new mission; should they choose to accept it.
Creativity and connectivity: Note the opportunity for the team to bond together and tap into the collective intelligence of the group to provide innovative solutions to tackle the challenges ahead.
Support and familiarity: With the possible stormy weather ahead, encourage everybody to support each other as a family unit.
Quality and focus: Encourage a quest for excellence pointing to the team’s ability to design the best products and services, redefining the beliefs about what is possible.

To make the story inspirational leaders should also include how the work will contribute to the larger world, what Simon Sinek refers to as the big ‘Why’. Revealing to the team which paradigm they’re shifting too and why the change of course is necessary, will give clarity of direction.

Here are some universal paradigms to consider:

Setting sail on a new adventure
This is the entrepreneurial stage when a leader may have to galvanise a small team to overcome the trepidation of setting sail on a new adventure. It could be the start of a new business or project, but like any new idea, it takes a lot of energy to create something worthwhile. It demands extraordinary courage, determination and resilience. It is the beginning of a heroic journey of which the spoils will go to the brave. As Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote:

“To reach a port we must sail, sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it. But we must not drift or lie at anchor.”

Growing from good to great
If the entrepreneur survives the first stage of business creation, confidence increases as the product or service attracts an increasing client base. From here, the group needs to become cohesive, focussing on higher standards of aligned performance so that they can achieve greater levels of success. The leader has to help the expanding team programme themselves for success. Systems and training should be introduced to strengthen the performance and culture. A story of going from good to great inspires greater levels of determination as well as boosting pride and esprit de corp. As Jim Collins espoused:

“… it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps, then, you might gain that rare tranquillity that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered.”

Too much of a good thing
Of course as organisations grow, they can become too hierarchical and bureaucratic. Work can become frustrating for the team and leader. It’s usually as a result of thinking that because systems worked at first, adding more will help. The reality is that satisfying the system, not the purpose of the organisation, becomes the overall aim. Now is the time to relax the systems and introduce some autonomy and entrepreneurial spirit back into the company. A leader aware of the universal life cycle will know it’s time for change as the resistance in a formerly successful companies grows. Think about the decline and fall of the Rome Empire. As Marcus Cicero pronounced:

“The enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend.”

The butterfly effect
A strange thing happens when a caterpillar transforms. Cells within the caterpillar, known as imaginal cells, begin to resonate at a different frequency and act completely differently. Even though they are attacked by the immune system, the imaginal cells continue to proliferate. They then begin to cluster together into small friendly groups, sharing information. Eventually the clusters begin to join together inside what is now a chrysalis. It is believed that when the imaginal cells reach 10% of the whole, a tipping point occurs and the organism realises it is transforming. It gives birth to the Butterfly.

This analogy is a great one for leaders who want to guide an organisation to the next level of success. This is not a quick fix and relies on lots of little changes of beliefs and behaviours which build up over time. It is a time for deeper connection with customers to understand what they really want. Helping people collaborate and contribute more of themselves to the whole to enable something completely new to evolve. This paradigm shift occurs after the present business has reached a threshold point of growth and has to look for new ways to pivot the business. People may not realise the best is yet to come but as Buckminster Fuller wrote:

“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                   Leaning into the slope
Invariably shifts happen. System thresholds are reached, disruptive innovations appear on the horizon and increased competition arises. If an organisation is unprepared and the leader is unable to accept reality, the first line of defence is usually denial. The financial crisis was just such a story in the beginning.

At this point an enlightened leader knows that now is not the time to be shrinking back into a comfort zone. It’s time to face reality and rise up to the challenge. Those that did at the beginning of the latest recession, we’re more likely to weather the storm.

When a skier navigates down a tricky mountain pass, they realise that they must lean down the slope otherwise their skies will slide from beneath them. So too the fell runner traversing the rocky scree slopes and the boxer who’s opponent is advancing. You can’t lean away if you want to stay on your feet, you must advance if you want to survive. As Seth Godin informs us:

“Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they’re hiding out in the comfortable zone.”

Discovering diamonds in the dirt and gold in the grit.
When an organisation is heading toward a systemic challenge, mental flexibility from the leader is essential. When the doo-doo has hit the fan, problem solving leaders know they must attend to various aspects all at once. But an enlightened leader will also encourage some of the team to look for the opportunities. There is always balance in the universe. For the Chinese, crisis and opportunity are represented by the same symbol.

Some great companies were formed during economic recessions. If Kodak had ‘leaned into the slope’, they might have realised the potential of digital photography which one of their own people had discovered. Even in the worst of times and in the darkest of places, you can find hidden gems. Of course you’ll miss them if you don’t programme the mind to look. As John F Kennedy encouraged:

“In a crisis, be aware of the danger but recognise the opportunity”

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Endings are the new beginnings
Some philosophers believe there is a whole other realm of potential from which we and everything that exists, all arise and return to. Endings are inevitable. Sometimes it is necessary for a leader to kill off a project, product, department, idea or even a business so that new ventures can grow. If Richard Branson hadn’t let his music business go, he probably wouldn’t have got the airline off the ground and with the later paradigm shifts in the music business, more than likely would have lost everything.

If a business closes, all the ideas, experiences and learning that was created, will move on to become part of something new elsewhere. Nothing in the universe is ever wasted. In the cycle of life, death plays an integral part. As Cheryl Strayed described:

“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realise there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”

The great turnaround
Once the reality of a collapse has been accepted by a leader it becomes time for the great turnaround talk. A time to galvanise everybody behind the recovery. It feels similar to the setting sail, entrepreneurial period. High risk inspires engagement, a clear vision and mission inspires boldness in the face of imminent disaster. There are many examples of businesses that have been able to claw their way back from the brink of death to become successful and profitable enterprises once again.

Apple, was at one stage on the brink of bankruptcy and borrowed funds from its nemesis Microsoft, to survive. It later became the most valuable company in the world. Fed-Ex’s boss Frederick Smith had to gamble his last $5000 in Las Vegas to pay off a fuel bill. Lots of companies go through desperate times and have had to take desperate measures to become great companies later on. Steve Maraboli explains that:

“Happiness is not the absence of problems it’s the ability to deal with them.”

Lessons are repeated until they’re learnt
It’s important for a leader to recognise what type of challenge they face and be able to design appropriate solutions. Of course in most instances, there is a temptation to plaster over the cracks. When a system has failed, patching up the system will still not allow you to overcome the systems previous limitations. Most people believe that humans are scared of change. That’s not quite correct, people make small adjustments continually so they can stay in the same place. But sometimes a fundamental transformation is required.

Of course a good way to recognise the lesson is for a leader to enquire if this type of thing has happened previously. Problems do and will return. Moreover; the same problems will become more frequent, will stay longer, be more painful and eventually lead to collapse. As Aldous Huxley wrote:

“That men do not learn from the lessons of history is the most important lesson of history”

Brave new world
As we’re on the Aldous Huxley theme, entering the brave new world is a necessary component of an evolving business. A lot of traditional businesses have had to evolve in order to survive the passage of time. Sometimes, one must experiment as if standing at the beginning of a corridor. So many doorways present themselves, but you have to step into the unknown to uncover the reality behind every door. That requires courage. All systems have an optimum state, they all reach a limit to growth and so bold leaders have to look for new ways of doing business and create new beginnings. As Peter Drucker realised:

“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision”

Developing Your Organisation’s DNA Profile

Developing a company’s DNA profile helps with many different aspects of running and scaling a successful business.

An entrepreneur might start a business because they spotted an opportunity in the marketplace and exploited it. That’s innovation.

The fact that the entrepreneur has been successful means that the universe has decided their venture was useful so kept the fledgling business alive. That’s evolution.

Everything has inherent meaning in the universe even if the entrepreneur didn’t know or care at that point. That changes.

To scale the business it becomes important to describe the business in a way that piques people’s interest and attracts a loyal following. The best way to do that is to educate, entertain and engage people, whilst they communicate to the world what they do, how they achieve their results and why it’s a good idea to be clients, collaborate with and serve this organisation.

In the post-recession world, people are also interested in knowing what the company’s philosophy is, what’s important to them in the way they do business and what the vision for the company in the future is.

The mission is the next big step the leader wants to achieve and doesn’t necessarily need to be communicated to the outside world because it will change over time. The mission is chunked down into the strategy, what will be produced, with performance goals (habitual behaviours) and achievement goals (milestones) along the way. One might never completely achieve the purpose, and that’s okay. It’s a legacy.

The challenge is that there is a lot of confusion about what each aspect actually is. If leaders or entrepreneurs don’t fully understand their organisation’s DNA, they will be running an operation that hasn’t fully tapped into the passion and potential of its people. This negatively affects its customers and the bottom line. It can also lead to a lot confusion in decision making. You can find your top talent spending time on less than optimum behaviours.

 

The benefits of spending time on creating your organisation’s DNA profile include:
• It creates a buzzEvolve's DNA profile
• Attracts the top talent
• Enhances your pitching process
• Boosts engagement
• Develops an effective culture
• Empowers people to make decisions
• Builds equity in the business
• Unleashes passion and unlocks potential
• Increases creativity and innovation
• Creates brand loyalty… and much more…