Archive for October, 2013

Positive Use of Self-Control

October 27, 2013

Auto Pilot


Are you going through your life on auto-pilot?  Are you letting your reactions and responses to life’s circumstances and events be dictated by your previous values, attitudes, and beliefs…or are your responses a result of living in the present?

Most people tend to react (act again) as they go through life.  They react to other people’s conscious, or unconscious desire, or ability to “push” their buttons, or to situations without operating in the now moments of their lives.  Their reactions find their origin in their learned attitudes, beliefs, expectations, prejudices, values or historically directed emotions.  When we react from the history of our past, we take the risk of:

  • over-reacting
  • under-reacting
  • reacting inappropriately
  • reacting too quickly
  • reacting too slowly

Any of these responses to any set of circumstances or people are doomed to cause continued stress, anxiety, and continued, un-resolved personal feelings.

When a person reacts without being totally conscious or thinking out of the now, they’ll often say or do things they’ll regret later.

Here are a few strategies to consider the next time you find yourself out of emotional control due to another person or an event.

  1. Take a quality pause, a brief 2-3 second break where you say to yourself – I do have a choice.  I can react the way I normally would have to this stimulus or I can react differently.  With the quality pause you can get out of auto-pilot and into the present.
  1. Develop the habit of counting to 5, slowly, before you speak or act as a result of a stimulus.
  1. Give someone you are close to the permission to alert you (make you aware) each and every time you react without pausing or taking the time to think through your response.
  1. Create personal anchors (a personal reminder) that automatically kicks in every time you find yourself losing emotional control.  Thought-stoppers work well here, such as simply shouting “stop” loudly to yourself…making sure you won’t embarrass yourself in public.  Even though you do the shouting, and you knew you were going to, it still jars your thinking enough to let you move to the positive thought, behavior, or response.

Living life out of auto-pilot is to live incompletely…to live the past.  To live in the present…the now…only requires that you become conscious every time you are functioning from memory, expectations, or in the future.

Being Curious

October 18, 2013

Continuous Learning for Success


Curiosity killed the cat, they say…but only after it had used up its nine lives.  Being inquisitive and interested in people, things, and events is an admirable characteristic, both because it increases your own learning and also because it’s infectious.  If you display curiosity, those around you will be more curious than they would otherwise have been.

An open, enquiring mind is a pre-requisite for continuous learning and development.  The alternative, a closed mind, is a recipe for stagnation and for the rate of change to exceed the rate of learning.

If you’re not already the sort of person who displays curiosity, it’s possible for you to learn to become so.  How easy or difficult this will be depends on your starting point.  If you feel curious, interested, and inquisitive…but don’t exhibit those behaviours, it’s comparatively easy to adopt behaviors that will demonstrate your curiosity.  You could, for example, embrace a commitment to talk to people about what interests them, ask lots of questions, and demonstrate how interested you are in them.  By feeling interested you’re already halfway there and these behaviors should be quite easy to adopt.

If you don’t feel interested, it’s quite possible to feign interest.  Most people will discover that if they pretend to be interested then they start to feel interested (fake it till you make it).  Your outward, exhibited behavior will affect your inner feelings…rather than the other way round.

Curiosity provides the springboard for learning and development.  Curious, inquisitive people tend to:

  • ask lots of questions
  • think out loud
  • play devil’s advocate
  • dig and delve to find out more
  • formulate and reformulate “theories”
  • have lots of ideas
  • challenge conventional thinking

This is an admirable list.  The downside is that people who are curious will often flit, butterfly-like, from one interest to another and not sustain their enthusiasm for any one thing.  As a result they fail to see things through to a conclusion.  They are good starters, but poor finishers.  If this describes you, even just sometimes, you can correct this tendency by working to maintain your interest, continually checking to ensure that your people are completing the things they’ve started.

Consistent curiosity is vital…the lifeblood of continuous improvement.  All learning and development emanates from an insatiable curiosity

A Formula For Sustained Success

October 16, 2013

Eight management practices distinguish the 5% of companies that consistently outperform the market.

What are the elements that contribute to a company’s success? A five-year study called the Evergreen Project analyzed the management practices that directly correlate with superior corporate performance as measured by total return to shareholders.

The study found that just eight practices, four primary and four secondary, make all the difference.  Winning companies achieved excellence in all four of the primary practices, plus two of the secondary ones.  Losing companies failed to do so.  The four primary management practices we identified are: strategy, execution, culture, and structure. The four secondary areas are talent, leadership, innovation, and mergers and partnerships.

Practice 1: Devise and maintain a clearly stated, focused strategy.  Whether the strategy is based on low prices or innovative products, it should double your core business every five years while simultaneously building a related new business to about half that size.  The strategy must be sharply defined, clearly communicated, and well understood by employees, customers, partners, and investors.

One of the key mandates we found among winners was a strategy focused on growing the core business.  Too many leaders, besieged by demands for more support from all segments of the company, allow their resources to be nibbled away.  Winning companies keep their goals firmly in mind and tailor their budgets to fit.

Flawless execution

For managers, the successful pursuit of the strategy practice means following five mandates:

  • build your strategy around a clear value proposition for the customer.
  • develop strategy from the outside in.  Base it on what your customers, partners, and investors have to say.
  • fine-tune the strategy to changes in the marketplace.
  • clearly communicate your strategy within the organization, and among customers and external stakeholders.
  • beware the unfamiliar.  Grow your core business. 

Practice 2:

Develop and maintain flawless operational execution. If you can’t always delight your customers, you must at least never disappoint them.  There’s no question that poor quality hurts.

Superior execution can be achieved only through intense and continuing study and effort. Managers also must be willing to ignore some conventional wisdom.

Practice 3:

Develop and maintain a performance-oriented culture. Corporate-culture advocates sometimes argue that if you can make the work fun, all else will follow.  But the study results suggest that winning corporate cultures put fun second to high performance.  First they do the job well; then they celebrate.

The four mandates for winning corporate cultures are: Inspire all to do their best. Establish and abide by clear company values.  Reward achievement with praise and pay, but keep raising the performance bar.  Create a work environment that’s challenging, satisfying, and fun.

Practice 4:


Maintain a fast, flexible, flat organization.  There’s just one kind of structure that really counts: one that reduces bureaucracy and simplifies work.  Procedures and protocols–what bureaucracy is, after all—are absolutely necessary to keep large organizations functioning smoothly.  But an excess of them puts roadblocks in the way of progress and dampens employees’ enthusiasm and energy.  Winners trim away every vestige of bureaucracy.

The mandates for winning corporate structures are: Eliminate redundant organizational layers and bureaucratic structures and behaviors.  Promote cooperation and information exchange across the company.  Keep your best people close to the action and your front-line stars in place.

Beyond the four major management practices that lead to success are four secondary ones:

  1. Hold onto talented employees and find more.  The most important indicator of the depth and quality of your talent is whether you can grow your own stars from within instead of buying talented outsiders in every crisis. 2.     Winning companies promote from within whenever possible, create top-of-the-line training, and design jobs that challenge their best performers.  And their leaders get personally involved in winning the war for talent.
  2. Make industry-transforming innovations.  One might expect that winners would excel at innovation—but only a bare majority did.
  3. Make growth happen with mergers and partnerships. Internally generated growth is essential, but it’s not usually enough.  Best practices in mergers and acquisitions include buying new businesses that leverage your existing customer relationships and complement your strengths, and developing a systematic capability to identify, screen, and close deals.
  4. Keep leaders and directors committed to the business.  Great chief executives communicate their vision so convincingly that others adopt it, and they have great integrity in word and action.  When confronted by moral dilemmas, they don’t hesitate to resolve them fairly and quickly.

(adapted from an article by by William Joyce, Nitin Nohria, and Bruce Roberson, Optimize Magazine,May 2003, Issue 19)

Do the Right Thing

October 9, 2013

Success should not be measured in what you buy or own but in the pride you feel in the person you’re with when you are all alone!


A key and valued employee asks for a few minutes. Closes the door. Then comes the news you weren’t expecting, they have taken a job…with a competitor. The range of emotions kicks in immediately. Disappointment, frustration, confusion, anger, anticipation.

Where did I fail? What could I have done differently? Can we salvage this? How will we operate without them? What is the impact on the rest of the team?

A client called recently with this situation. The executive team went into immediate evaluation and response mode. They did an exemplary job of determining options for  the company, reassessing qualifications for the position, examining how to search for a replacement, and much more. They conducted an immediate and well thought out process to replace the employee, reviewing the situation with the team, responding to clients, and finding a replacement.

Now there was another step to take. One that most people will not do. I suggested that my client phone the CEO of the competitor and tell him that this employee had been an outstanding worker, that they were hiring a good person, and that he felt the employee would do a great job for the new company. And add that if they could do anything for the  new CEO to please let him know.

I got a surprised look from my client at this suggestion, then he realized that it was probably a good idea. It feels awkward at first, then we conclude it’s the right thing to do. We can develop the habit of doing the right thing. It comes dressed in a tough uniform sometimes. But it’s a good habit with which to lead.

It is a good exercise to list some other “right thing to do” actions. Keep the list handy, it’s a good reference when you have a surprise or want to react in a way that you know you’ll regret. “Is it the right thing to do” is one of the pillars of Rotary International. Make it a tenet of your personal and professional lives.