Life 101: Develop competence. Build the discipline to finish small projects. Solve interesting problems. Help good clients succeed. Do lots of small good things for other people. Share the credit. Take the blame. Share your journey. Associate with good people. Help others realise they are capable of more than they think. Give them confidence. Lift them up if they fail. Celebrate their courage. Ask them what they learnt. Be present in their lives. Live with purpose and intention.

The days of sending your CV over to HR and waiting for the job offer are dead. No great job offers come through HR.

As Seth Godin says “No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.”

  • “My boss won’t let me”
  • “They won’t give me permission”
  • “I don’t have a publisher”
  • “Oprah Winfrey won’t respond to my emails”

Stop “waiting to be chosen” and “Pick yourself”.

If you want to write, write. If you want to make videos, make videos. If you want to be creative, make things with creativity. If you want to run an event, invite 50 people to an event. Don’t wait for permission… because there is nobody left to actually give you permission.

If you ask your boss for permission to do something, this is what they hear: “If this fails, blame goes to you (because you gave me permission); if this succeeds, credit goes to me (because I did it)”. Only an idiot would take this deal. Your boss didn’t get there by being an idiot.

Great problems create great leaders. Take the time to build the foundations before you build the skyscraper. Take responsibility. Become a trusted team member.

I’ve been reading about habits recently, and James Clear’s book Atomic Habits and his regular newsletter have been a great source of practical ideas. If you want a review of what I have learnt, yesterday’s livestream centred on the theme of Changing Habits.

In a recent edition of James Clear’s newsletter, he shared 3 levels of Employee:

  • Level 1 — You do what you are asked to do.
  • Level 2 — Level 1 + You think ahead and solve problems before they happen.
  • Level 3 — Level 2 + You proactively look for areas of opportunity and growth in the business, and figure out how to tap into them.

From James Clear’s May newsletter.

Livestream Session: Changing Habits

A friend shared with me a wonderful resource on business innovation over on the Visual Capitalist website. I’ve share links to the original source at the bottom of this post, and a number of other valuable resources that can help with business innovation.

I remember a lesson from my MBA. “…to remain profitable in the long term, your products must remain different over the long term.”

Warren Buffett and “Big Moats”

Warren Buffett talks about businesses with “big moats”. A big moat for a medieval castle kept the attackers from reaching the castle walls. A big moat for a business means that competition finds it difficult to offer a similar value proposition at a similar price point. If your product or service is not different from the competition, you have no moat.

In today’s open society, outside of state regulated monopolies, the only long term source of differentiation is innovation. Where does innovation come from? How can a company think about the different directions to innovate their product offering?

The 10 types of business product innovation:

#Innovation TypeDescription
1.Profit ModelHow you make money
2.NetworkConnections with others to create value
3.StructureAlignment of your talent and assets
4.ProcessSignature of superior methods for doing your work
5.Product PerformanceDistinguishing features and functionality
6.Product SystemComplementary products and services
7.ServiceSupport and enhancements that surround your offerings
8.ChannelHow your offerings are delivered to customers and users
9.BrandRepresentation of your offerings and business
10.Customer EngagementDistinctive interactions you foster

Innovation Tactics: 100 approaches to Identify Innovation

One useful resource is Doblin’s (part of Deloitte) list of over 100 tactics (pdf) that correspond with 10 Innovation Types framework.

Further Reading on Business Innovation

The original Visual Capitalist post is very much worth a read… and provides much more depth on each of the 10 types of business innovation:

This post is a summary of the MIT Raising Teens report which is available on the MIT website (links provided below the post).

“An extraordinary body of research exists on the powerful ways in which parents and families make a difference in the lives of teens. Yet, little of this knowledge has been reaching the media, policymakers, practitioners, and parents.”

Dr Rae Simpson, Director of the MIT WorkLife Center

The 10 Tasks of Adolescence

There are 10 major adjustments that need to happen as a child moves through adolescence towards becoming an adult.

  1. Adjust to maturing bodies and feelings – Teens are faced with adjusting to bodies that as much as double in size and that acquire sexual characteristics, as well as learning to manage the accompanying biological changes and sexual feelings and to engage in healthy sexual behaviours. Their task also includes establishing a sexual identity and developing the skills for romantic relationships.
  2. Develop and apply abstract thinking skills – Teens typically undergo profound changes in their way of thinking during adolescence, allowing them more effectively to understand and coordinate abstract ideas, to think about possibilities, to try out hypotheses, to think ahead, to think about thinking, and to construct philosophies.
  3. Develop and apply a more complex level of perspective taking – Teens typically acquire a powerful new ability to understand human relationships, in which, having learned to “put themselves in another person’s shoes,” they learn to take into account both their perspective and another person’s at the same time, and to use this new ability in resolving problems and conflicts in relationships.
  4. Develop and apply new coping skills in areas such as decision making, problem solving, and conflict resolution – Related to all these dramatic shifts, teens are involved in acquiring new abilities to think about and plan for the future, to engage in more sophisticated strategies for decision making, problem solving, and conflict resolution, and to moderate their risk taking to serve goals rather than jeopardise them.
  5. Identify meaningful moral standards, values, and belief systems – Building on these changes and resulting skills, teens typically develop a more complex understanding of moral behavior and underlying principles of justice and care, questioning beliefs from childhood and adopting more personally meaningful values, religious views, and belief systems to guide their decisions and behavior.
  6. Understand and express more complex emotional experiences – Also related to these changes are shifts for teens toward an ability to identify and communicate more complex emotions, to understand the emotions of others in more sophisticated ways, and to think about emotions in abstract ways.
  7. Form friendships that are mutually close and supportive – Although youngsters typically have friends throughout childhood, teens generally develop peer relationships that play much more powerful roles in providing support and connection in their lives. They tend to shift from friendships based largely on the sharing of interests and activities to those based on the sharing of ideas and feelings, with the development of mutual trust and understanding.
  8. Establish key aspects of identity – Identity formation is in a sense a lifelong process, but crucial aspects of identity are typically forged at adolescence, including developing an identity that reflects a sense of individuality as well as connection to valued people and groups. Another part of this task is developing a positive identity around gender, physical attributes, sexuality, and ethnicity and, if appropriate, having been adopted, as well as sensitivity to the diversity of groups that make up American society.
  9. Meet the demands of increasingly mature roles and responsibilities – Teens gradually take on the roles that will be expected of them in adulthood, learning to acquire the skills and manage the multiple demands that will allow them to move into the labor market, as well as to meet expectations regarding commitment to family, community, and citizenship.
  10. Renegotiate relationships with adults in parenting roles – Although the task of adolescence has sometimes been described as “separating” from parents and other caregivers, it is more widely seen now as adults and teens working together to negotiate a change in the relationship that accommodates a balance of autonomy and ongoing connection, with the emphasis on each depending in part on the family’s ethnic background.

The 5 Basics of Parenting Adolescents

What role do parents play in helping teenagers make these 10 adjustments?

The Raising Teens Project identified 5 significant ways in which parents can influence healthy adolescent development:

  1. Love and Connect – Offer support and acceptance while affirming the teen’s increasing maturity.
  2. Monitor and Observe – Let teens know you are paying attention.
  3. Guide and Limit – Uphold clear boundaries while encouraging increased competence.
  4. Model and Consult – Provide continual support for decision making, teaching by example and ongoing dialogue.
  5. Provide and Advocate – Provide a supportive home environment and a network of caring adults.

This post is a summary of the MIT Raising Teens report that can be found here: MIT Raising Teens. Learn about the 5 Basics of Parenting Adolescents here.

If an oyster keeps all the sand out of his shell, he lives a life of comfort. At the end of his life, you find a dead oyster… in an empty shell.

If a grain of sand enters the oyster’s shell, he loses his life of comfort. In order to protect himself from irritation, the oyster will begin covering the sand with layers of nacre. Layer upon layer cover the grain of sand until the pearl is formed.

When an oyster is bothered by a grain of sand, it creates a pearl.

If the oyster lives this uncomfortable period in their life, at the end of his life you find more than a dead oyster… you find a pearl.

Don’t wish for less problems.

Our problems allow us to create our pearls. When we remove challenge from our life, we remove growth from our life.

If you liked this post, you will also like Notes from Cicero and 4 Steps to Stop Self-Sabotaging.

I am listening to Mandy Hickson sharing her life story with Vistage this morning. Mandy was the second ever female pilot flying combat missions for the British military. She shared her dream as a young girl of flying fast jets, and all the obstacles that she needed to overcome to make that dream come true.

Every Pilot has a Blind Spot

Mandy shared that a pilot cannot see their “6 O’clock”… directly behind you. There is no physical way that you can see what is directly behind you.

That is why you fly with a wingman.

A wingman flies 3/4 of a mile off your wing. This way they have a very clear view of your 6 o’clock. They can see what you cannot see.

We can only see 360 degrees with the help of the people around us.

Our Vistage Spain call today had “The Role of the Board” as our theme. This post gathers together some of the valuable resources shared by the group.

The HBR Article Building Better Boards from May 2004 came highly recommended by the leaders of today’s workshop, much of the content below comes from that article.

What does a High Performing Board do?

“The board has two vital roles: Craft a strategy and hire & fire the CEO”

Terry Neill

The quote above is from my father who has spent over 15 years as a board member on 4 global corporate boards, he continues to serve on a number of charity and university governance boards. I like the clarity and focus of that statement. The board can help in many areas, but it has two non-delegable tasks.

herman-daems

The following are my notes from Professor Herman Daems’ session on the IESE Advanced Management Program.  His course is “The role of the Board of Directors in Evaluating and Selecting the Strategy”.  

Dr Herman Daems is professor at University of Leuven and visiting professor at Harvard Business School, and currently he is the Chairman of the Board at BNP Paribas Fortis SA/NV.  He has been part of many public, private and charitable boards over his career.

Herman Daems: What does the board actually do?

  • Develop an Ambition for the Company – an ambition is not a strategy.  An ambition might be to “Climb Everest”.  A strategy would be the specific path to gather the necessary resources and execute the climb of the mountain.
  • Find the Leadership to develop a Strategy to realise the ambition – management must develop strategy.
  • Approve a strategy – Important to be clear that a board does not make the strategy, only approve that the leadership’s strategy supports the Company Ambition.
  • Provide Resources (Financial and Human) – importantly the board establishes the dividend policy
  • Balance the Power of Differing Interests (shareholders, management, employees, government, public) – board members must have general business experience.  Specialist members do not make good board members.  Board must make collective general business decisions, not just good specific decisions.  Individual members must have credibility and be willing to raise their hand and make an impact.
  • Monitor and Control Strategy – the board plays a much greater role on controlling strategy than on deciding the strategy.  Management will rarely say that their strategy is not working.  This is where the board is really necessary.
  • Control the use of Resources, control the risks involved – see next item…
  • Assume responsibility for the actions and risks of the company – The Board of Directors have “collective responsibility” for the actions and risks of the company.  Members are not personally responsible.  Some legal attempts to hold a finance expert or an audit committee member personally responsible have always been pushed back by courts on the basis that board is collective responsibility.  In banking crisis, some executives have been held personally responsible, but in no cases have board members been found personally responsible.

Checklist: Tasks of the Board

The following is a checklist of all the areas where a board can provide input, leadership and critical push-back for the management team.

The high performance board contributes positively to management decision making in the following 9 areas of strategy, operations, people management and capital structure.

Strategy

  • Strategic Direction
  • Strategic Plans
  • Strategy Implementation

Strategic Transactions

  • Major Investments
  • Portfolio Change (M&A)

Operations

  • R&D
  • Manufacturing
  • Marketing and Sales
  • IT

Human Resources and Organisation

  • Leadership Development
  • non-CEO executive compensation
  • human capital
  • Organisation
  • Corporate Culture

Financial Management

  • Financial Strategy
  • Capital Structure
  • Liquidity Management
  • Dividend Policy
  • Financial Reporting

Risk Management

  • Entreprise Risk Management
  • Ethical Perfomance and Compliance
  • Audit

External Relations

  • Brand Positioning and Integrity
  • Shareholder Relations
  • Legal and Regulatory
  • Other Constituencies

CEO Effectiveness

  • CEO Performance Appraisal
  • CEO Compensation
  • CEO Succession

Corporate Governance

  • Board Effectiveness
  • Director Selection
  • Director Assessment

How Engaged should the Board be?

At different times, the board may play a more or less engaged role in day to day operations. The directors and the CEO should have a conscious explicit agreement about which of the following levels of engagement are appropriate to the current context.

  • Passive – uninvolved, often under complete control of the CEO
  • Certifying – reviews and approves strategy, sometimes meets without the CEO being present
  • Engaged – contributes to strategic development, recognises their responsibilities to oversee CEO and company performance
  • Intervening – engaged and contributing actively in specific areas of the business, convenes frequent meetings
  • Operating – setting strategy, taking decisions, running day to day business operations; fills gaps in management experience

What does a Board Member Do?

A good board member will have two important elements: independence and competence. Independence is that they are free to take a contradictory stance and question the CEO and management. Competence can be judged in the following list of areas where board members need to bring capabilities to the table:

Knowledge of Key Areas

  • Strategy
  • Finance
  • Industry
  • Risks
  • Shareholders
  • Business

Understanding of Role

  • Relates well to Management
  • Knows Role
  • Prepares Well

Quality of Input

  • Insightful
  • Curious
  • Logical
  • Persuasive
  • Valuable

Contribution to Interaction

  • Effective with Others
  • Constructive
  • Listens
  • Engages

Further Resources

On Tuesday 26th May I had the privilege of speaking with over 50 leaders across Ireland who are alumni of Timoney Leadership Institute. Timoney has had a great relationship with IESE Business School and many of their leadership programs are taught by IESE Business School faculty.

This is a wide ranging conversation about leadership and learning in these times of uncertainty.

Questions that I didn’t get around to answer during the webinar:

James G. : How do you communicate your vision in times of challenge without being selfish

In Vistage when we talk about the 7 critical skills of leadership, number 1 is “Create a Shared Vision“. What is important is not so much that a vision exists, but that it is the result of input from every person involved in the organisation. The leader’s role is not to create the vision. The leader’s role is to cultivate an environment and facilitate an ongoing process where every person contributes in some way to the vision.

If you as a leader know the vision, but if I enter your building and speak to the receptionist and ask “what is the vision?” and his or her answer is a blank stare… you have not been effective in creating a shared vision.

As I mentioned in my answer to Ann M’s question… a lot of this process is run by active listening. The 4 questions that I recommended that you ask over and over again are:

  1. “What’s going well?”
  2. “What’s not going well?”
  3. “What would you change?”
  4. “What else?”

It is more important that everyone believes that you care, and you understand their specific joys and difficulties, than having a beautiful well crafted poetic vision statement.

Before any work on vision, one of the activities that I do with people that work with me is ask “What are the characteristics of the best Vistage team mates?” “What are the poisonous characteristics that we must avoid in new people?” and make sure that everyone has explicitly contributed to articulate what type of people we want to spend our time around.

Dermot D. : Great talk, Conor! Any tips on how to become more courageous, in business leadership terms??

Dermot, I believe that courage is a practice. If you practice small brave actions in the little things, you prepare yourself to take brave actions in the big things. A friend of mine says that there are no big things… the big achievements arrive out of a series of small things. If you do the small things well, you don’t need to worry about the big things.

When I take a group of leaders on a retreat, we work on trust and vulnerability. If I can create an environment where you are willing to be honest with what really challenges you… then there is a high possibility that you will take valuable experiences out of the time we share together. If you choose not to be honest, there is little we can do to support you. When someone says “but I don’t know what type of vulnerability you are looking for”… my answer is “are your hands sweating as you think about sharing it?” If no, it is not honest sharing.

One of the bravest actions of leadership is to admit what you don’t know, admit what scares you, admit that sometimes you our way out of your depth. Your role is not to know the answers. Your role is to facilitate a process that leads to answers.

PS Admitting that you don’t know is not a ticket to enter the state of victim… you don’t get to not take responsibility for facilitating the search for good answers.

Philip C. : Conor, your conversation and guidance is very inspiring. I have just signed up for your YouTube channel. Can you tell me if you have any books and if so where can I obtain them.

One of my big life goals that I have not yet completed is “write a book”. I write lots of blog posts, I write many articles and teaching notes for IESE Business School… but have never had the sustained discipline and clarity needed to do the 6-9 month work to complete a book.

I did write a book about my experiences of parenting… Keep Wonder Alive but it is more a manifesto than a full book.

Sean O’K.: Great talk Conor, really inspirational and helpful ideas for all of us. It sounds to me like you firmly believe that each of us can create our own life story? Would you agree?

100%.

If you don’t do the work to plan the life you want for yourself, you will contribute to someone else’s life plan. In the case of our children and our good friends, this is a wonderful opportunity. If you are just handing over your energy, your imagination, your intelligence, your activity to other people’s projects… it is no wonder that you feel that life is somewhat empty.

Burn out doesn’t come from too much activity. It comes from too much activity on stuff that is not important to your life plan.

Louis D.: Hi Conor, thanks for all your wisdom. Can I ask if faith plays a roll in your life and success? Is this a topic people are reluctant to discuss and why is that? Love all your YouTube stuff, thanks.

I have faith.

I love working with people to find their own path to self-belief. I do believe that this process is a dialogue and a mutual exploration… not a static blog post or video.

What I think about online sharing of these ideas: The concern that I have about words that capture a spiritual experience is that they can be read out of context. I am more than happy to share my experiences in private courses…. where we have had a chance to connect and build mutual trust.

Words are dangerous… If I say “honesty” we each have an interpretation of what it means… and each of us has a slightly different definition. The more abstract the word, the more our interpretations are likely to vary. Words like “airplane” and “bird” are safe on a blog post. Words like “faith” and “spiritual” and “peace of mind” are more prone to widely varying interpretation.

James G.: Is 52 yrs of age too old to be successful

As a premier league footballer, yes.

As a chess grandmaster, possibly.

As a rock star, probably.

As a leader who positively encourages others to become the best version of themselves? No. Plenty of time.

Karl D. : How important is it to learn from past decisions and experiences and do you factor those lessons in when making a decision today. Great and insightful tal Conor…well done.

Vitally important.

I love Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach. He often distinguishes between his brain and his mind. His brain is the same brain he had as a child… but his mind… is all the brains that he has access to today. His brain is limited. His mind is infinite. Our mind can take decisions not just on our own experiences, but on all of humanity’s combined experience. This type of decision making… an openness to not having to be the smartest, but to be the one willing to listen to the smartest is the greatest type of leadership.

Michael B. : Conor in our early entrepreneurial experience, would you agree that the unbridled drive and zest you need to get the plane off the ground means you tend to put projects first and people second – would you not expect this from a younger, raw, driven business person?

There is a Buddhist idea that every 7 years there is a specific phase of human development. Zero to 7 is “realise I exist”, 7 to 14 is “realise others exist” (and their dreams and fears and plans are as important to them as mine are to me), 14 to 21 is “kill your parents” (which is a metaphor!… it is a realisation that nobody is better than you, nobody is worse than you… inside you are all the positive aspects and negative aspects of humanity…) and the list goes on… you can only move to the next phase by fully living the previous phase. I can’t take a 7 year old and force them to achieve the compassion that a fully developed 70 year old can take towards the world.

I sometimes listen to my daughter talk about a difficult situation between friends, or in school… and I wish I could take what I know now and just shove it into her mind… but that is not how it works. She will live her own life and find her own way of coming to terms with life’s joys and struggles. I will always encourage her to take a positive, resourceful, creative stance towards the world… but beyond that, her answers are her answers.

I can wish that my younger self was less arrogant, less greedy…. but I wouldn’t be who I am today if I had not been that earlier arrogant and greedy self.

Mark McC. : Thanks Conor I was going to ask you what is the best way to explain resilience to a leader in these times www.createthegreatinyou.com

I took an idea from a webinar 3 weeks ago for EO with Sadhguru. He said that

Right now you are home with family. Nothing is missing.  Your memory can haunt you and your imagination can scare you. It is you who generates suffering. 

Where is your intelligence working?  For you?  Or to scare you?  Or to haunt you?

Sadhguru

Memory and Imagination – this is what we are suffering. My cancelled plans for the future… never existed except in my head. My cancelled plans for my business… never existed except in my head. My memory of how much we sold last year… is in the past.

I find it so hard to let go of what I had expected to be doing. I find a lot of motivating for me comes from working towards a future that I have imagined that is “better” than this current moment.

I think we are born resilient, but we learn to be victims. I love the book “Who moved my Cheese” by Spencer Johnson. It goes direct to this difficulty of human to let go of what I had expected.

Joseph Campbell said “we must let go of the life we have planned so as to live the life that is waiting for us”. I struggle with this. My thinking is so often focussed to avoiding change and not accepting new situations that are not what I had hoped for.

Thank you for these great questions.

Thanks again for your participation and I look forward to hearing from you.

“I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

The day you lose your curiosity, you have lost the best of our human capacities. You have lost the capacity to see things as they could be, to use the incredible power of human imagination.

A child is curious. As we enter adolescence, our ego becomes stronger and stronger. It becomes ever more important to us to be right, to not be easily influenced, to hold strong to beliefs that shape our personal story of who we are. As we become adults, there is a need to let go of the adolescent ego need to be right. To regain our curiosity, we need to become able to accept how great our ignorance truly is.

Knowing the answers will help you in school. Knowing how to question will help you in life.

Warren Berger

There is a great phrase that I hear often in Vistage circles “if you are the smartest in the room, you are in the wrong room”. The need to be the smartest, the best, the winning-est is a danger for your curiosity… this is something I know well.

In chess, if I play against a better player… I will probably lose… but I will likely learn more than if I win against a weaker player. What is more important? Winning or learning?

Curiosity is a willing, a proud, and eager confession of ignorance.

S. Leonard Rubinstein

Have a great week.