The winner of the 100m in the Olympics might also win the 200m, but will never be competitive in the 10K… or marathon …or rowing, or judo…
Gold medal athletes focus on their strengths and work to amplify their strengths. Usain Bolt doesn’t spend training time trying to improve his long distance capacity. He works on his start, on acceleration, on sprinting and finishing. He works on his strengths.
Recently I’ve felt a lot of pressure to spend time on areas that for me are weaknesses. I am writing this blog post mainly as a reminder to myself to stay strong, and accept these weaknesses. As a leader, I am responsable for making sure there are people and systems around me so that our business doesn’t have weaknesses… but it is not me that should spend time in areas where I am weak.
Dan Sullivan on working on your strengths
If you work throughout your life on improving your weaknesses, what you get are a lot of really strong weaknesses.
In order to do well in school, you need to get good grades in all the subjects. If you are good at sports when you are 12 or 15, you are probably the best at most of the sports you try.
I did well in school. It became painful for me to not get good grades… in any subject… even the ones that I really didn’t care about.
In business (and professional sports), you do well by being really good in one subject. In order to be excellent, you need to deliberately choose to be bad in almost everything else.
I am good at some things, I am not good at lots of things. A lot of the people around me are great at letting me know what I’m not doing so well… I have to stay mindful in order to not get drawn into trying to spend effort improving my weaknesses.
Stephen King says “I was lucky. I was born only good at one thing. Imagine how hard it is for people who are good at 2 things… or what is truly difficult… being good at most things.”(I paraphrase as I can’t currently find the original quote)
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.
If you are to build a great business, you need to know how to hire great people. There are 3 things you want to see in a person to know that they will make a lasting positive impact on the organisation.
Can they do the job today
Will they do the job long term
Do they fit with the team
What do you look for in people when you are deciding whether to make an offer? What red flags have you identified?
In the 1960s, while consulting for a British factory, Elliott Jaques had a controversial insight: Employees at different levels of the company had different time horizons.
Line workers focused on tasks that could be completed in a single shift; managers devoted their energies to tasks requiring six months or more to complete; Senior leaders and the CEO were pursuing goals over the span of several years.
Jacques’ Time Span of Discretion
Jaques said that just as humans differ in intelligence, we differ in our ability to handle timespans.
Each of us has a time horizon we are comfortable with, what Jaques called our “Time span of discretion”. This term defines the timespan of the longest task this individual can successfully undertake.
Organisations recognise this: workers are paid hourly, managers annually, and senior executives compensated with stock options.
The following chart shows the type of work found at each Time Horizon:
Description of Capability
Construct and pursue world wide strategic plans in the largest of the world’s corporations.
Super Corporation CEO
Construct and pursue world wide strategic plans. Place businesses in the world.
Lead the accumulated impact of multiple business units.
Optimize the function of a single business unit or corporate support staff.
Business Unit President
Manage multiple, interdependent serial projects. Balance resources among a number of departments.
Plan and carry out sequential projects while considering contingencies and alternatives.
Regional Manager or
Manager of Managers
Accumulate bits of information to diagnose and anticipate problems. Proactivity appears. Trends are noticed.
First Line Manager Supervisor
Follow predefined procedures. When an obstacle is encountered, seek help. No anticipation of problems is expected.
Shop Floor Operator
The Challenge: 100 Year Problems in a 4 Year System
Our current leadership promotional systems require you first to be successful at annual or 4 year timespans before you can move into the positions that allow you to set 50 or 100 year strategy. Politicians have 4 years to deliver an impact (and 12 months to run a campaign). Divisional managers have 1-3 years to deliver an impact if they are to be considered for 20-50 year strategic decision roles.
Climate change and Peace between warring nations are so difficult to resolve because we have a political system that elects 4 year thinkers when we really need 20 to 50 year thinkers in office.
PS What’s your time horizon? Let me know in the comments below 😉
“You can take my life, but you cannot take my freedom” William Wallace (through the mouth of Mel Gibson)
Freedom sounds like good stuff. Generations have fought and died to allow us the individual freedom that we enjoy today.
Freedom is not the freedom from something, it is the freedom to choose to do or not to do something. Freedom comes with a price: you are responsible for your choices.
Freedom is a burden.
Freedom is not fun. Freedom is a challenge for individual human beings to handle. Few accept complete responsibility. Existential psychotherapists say that people will go to extreme mental contortions to avoid seeing two truths: we die and we alone are responsible for our life.
Andy Warhol said that if he could hire anyone, it would be a “boss”. Someone who would tell him what to do each day. It is tiring to have to personally decide what is important and what to work on each day. Much easier to outsource the challenge to a boss, or a political party, or a guru.
It takes courage to live with the responsibilities inherent in freedom. We have the power to shape our lives, and we have the capacity to take action to create and to destroy. We are responsible for our lives.
Gandhi said that all rights come with corresponding responsibilities. All rights can only be earned by carrying out the required duties. The right to be free comes with the duty of full responsibility for your actions.
Edit 14/12/2016: Added this wonderful animation of this post by @Saminsights
I’ve been meeting a lot of CEO coaches over the last 6 weeks in order to develop my business Vistage Spain. I am interested in meeting all of the people that CEOs can turn to when they need clearer vision, greater commitment and significant change.
Who are the top leadership coaches in Spain? Who should be on the list?
I had a wonderful coffee and discussion with Rabieh Adih, executive coach and founder of Shine Coaching, today.
We discussed passion. What it is, where it comes from, how it dies, how it is brought back…
My personal position is that passion and meaning can only come from within an individual human being. It can only come when that person knows that they have given more than has been demanded. It is only this Chosen Sacrifice that can result in a feeling of meaningfulness in a life. If you give only the bare minimum, if you treat everything as a transaction… you will kill passion and find your way to apathy. It is only by choosing to give more than is necessary that you use your freedom in a meaningful way.
“It all starts with Love” Raul Cristian Aguirre
My friend and entrepreneur Raul Cristian Aguirre wrote recently in the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation Octane magazine. His message “It all starts with love”.
Now, I’m the first to hate hippy slogans and idealism, but Raul’s message is not about Love in the US Romantic Comedy sense. He speaks of another meaning.
We often confuse love with liking or love with lust or love with enjoying being in someone’s company. These are not love. They can help you get to love. Love is not a response. Love is action. Love is giving when not being asked to give. Love is to give without waiting for anything in return. Love is Chosen Sacrifice.
It is only through daily acts of giving more than is asked that we live lives of passion.
These acts must be chosen. We must give freely. Thus, freedom is the burden… but it is the path to a life of passion.
The Freedom to Give More than is Asked by Life
Life places demands on you. You can pay the minimum price. There are a whole legion of workers in business that are the “Working Dead”, the “Quit and Stayed”… day after day after day they deliver the necessary minimum work. They achieve exalted states of Apathy. (In Harry Potter, these might be the “Dementors” creatures who feed off your fears).
You can use your freedom to choose to give more than the asking price.
I don’t mean that you pay €5 for tomorrows newspaper. I don’t mean that you pay €10 for your next bus journey.
The next email you write… take 10 seconds to make it 1% better than necessary.
The next person you pass in the hallway… take a few seconds to really look into their eyes when you ask “how’s your day?”
The next person you meet with… ask them about why they work, what is going well, what is not going so well.. and take interest in who they want to become.
Practice giving a tiny little extra in these small things.
This is where passion grows.
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa
I had the privilege to deliver a keynote session at the European HR Director Summit yesterday. It was inspiring to be surrounded by 200 senior HR people thinking about making work engaging and meaningful for the people at their companies.
AkzoNobel decorative paint division put 17,000 people through a 3 day reflection on who they are, where they have come from, what their purpose is. The leaders chose to do it because they believed it was important. Engagement levels doubled.
Royal Philips HR Director Denise Haylor spoke about splitting the company into 2 units. Splitting payroll, teams, leadership… 63 countries… hundreds of applications… and all delivered last week. Hard work!
European HR Director Summit
Here’s a few photos that the event organisers shared of my session:
“Science: (from Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organises knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. In an older and closely related meaning, “science” also refers to a body of knowledge itself, of the type that can be rationally explained and reliably applied. A practitioner of science is known as a scientist.” source wikipedia
Kung-Fu is Not a Science
(This post is not really about Kung Fu, it is about Management)
Before we dive into management lets look at Kung-Fu. Or boxing. Or WWF Wrestling. Or rugby.
There might be a man who is studying every book on kung-fu in the library. He is the most knowledgeable person in the world on the facts, the history, the movement theory, the differences between the specific schools of thought. Imagine he takes the floor in an international full-contact kung-fu tournament. I think he’d be smashed in the nose within 5 seconds and on his butt on the floor in less than 10.
He could tell you why he got smashed in the nose and why he was delivered to the floor. He could explain how one should respond. But he still got smashed in the face and is out of the tournament.
Back to Chemistry…
Chemistry is a science. Let’s look at it:
Chemistry is the study of how atoms and molecules react. Water is H2O. That means it has 2 hydrogen atoms and one Oxygen atom. All over the world, billions and billions and billions of H2O molecules fill our rivers, seas and oceans.
A hydrogen atom reacts pretty consistently. Chemists can repeat experiments and the hydrogen atom responds just as it did for Marie Curie in the 1890s, as it did for Antoine Lavoiser in the 1770s and repeated by innumerable kids in adolescent chemistry classroom.
Marie Curie dealt with atoms.
An atom doesn’t react differently when he has been going through a difficult divorce and has underlying issues with his father.
An atom doesn’t react differently when he has had a big loss on the horses over the weekend.
An atom doesn’t react differently because he is frustrated with his relationship and feels unloved.
Kung Fu deals with human beings…
A human being reacts differently when he has been out for a big night with his mates.
A human being reacts differently when worried that their relationship is falling apart.
A human being reacts very differently at midday than at nine pm after a stressful afternoon.
Why Does it Matter?
Why do I care? Why does it matter? I think that too many gurus make it sound like if you learnt enough tools and knowledge, you would be able to do a better job in any situation.
Too many gurus promote the kung-fu reader’s approach to management learning.
I think a lot of caring about others and caring about quality results mixed with a little bit of management knowledge is a more powerful mix than little caring, little focus on quality mixed with lots of management knowledge.
Calling it a science makes it sound like a domain of knowledge in the abstract. Maths is knowledge in the abstract. Science is knowledge in the abstract.
Kung-fu is practical wisdom. It is instinctive wisdom based upon hours and hours of stimulus-response, practice in the real.
Management of People is kung-fu type wisdom
Management is a domain of knowledge at the coal face. It is a domain of practical solutions to complex problems with diverse human beings. Libraries are full of nice theories, but businesses are full of complex problems that don’t fit into simple categories.
If you are doing your best in an honest and transparent way and balance your self-oriented questions with a few “what can I do to improve the situation for others?” type questions then you are probably doing a wonderful job.
It is like parenting. The real challenge is not know what the right path might look like, it is to take that enlightened path on the 18th time that your child pushes his sister off of the seat.
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