Improving your Strengths or Improving your Weaknesses

You cannot win the marathon by sprinting.

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.

Dan Sullivan

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)

Are you working on your strengths?

If you liked this post, you will also like Managing Oneself and Meaningful Contribution.

Deleting Instagram, Facebook and Twitter from my phone

On returning from the summer holidays, iPhone Screen Time showed that I had used my phone for over 4 hours a day.

I hated this idea. That 4 full hours each day in some way were glued to a small screen. There is plenty of facetime calls and zoom calls… but a large portion has become the mindless scrolling down through instagram in particular.

I immediately deleted instagram, facebook and twitter from my phone. I left some of the other apps that were getting a lot of use: WhatsApp, Chrome, Linkedin, Chess.com, YouTube.

It has been a week without Instagram, facebook and twitter. I have not noticed missing anything. I got a couple of emails from instagram saying “you have 3 new messages” – but I can still see instagram when I am at my laptop so it is not that I have left completely.

This week’s iphone usage…

Screen time this week is down 27% from last week (and down over 45% from my peak distraction week!)

It is still pretty high.

…and it is such a powerful distraction.

I pick up my phone to do 1 thing – make a call, send a message… and then spend 10-20 minutes doing a cycle through a couple of apps… I am addicted to deliberate distraction.

I tell myself that I have discipline. I have spent a lot of the last decade working on using time intentionally and effectively… and I am not able to cope with an iphone.

I worry for humanity.

If this distraction were making us kinder, better, more informed, more worldly-wise then this would be a gift. These distractions are not making me kinder… if anything more impatient and rude to those around me.

I have decided that I have a problem. I am addicted. I do not have intentional control over my usage of this device.

It has so many useful features that make my life better – the camera and video in my pocket, google maps is brilliant, facetime with family has been wonderful during Covid times, whatsapp allows coordination of groups and meetings… I will not be getting rid of the iphone.

I will be honest with myself and say that I am not in conscious control of my usage and I need to set limits for myself.

I don’t like admitting it, but I guess this is an addiction.

I don’t like the idea of being controlled by a little device.

…but I am not capable of using it… it uses me.

Should I write out my speech?

“On many occasions I have seen presenters who thought that displaying a great memory was more important than punching home a well-crafted message.”

Terry Neill
This is a guest post by my father Terry Neill. It is an edited version of 2 emails that I was cc'ed into recently. 
Terry Neill, speaking

Christmas 2019. We were in St Patrick’s cathedral (where Jonathan Swift was Dean) waiting for the start of the service.

A friend of one of our friends stopped by. I was introduced. He said “Oh I remember you for a terrific after dinner speech at the Strollers Club last year” , and then he said – with a laugh – “Even though it was all written out.”

I remembered the occasion. Speaking at the Strollers dinner was an important event for me. They invite excellent speakers. You have to be at your best – and funniest.

In every similar circumstance, I have a script. I know I will be nervous (it’s a source of energy). Opening and closing need the right words with the right cadence. Every punchline must have the words in exactly the right order. As the chair thanked me, he felt the need to tell the audience that “Terry had it all written out”. It was hard to know whether it was compliment or criticism. I suspected the latter.

For me, having the script means I can focus on ‘the theatre’ …. The pauses … the ‘chapter headings’  …… the changes of pace … the key repetitions …. The body language  ..the big points of emphasis ….. the build up to punch lines …..

On many occasions I have seen presenters who thought that displaying a great memory was more important than punching home a well crafted message. They showed little evidence of having thought about the audience and our assumptions… they showed little intention around the impact they wished to have on the audience.

There is a prevailing belief amongst after-dinner speakers that using a script or notes of key points is ‘un-macho’. Often times, the memory failed and key messages got lost or forgotten – or stories fell flat as the punchline got mangled.

We have to get over the embarrassment of being prepared. With some few – irritating – exceptions, ‘winging it’ is always high risk. In my experience, every great speaker or presenter is always superbly prepared – and practised. Notes or full script are a matter of individual choice. I regard them as a measure of professionalism and as evidence of a commitment to excellence.

On Practice

Golfers will know that Gary Player was/is one of the great sand bunker players. When he was asked why he seemed so lucky, he said “It’s amazing. The more I practice, the luckier I get”.

It often happens that the unplanned, informal moments provide the most powerful opportunities to deliver a message or make an impact. I know that a newly appointed CEO is generally not ready to listen – as they, usually over optimistically, take on the challenges of their new role. My role as a consultant required me to be well prepared to communicate, when that CEO was prepared to listen – which could be anytime.

If we are practising our 2/3 minute ‘stump speech’ every day – or nearly every day ….. we will discover that ‘the more we practice, the more impactful we will be when an unexpected opportunity arises.’

In about 1997, I stepped into an elevator on a high floor of the Rhiga Royal hotel in New York. I recognised the one person in the elevator was Marvin Bower – the founder of McKinsey & Co. He said good morning. I said ‘good morning Mr Bower’. He was surprised … and asked me what I did …. ‘Accenture’ (in those days Andersen Consulting). He said tell me about your firm. I had the 3 lines and he said ‘have you time for a coffee’. 

I was late for my meeting, but got to spend nearly an hour with one of the great icons of professional services/consulting. I hope that his opinion of Accenture rose as much as my opinion on him and McKinsey.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also this post inspired by my father My father’s list: Leaders and Non-Leaders (a list of characteristics of great leadership).

Reps vs Hours

What matters most in the gym? The hours you spend or the reps on the weights?

In the areas where you must be highly competent to succeed in your role: are you accumulating hours or reps?

Do you just do your job or do you spend time practicing the important skills that make you effective?

By practice, I mean “deliberate practice” – setting an intent, taking action, getting feedback, reflecting on original intent vs actual result, seeking new approaches… and repeat the cycle.

Thinking about writing is not writing. Publishing an article and listening to reader feedback is how to do reps.

Thinking about exercise is not exercise. Lifting the weights, pushing through discomfort, sweating… is exercise.

Thinking about difficult conversations is not having difficult conversations. Having challenging conversations (for you and for the other) and seeking productive conflict is how to do reps.

Thinking generates hours, but does not generate reps.

Be careful of equating hours (or years of experience) as competence.

What are you “best in the room” at?

I heard David Meerman Scott share this question in a recent Elevate podcast episode with host Bob Glazer. He was asked by someone “Imagine you are in a room with 2,000 people. What could you confidently say you are the best in the room at?”

Take a moment to reflect on this question. I imagined myself in a room full of entrepreneurs, leaders, teachers… and wasn’t sure I could give a completely confident answer.

Now imagine that you have 20 years before you step into that room… What do you want to be able to say in 20 years that you have done the work to truly be a master, to have established a reputation for excellence, to have made a difference? Write that down.

If you liked this post, you will also like Excellence: the Path to Mastery and Finding Purpose.

Good Enough is Not Enough

Do you have a Growth Mindset or a Fixed Mindset?

This video is about the danger of being “good enough” in many things.

As the world grows ever more connected, and ever more complex – those that accumulate a whole collection of “good enough” skills will suffer. Those that can choose to be bad in many things, and dedicate time to truly excel in one or two areas will be those that flourish.

The danger: Our schools inculcate an attitude of good enough. The system of exams fosters an attitude of being good enough for the grade you want, not aiming for a level of ability far beyond the teacher’s ability to evaluate.

If you liked this post, you will also like Performance Excellence: Deliberate Practice and the 3 Models of Mastery and 4 Approaches to Learning a New Discipline

Rich Mulholland’s YouTube Interview with Conor Neill

with Rich Mulholland at EO GLC 2017

Rich Mulholland is an entrepreneur, author and keynote speaker.  He tells powerful short little stories with impact though his videos.  I had a chance to do a short interview with Rich during the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation Global Leadership Conference in Frankfurt recently.

I think you really should subscribe to Rich’s YouTube Channel, you will lose out on lots of lessons if you don’t!

Here’s our 11 minute interview from Frankfurt…

The Lunchpail Manifesto (Steven Pressfield)

“What ails you and me has nothing to do with being sick or being wrong.  What ails us is that we are living our lives as amateurs” Steven Pressfield

I have often reread the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  When you create real art, you will face “The Resistance“.  Any creation of something important will bring up your inner resistance.  If there is no resistance, then you are probably not creating something meaningful to you.

The following 10 point manifesto comes from Steven.  He calls it the “Lunch Pail Manifesto” (for reasons you can discover here on his blog).

The Lunch Pail Manifesto

  1. We must find the work that brings our lives meaning.
  2. We must strive to make our work purposeful, truthful, and authentic, a pure offering to our Muse and fellow human beings.
  3. We must wage a lifelong war with Resistance and accept that instant gratification is an oxymoron.
  4. We must not speak of our work with false modesty or braggadocio.
  5. We must not debase our work for short term gain nor elevate it above its rightful station to inflate our ego.
  6. We must not covet the fruits of our work, or the fruits of others’ work.
  7. We must respect others’ work and offer aid to fellow professional laborers.
  8. We must accept that our work will never be perfect.
  9. We must accept that our work will never be without merit.
  10. We must accept that our work will never cease.

Where are you?

Have you found the work that brings meaning into your life?

It is the quality of your labour that counts, not the quality of your recognition for that labour.  We can have pride in the quality of our labour, not in the fruits of our labour. Vincent VanGogh was a madman to his contemporaries, a genius only in hindsight.  Fame has little correlation with creative effort.

How to Learn Charisma (17 Specific Practice-able Tactics)

What is charisma?   Charisma means “special gift” in Greek.  It is something that allows some people to magnetically attract others to them and their projects.

Is it innate or can it be learnt?  According to John Antonakis, Marika Fenley and Sue Liechti in the Harvard Business Review June 2012 article “Learning Charisma”, it is learnt.

How to Learn Charisma

“After executives were trained in these tactics, the leadership ratings observers gave them rose by about 60%.” John Antonakis

Learn these 17 Specific Charismatic Tactics

  1. Metaphors, Similes and Analogies
  2. Stories and Anecdotes
  3. Contrasts
  4. Rhetorical Questions
  5. Three Part Lists
  6. Expressions of Moral Conviction
  7. Reflection of Group’s Sentiments
  8. The setting of High Goals
  9. Conveying Confidence in High Goals
  10. Animated Voice
  11. Facial Expressions
  12. Gestures
  13. Create a Sense of Urgency
  14. Invoking History
  15. Using Repetition
  16. Talking about Sacrifice
  17. Humour

Practice these tactics with video (check out my email based course to lead you through 10 weeks of practice).  Practice these tactics with your peers.  Practice leads to doubling the usage of these tactics in everyday life.  Use of these tactics led to ratings of competence increasing by 60%.

These tactics work because they create an emotional connection between speaker and audience.

Check out the HBR June 2012 article Learning Charisma.

3 Steps to Improve Your Concentration

I recently shared a TEDx talk from Dandapani on How to Concentrate.  This is a follow up post, with 3 specific steps to improve your concentration (here Dandapani refers to it as willpower).

Image: A recent Dandapani workshop with the EO Organisation.

3 Steps to Practice that Will Improve Your Concentration

Dandapani tells us that there are 3 steps to practice that improve our concentration:

  1. Finish that which you begin
  2. Finish it well, beyond your expectations
  3. Do a little more than you think that you are able to do

Use these 3 steps in every area of your life: from making the bed in the morning, to tidying the kitchen, to reading to your child, to writing emails, to writing blog posts…

And so, how do I do “a little more than you think you are able to do” on this blog post?…

A Little Bit More…

I could embed a tweet:

I could embed a facebook status:

I could ask a question:

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Have a great day.