The title of this blog comes from a session in a course that Professor Paris de l’Etraz teaches about Life. I met Paris at a dinner in Madrid 4 years ago hosted by another inspiring teacher.
Stand in the Traffic: I love the simplicity of this life strategy.
Whatever you want in life, there are places where opportunities are flowing… and there are places where opportunities are not flowing. Abundant places… and stagnant places.
Stagnant: There are very few opportunities passing the person sitting on their sofa watching Netflix.
Abundant: There are many more opportunities passing the person out there in the world engaged in conversation… on a university campus, in industry conferences, in associations, online via youtube and blogs and writing articles.
If you have any idea what you are looking for…
If you have any idea about the types of things that you want to come into your life, the next step is to ask yourself “Where is the traffic?” Where are relevant people, resources, ideas, activity flowing?
Go stand there.
Put yourself where opportunity will pass you by.
If you are at an industry event and it is coffee break time, where do you stand?
If you stand by the wall with your mobile phone in front of you… you are not “in the traffic”.
If you stand by the coffee machines or the food service area, all the traffic will pass by you.
If you know how to smile and ask a few questions “hey, how are you doing? what brings you here? what has impressed you so far?”… now you can engage with the traffic.
More, more, more… more projects, more goals, more connections… is the path to overwhelm.
Less, less, less… less projects, less goals, less connections… is the path to focus and renewal and energy.
I heard Mathew McConnachy in an interview yesterday. He said that back 10 years ago he was a movie actor, he had a production company, he had a music label and was promoting two artists… and he realized he was spread very thin… he was getting a C in everything. He shared a moment where he received a phone call from his team in the production company… and when he saw the caller id… he went “ugh” and he didn’t want to answer.
He immediately called his lawyer and said “I need to close these businesses down”.
I loved his metaphor that you can’t get As on everything in life. If you have no strategy for focus, for subtraction, you will spread yourself so thin that you guarantee that your best grade is a C+…. and there may be areas in your life where that is painful to you.
Learning to Subtract
There is so much out there on how to focus, how to have discipline, how to make progress…
There is a lot less help on how to Subtract:
Letting go of things.
Subtraction and the Mid Life Crisis
Here’s a recent video of mine where I speak to this challenge – and how the need to subtract becomes most acute in “mid life” from 35 to 55 years old. Before 35 you tend not to have enough skill, reputation, competence… you need to be open to almost all the opportunities that come your way. At 35 if you have developed competence and a positive reputation, you will start to be overwhelmed by opportunities. If you don’t learn a new skill – Subtraction – you will grow to become a bitter and frustrated old person.
Life is too short to figure everything out on your own.
Humans spend the years from birth to 12 learning how to survive. Our parents have a vested interest in helping us develop the Stop there: we merely survive.
We live in a highly complex society. There is intense competition for status in whatever hierarchy you compete in. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to compete or not, society and humanity are designed to compete for resources. It is not those born strong that rise to the top of status hierarchies in today’s human society. It is those who learn to use their capacities most effectively and adapt quickly to changes in the environment.
There are two ways we learn to make positive progress in this society – 1) our own experience, or 2) through the experiences of others. Our own experience is a slow and expensive way of learning.
If I am to choose to learn most effectively, through the experiences of others, I must learn the art of meaningful conversation. Through my work with Entrepreneurs’ Organisation forum and Vistage groups I have worked extensively over the last 15 years on creating the type of meaningful conversation that allows one to learn from the experiences of another.
I’m sharing 4 ideas that I took from Jordan Peterson’s book the 12 Rules for Life when I read it this year.
“Your current knowledge has neither made you perfect nor kept you safe”
Your knowledge is insufficient. You must accept this before you can converse philosophically, instead of pushing opinions, convincing, oppressing, dominating or joking.
“Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t”
It is necessary to respect the personal experience of your conversational partners. You must assume that they have reached careful, thoughtful, genuine conclusions (and, perhaps, they must have done the work that justifies this assumption). You must believe that if they shared their conclusions with you, you could bypass at least some of the pain of personally learning the same things (as learning from the experience of others can be quicker and much less dangerous).
It takes conversation to organise a mind
“people organize their brains with conversation. If they don’t have anyone to tell their story to, they lose their minds.” The input of the community is required for the integrity of the individual psyche.
“Life is short, and you don’t have time to figure everything out on your own”
They say Aristotle was the last man who knew everything there was to know. Since the time of Aristotle (over 2300 years ago) society has become too complex for any one individual to know all that is known.
When I was in school, I took huge value in solving from first principles. I would prefer to solve mathematic problems from first principles and avoid using formulaic recipes that allowed you to shortcut to a solution. This was symptomatic of my whole approach to life. If I hadn’t figured it out myself, I didn’t value the knowledge. There is a heroic valor to this approach, but it is dumb heroics.
The best leadership book is not one that you can buy. It is your own life, if well documented.
Do you take time to document your life? Do you take time to look at your past year and get clear on where you are, and where you are going?
Last year Covid-19 brought a lockdown to over half of the world’s population. Covid changed our plans, it changed our businesses and it shook up our world. If we are to take something valuable from this year, it is important to take time to reflect on how the experience of Covid impacted you.
2021 is going to start without much change… the vaccines are coming but we will still have 6 months with restrictions on our movement, on our businesses, on our travel plans. I am not going to wish you a “wonderful 2021”. I am going to wish you the energy and clarity to handle the challenges that 2021 throws at you as the best version of yourself. That is my 1st January wish for you.
How to Reflect on the Last Year
In this post I will share a set of questions to structure a reflection on the past year, that might help clarify how to make changes in how you approach the coming year.
Here is a 3 page pdf worksheet that will guide you through a reflection process on the past year. I would recommend you print out the pages and carry them with you for a while.
The best results come when you go through the questions a couple of times over a few days. I often tell EO or YPO forums and Vistage groups that I want to see dog ears on the pages, and different colours of ink… even a coffee stain… showing that you have taken the pages out several times in preparing your end-of-year reflection. The 19 questions will help you think deeply about what contributes to your fulfilment, what detracts and what lessons you can actively take into the coming year.
Writing in a journal
I am asked in classes “what is the most important habit to learn to speak well?” My answer is writing each day in a journal. Capture your life. Capture your dreams, your frustrations, your questions, the people that helped, the people that made things more difficult… capture it all. My biology teacher, Mr Matz, always said “the shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory”.
Warren Rustand taught me to start the day with “10-10-10”. Ken Blanchard taught me to “start the day slowly”. Eric Matz (my biology teacher, when I was 14) taught me to write stuff down in a journal every day. Each tool involves taking time at the beginning of the day to reflect on what is important and get clear on who you want to be.
In our executive development programs at IESE Business School we make specific time in the program each day to reflect. Learning happens when you go through an experience, but is multiplied if you take time to reflect on the experience (and share your reflections with colleagues who share your path).
I’ve written several posts on how to approach writing in a journal:
Covid is a physical disease, but the wider impact will be on the mental health of the billions who have been hit by the economic shutdown.
Who do you feel is struggling to keep things together?
Every single one of us has incredible power to lift up the spirits of the people that are around us. It requires a choice. It is harder when you are struggling yourself. It is important. The people around you need your leadership.
How can we help those around us feel good about themselves?
In the video, I share 3 ideas.
Let them help you
Shine a light on their strengths
Who needs your attention today? Who around you would benefit from a few minutes of facetime or skype or a phone call?
Yesterday, I had a coffee with my IESE Business School colleague Miquel Llado. We were celebrating his new book “Fall in Love with the Future” (available now in Spanish: Enamorarse del Futuro).
Miquel’s book shares valuable lessons on life and leadership from his career as CEO of Sara Lee, CEO of Bimbo, VP of Pepsico and his years of teaching at IESE. Miquel was elected Spain’s Best Executive 2000 by the Spain Business Association AED.
I’ve ordered 100 copies of the book to share with our Vistage CEO members in Spain.
Miquel shared a recent anecdote. A successful leader was sat in his office when a colleague came over to his desk.
Colleague: “Do you want my feedback?”
Leader: “No. I have no interest in your feedback. If I had listened to all the feedback that people threw at me all my life, I wouldn’t be a millionaire today.”
Miquel was shocked. All feedback is good feedback? or No?
Leader: “I am very careful about who’s feedback I am open to hearing. Not everyone’s feedback is useful… and many people have no idea what my actual objective is.”
Not all Feedback is Good Feedback (for you)
I heard this a few years back and I wrote it into my notebook at the time. “Evaluate feedback not on its face value, but on the quality of the life of the person giving you the feedback.”
If they have a life that inspires you, if they live to a set of standards and values that you aspire towards… then take the feedback seriously (whether it seems useful or not!).
How to Make Feedback Valuable
After I heard Miquel’s story, I thought “In my course we use feedback all the time, from everyone… is that something I should reevaluate?”
In my IESE courses, we make extensive use of peer feedback… from as many people as possible… but the first thing that the speaker must begin from is their statement of purpose. We call it Point X. “When I have finished speaking my audience will…” All the audience feedback is based on helping increase the power and the potency of the speaker’s words and actions towards consistently achieving that result.
If a speaker’s objective is “when I have finished speaking my audience will write their email address on a paper to commit to donate an hour to mentor an MBA student this week”… If nobody in the audience has written down their email, I am pretty harsh when feedback is “your speech was wonderful and I loved your story”. The purpose of speaker was not to be seen as wonderful. Their purpose was to get the audience to commit to giving 1 hour of their time. You can give an entertaining speech that totally fails to achieve its original objective.
In giving feedback, maybe I should be first interested in asking the person “What was your objective?” before I throw in my 2 cents. Often I have assumed their intent, but maybe I am incorrect.
When someone approaches me with feedback, maybe first I should ask “I’m intrigued, what do you think was my primary objective?”
Hitting the Bullseye
I shoot an arrow at a target and I miss. I ask a colleague for feedback. “I don’t like the colour yellow on your t-shirt… it is distracting” It is honest, sincere feedback, but it doesn’t help me hit the target next time.
I ran a webinar yesterday for IESE Business School. I answered 4 of the questions during the webinar, but there were a lot more questions that we didn’t have time to cover in any depth. I’ve copied the questions here and will give my brief answer to each.
How to Lead in times of Great Uncertainty
What can I do personally to engage myself, my leadership team and the people throughout my organization to respond positively to this crisis?
What was covered in the session…
My Personal Experience of Leading through a Crisis (2008)
What is a Crisis?
Communicating in a Crisis
How will you benefit from this session?
What do Leaders do?
Clarity of Vision
Certainty of Action
Leadership is a Choice
The Most Important Lesson I have learnt
Practice, Habits and Mindset
How to Shift my Mindset?
Where am I focussing?
How to Lead your people?
How to continue this conversation?
What are your views on the link between true leadership in troubled times and transparency/openness/truthfulness? – Antonio Millán
If your motivating energy comes from external validation (income, fame, prestige, status) it becomes very difficult for you to keep moving when we hit a downturn.
It is easier to lead during difficult times if your own set of core values and the way you live your life is based on inner honesty, and not on external validation. If your self-esteem is linked to your wealth, size of house, revenues, number of employees… it will be low just when the people around you most need you to provide hope. If your self esteem and peace of mind come from inside yourself… and you are not chasing external validation… the time where you have energy and are a beacon of hope will be when it is most needed.
Rafa Nadal’s motivation doesn’t come from winning… it comes from playing great tennis. If he wins, but didn’t give his best… he is frustrated. If he loses, but he knows that he gave all that was his to give this day on the court… he is satisfied and motivated for tomorrow.
Do you also wake up at 5 am? Is this the best time for sitting and looking internally? – Francisco Castaño
Answered during the webinar… I don’t wake up early.
It is not the time you wake up that matters, it is what you do with your waking hours that really counts. Dan Sullivan says “do 3 important things” each day… then rest. It will force you to get clear on what is really important… and not spend each day filling your hours with busy-ness.
How do you think that leadership styles will be shaped after the Coronavirus stage? – Adnan Falah
Greater trust in people. Rapid digital transformation of all industries. Offices will become meeting areas and clubhouses for the social life of the company, not for getting work done… which will be done more and more in remote.
Do companies urgently need a re-organization to cope with the change? (many working at home, social distancing, etc.) – Antonio Mata (Youtube)
Yes. More trust of people. More communication of why we work, what is important… and trusting people to be disciplined in focussing their time and energy on what matters.
The founder of Braun, Max Braun had a requirement that all communications in the company answered the 5 Questions: Who, Why, What, How, When. If any member of the organisation did not address each of the 5 questions he would be sanctioned by Max, and repeat offenders were asked to find another organisation for their work.
If leaders are able to communicate not just what they want done… but why it is important, what is the objective, who is involved and impacted, when it is needed to be completed – then people can be far more creative and resourceful than when then are just told what to do.
Have you considered what it is that makes Face2Face (IRL) unique, compared to the online encounter Face2Face? – Julio Bascur
Trust. This is my question. How do we build trust through video. I have little doubt after the last 3 weeks of zoom calls that video can be very effective for communication – where there is already a strong bond of trust between individuals. My question for myself… and for anyone who has answers (not speculation, but direct experiential evidence of it working) is how to build trust that allows me to challenge people and create disruptive tension when I teach or lead.
What is the relationship between leadership and public speaking? – Monika Borgers
Bringing together the resources to effect the change
1 is about thinking deeply about who you are and where you are going and how that purpose relates to the organisation and society in which you live. It is about surrounding yourself with mentors and colleagues that raise you up and expect the best from you, and listening and learning from their life experiences and perspectives.
2 is about communication in a way that engages others to make your change something that becomes their change. 2 is built on being trustworthy, listening to people, conversation, public speaking and disciplined action. Public speaking is a small, but important, part of the whole that is leadership.
Tell us about the tele-leader. How can you lead with a virtual team? – Santiago Lopez
Ever since Ronald Reagan in the US, federal leaders are “tele-leaders”. Few americans will have had any offline engagement with state and federal political leaders. I have never met Boris Johnson, but I have a sense of who he is as a person and what he stands for. I have never met Pedro Sanchez, but I listen to his speeches and am interested in his vision for the future of Spain and Europe. I have never met any of the European leaders, but my life is shaped greatly by their decisions in Brussels. I worked for almost a decade at Accenture, and I only spent 120 minutes (at work) in those 10 years in direct conversation (in a group of 150 employees) with the CEO or senior leadership. Tele-leadership has been a reality for most global corporations and most developed societies for at least 50 years.
How can you lead with a virtual team? We had a recent webinar with Miquel Llado for the Vistage members in Spain where he addressed how to lead as an e-CEO. Check out the webinar here: Miquel Llado, the e-CEO (in spanish).
Do you think that after the crisis, companies will look for staff in the same manner as before? – Alejandro Díaz
I’m not sure I have any competence to speak to this question. My thoughts… electronic tracking tools will become more normal, and more sophisticated. This is a two edged sword. We will be able to track individuals in much more detail – hours, what they are actually doing, where they spend their time… can leaders be trusted to use this data for the common good? Or will it be used to micro-manage and control?
Government policy has a big impact here. The spanish government has effectively banned layoffs at the moment… and required that companies continue to pay full salaries. What will happen the moment that this policy stops? Companies will be far more risk averse in hiring… and will make even more extensive use of short term, freelance and temporary contracts.
Can you recognise good leaders in politics these days? Why do certain controversial leaders are top on the polls these weeks? – Ricardo R.
A little bit of representational democratic philosophy… a politically elected official is the representative of the majority view… not someone given the freedom to express their own individual opinion.
As with all human endeavours, this is a messy process and most elected officials have their own beliefs and opinions which they allow to shape their national policy making.
The role of politicians is to represent, not to lead. A danger in our society is the expectation that me, the average citizen, can sit back and let the national elected officials take care of the situation… this is a dangerous posture. Democracy works when their is high levels of education about the types of decisions that nations need to take about social security, public health, defense, security, economy, protection of minority groups, public/private initiative… and high involvement of citizens in day to day political life (in our schools, in our streets, in our towns, in our countries, in our countries and in the world).
Gandhi was not a politically elected leader when he made his most significant impacts upon the world. Nelson Mandela was not a politically elected leader until well after his personal leadership and sacrifices had impacted the world. These great leaders of the past led from principles, created vast change and then only afterwards were elected as trusted representatives. We are in danger when our politicians never led as individuals, and we expect them to take leadership of major national decisions.
This pandemic has brought to light the inadequacies of “conventional” management thinking (i.e. hyperefficiency and byperlean organizations). How can a leader then challenge these concepts? – JJ Moreno
I was a product of the MBA efficiency school when I first began as an entrepreneur. I had bought into the idea a 60% debt 40% equity optimal capital structure and eliminating all redundancies in my businesses… then in 2008 I lived through the bankrupcy of my business… and 9 years of dealing with the debts.
Today I have very little debt and believe in the Microsoft adage of having 1 year of cash available at all times. I regret some of my youthful advice to business owners… that they could use more debt and less equity to grow or to sustain their business. That came from a young man who had never lived through a downturn in the economy. Now, I’ve lived through 2 downturns as a business leader… and I will have buffers, multiple sources of capabilities and lots of cash around me as I run my business.
This fundamentally comes down to whether I am running my business for the short term (to sell it, or to hit a particular measure of success) or I am acting as a steward of my institution for the very long run (what is called the Infinite Game by Simon Sinek amongst others).
Rajesh Setty shared some wisdom with me last year. One thing out of many that I remember was this idea: the most valuable compliment you can hear from another person.
I had the privilege of reading a draft of Rajesh’s newest book over the last month and I have written a recommendation that hopefully will appear when the book comes out later this year. Here’s some of his books and manifestos available as pdfs https://rajeshsetty.com/resources/books/
What is the best compliment you can hear?
How to Become worthy of this Compliment?
Be interested in them – help them get clarity on who they are and what they want, their strengths and passions
Connect people – put people in contact with others that share common passions, experiences
Let them help you – let them see that I have changed myself because of their impact on me
“The most valuable compliment is: I wish I had met you 10 years earlier”
What’s the most important question you can ask yourself before preparing a speech?
It was fun to make this short “elevator pitch” video with the production team at @iesebschool only 7 floors to make my point!
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