Warren Buffett, when asked: “what is the biggest mistake you have made?” has an interesting answer.

He says that he has taken many poor decisions in his life, but these errors are nothing in comparison to the decisions that he did not take.

It is the investment opportunities that passed by and he didn’t pay attention, the people that passed through and they didn’t connect… these are the errors that are biggest in his life.

For myself, I suffer for the things I have done that turned out badly.  This seems to be a common human trait.  We suffer when we choose a path and it turns out to be a poor path, lead to a poor outcome.  My ego doesn’t suffer in the same way when I sit on the sofa and don’t do anything.

My ego fears sins of commission, my ego ignores sins of omission.

A Lazy Sloth

Making More Errors of Ambition, Making Less Errors of Sloth

  • Sins of Commission = Errors of Ambition
  • Sins of Omission = Errors of Sloth

This Saturday morning, I am sitting in a room of entrepreneurs.   10 people have volunteered to pitch their businesses.  I can see around me in the room a few faces that are expressing “I could do better than this guy”.  But, you are sat in your seat (omission), and this guy has put his hand up and taken the act of putting himself in the spotlight (commission).

“It is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved.”

It is better to have done something poorly today, than to sit there and think “I could do a better job than that guy”.

Even better to practice a few times, and do it well.

Michael asks “What should you do when you don’t know what to do?”  In the times when he felt lost, out of his depth, uncertain, unsure whether he was the right person in the role…  All the great moments of self-doubt that I know I share…

His mentor’s answer?

“Do the next right thing.”

The full post at Michael Hyatt’s Intentional Leadership blog: “What to do when you don’t know what to do“.  I think it goes further than that.  This is not a recipe for rare moments of doubt.  This is a powerful framing of leadership.

There is a time for Managers, and a time for Leaders

When a team is winning, the captain needs to be a manager.  When the team is losing 3-1 at half time, the captain needs to be a leader.  Doing the same but better is going to lead to a 6-2 final score.  The team has to do something different.  This is when the captain must lead.

However, when leadership is made into something too big, action paralysis sets in.  Self-doubt assails the leader and leads to delay.  Leadership needs focus.

Leadership is “Do the Next Right Thing”

Do.  Action.  Leadership is about action.  Nothing changes without taking action.  Knowing what to do but not doing anything is the same as not knowing what to do.

The Next.  The professional knows where he is going, but never allows his mind to go beyond the next step.  He knows that this will lead to a feeling of overwhelm and the little voice inside his mind will tell him to stop.  It is only by keeping extreme focus on the Next that action is possible and sustainable.  The amateur takes on too big a goal.  He lives in a cycle of building frustration leading to a moment where he decides he will act.  He now sets a massive goal for himself and for a day or two manages to exert maximum effort towards this overly ambitious goal.  Three days later he realises how much work is still left and drops back into a depressed state and stops the action towards the goal.

Right.  What is necessary.  What is correct.  What fits with your values and effectively moves you in the direction of your overall goals. Not what others think you should do.  Not what you think others would expect of you.  Not what you parents want.  Not what your friends want.  It is what you feel is right.

Thing.  Specific.

Do. The Next.  Right.  Thing.

“I will act now.”

The great failures do not come from a lack of strategy, or a lack of knowledge about where you would like to get to.  Few people wake up in the morning with a goal of being unhappy and frustrated.
True failure is lack of disciplined action.  This is not the failure of not achieving a goal, not winning a game…  but the hideous failure of having left a life unlived.

“You only need 20 seconds of courage in a life”.  Where are my 20 seconds?  How many do I have left?

This is a guest post from Emily Matthews.  Emily is currently applying to masters degree programs across the U.S., and loves to read about new research into health care, gender issues, and literature. She lives and writes in Seattle, Washington.

Elvis and Self-Confidence

Elvis Presley is a man who radiated sexuality and confidence.

Early interviews show a nervous, timid person

However, early interviews with Elvis Presley show a young man who spends a lot of time staring down at his feet and who seems to have a hard time expressing himself without freezing up with nervousness. It doesn’t take a masters degree to know that something significant had to change. Somewhere between his first record and his comeback tour, Elvis came into his own and developed the swagger and self-confidence that became his trademark.

One possible explanation for this was that Elvis decided to adopt a public persona — one that exuded confidence and kept the real Elvis hidden.  Elvis memorized entire passages from James Dean movies, as well as films starring Marlon Brando. Both of those actors portrayed characters that seemed supremely self-confident and it seems quite possible that Elvis decided to emulate those characters when he appeared in public.

Fake it til you make it

The famous saying, “Fake it ‘til you make it,” rings true.  In Conor’s post on confidence, the first step is to pretend.  When Elvis appeared on stage, it seems as if parts of Dean and Brando had materialized into the way he presented himself.  This kind of persona-adoption would have translated from Elvis the performer into Elvis the person.

How can this help out today’s entrepreneurs and businesspeople?

Simple — anyone can take on aspects of a different persona. Naturally, it does not happen overnight, but it definitely can be done. The first step in doing this is understanding what kind of persona the individual is going to adopt. After all, while James Dean might seem to be the epitome of old-fashioned cool, he might not do well in today’s business environment. Look at people around you, and determine what characteristics of theirs you’d like to emulate. Don’t abandon your own personality, but augment it – what makes these people confident, and how can you adopt that?

Be yourself, but amplify the positive

For most people, using a persona that is similar to themselves but has some subtle differences is probably the best way to go. So, if an entrepreneur is shy about approaching strangers, he might imagine himself with confidence and style. Then, before approaching a new client, he might consider going through various “role-playing” scenarios with friends and associates, followed by using real-world experience.

Of course, part of Elvis’ later self-confidence came from focusing on his own natural talent. It is easy to find a form of self-confidence when everyone around a person is singing praises. For an entrepreneur, focus more on what it is that makes a product or service being sold unique. Tap into the passion that originally inspired you, and before you know it, your nervousness will dissipate.

Keep this journey of personal growth going

As more and more people appreciated Elvis, his shyness faded and his fame grew. In the same manner, as entrepreneurs and people in business stick to their vision of achieving success, each step towards reaching that success will help to eliminate some of the shyness — especially shyness caused by not having faith in one’s products or services.

Self-confidence is one of those intangible character traits that sometimes seem to suddenly appear out of nowhere, but the fact is the more a person focuses on what it is that makes what he or she has to offer unique and important, the less time a person will spend on being self-conscious and uncertain. Follow the example of The King, and learn how to swagger with the best of them.

What do you think?  Who has positive traits that you might benefit from emulating?



——–
Another way to improve your confidence is regular practice.  I have been developing an online module of my Persuasive Communications seminar.  It is available here: Improve My Speaking. Feel free to share this resource with friends (and people who need it).

How should you listen to a speech?  What is the most valuable attitude to develop as an audience member?

Decide you are going to ask the first question at the end of the talk.  
Raised Arm

Listen to the speaker and look for your question.

There are three important benefits of asking the first question at the end of a talk:

  • You raise your profile – You look like a leader.  The room will remember you.  You get all the benefits of having spoken without preparing a speech.  You’ll be promoted.  You’ll be remembered when an important project comes along.
  • The speaker will love you – and if the speaker is your boss…  or your bosses boss… this has tremendous impact on your career.  As a speaker, I know the painful feeling of finishing my prepared talk, asking “what questions do you have?” and waiting through several seconds of painful blank stares before somebody raises their hand.  A good first question can start a powerful dialogue that can be of more impact than the prepared talk.
  • You practice public speaking – Asking questions can be as daunting as standing up and speaking, but by regularly asking questions you are improving your capacity to deliver big speeches.  Start with gratitude.  “Thank you for your talk”.  Next state the situation “You mentioned X.  I agree with Y”.  Now deliver your question “What criteria were most important in making this decision?”
There is another benefit for those who have enjoyed the conference dinner and drinks the previous night: You don’t fall asleep – The apprehension keeps you awake.  You are listening intently so that your question is intelligent, relevant and allows the speaker to enter a dialogue that is fully relevant to the audience.
Some caveats…
  • Don’t do “hello, hello… is this working?” – Not a great start.  Let the person handing out the microphone ensure it is working before you begin your question.  Ask them to do the sound test before they hand you the microphone (you look like a leader).
  • Don’t ask aggressive questions – This is not the moment to catch the speaker out, or score cheap points of logic.
  • Make sure your question is a question – One thing I personally hate is the arrogant individual who uses the opportunity to ask a question to state their own personal opinion.  This is question and answer time for the invited speaker.  If the room really want your opinion they will invite you back as a speaker.
  • Ask good questions. Open ended, Curious, Interested…  don’t ask questions unless you genuinely want to know the answer.  Gary Cohen on a post on the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation website gives six ways to improve the way you ask.
Next time you listen to a speaker: Ask the first question.

Shower Water Snake feeding :)“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” Lao Tzu

Soft Power is part of Leadership

  • Soft Power is necessary to get things done
  • Leaders have soft power
  • People with soft power skills become leaders
  • Soft Power decides how disagreements about what to do and how to do it get resolved

Soft Power is given based on other’s perception of us

If you look like a leader, if you act like a leader: people will treat you like a leader.  If you look like a follower, if you act like a victim, if you are perceived as weak: people will ignore your input.

Joseph Nye, a professor at Harvard who coined the term “soft power”, speaks about the shift in the source of power over the last 100 years.  In the industrial age power was defined by “who’s army wins”.  In the information age power  is defined by “who’s story wins”.

  • Hard power: Get others to do what they otherwise wouldn’t want to do (“My army is bigger than yours”, “I am the boss”)
  • Soft power: Get others to want what I want (“Here is a future I can help you create”)

8 Behaviors of Powerful People

What are the behaviors of people who wield soft power?  What can you do to model leading with soft power?  Jeffrey Pfeffer offers this list of 8 behaviors in his book “Power”:

  1. Make eye contact
    1. Looking down or away conveys evasiveness
    2. Not making eye contact is perceived as untrustworthy
  2. Take up space and adopt an expansive posture
    1. If you adopt a “power” pose, you will not only feel more powerful, your actual blood chemistry (cortisol, a stress hormone, and testosterone) will change
    2. Don’t hunch, fold your arms in front of your chest, or do other things that signal defensiveness
  3. Use forceful gestures—avoid waving your arms; use compact gestures such as pointing or moving your hands in a powerful fashion
  4. Use your voice and its tone to convey power
    1. Speak loudly (within reason)
    2. Don’t raise your inflection at the end of a sentence, making statements seem like questions
    3. Don’t umm and ehh, speak without filler words
  5. Manage the setting to the extent possible
    1. Use symbols of power—dress, uniforms
    2. Control seating, ask people to move if it would be better to ensure eye contact
    3. If the room is cold, ask somebody to put the heat on
  6. Don’t use notes
    1. Notes convey that you are “mouthing” someone else’s message
    2. Notes imply you are not in command and are uncertain
    3. Notes require you to look down, breaking eye contact
  7. Have meetings on your territory, if possible
  8. Display Anger rather than Sadness or Remorse
    1. Those with power have permission to be angry, so the expression of anger has become associated with power
    2. Research shows that others convey more status to someone who expresses anger rather than sadness or guilt
    3. In many instances, situations are ambiguous—if you are ashamed and embarrassed by your behavior, others will follow your lead

Acting Powerfully is a learnable skill

You can learn the practice of soft power.  Studies of “genius”—outstanding performance in fields ranging from athletics, to art, to math and science—consistently find that raw, innate talent is overrated. What matters is Deliberate Practice and coaching.  Malcolm Gladwell tells us that it takes 10,000 hours to become world class.

8 Behaviors of Speaking with Power

“Communication persuades others largely through how we look and present ourselves; second, by how we sound, and of least importance, by the content of what we say. Therefore, how we “show up” is important in our ability to attract support for efforts to lead change.” Jeffrey Pfeffer

  1. Use clear, simple, declarative sentences
  2. Use lists of 3 or more items
  3. Use contrasts, framed to make your position seem reasonable by comparison
    1. “Do you want to retreat or persevere to achieve victory”
  4. Show similarity to audience. Because we tend to support those to whom we are similar, use “us” versus “them” references to develop an association with your audience and seem like one of them
  5. Pause for emphasis (5 aspects of a Powerful Voice)
  6. Avoid notes
  7. Interruption
    1. Powerful people interrupt
    2. Those with less power get interrupted
  8. Use humor— No one ever left a speech saying “I hated the way she made me laugh out loud”.  Laughter unites a group.  It is a shared experience. Powerful leaders create shared experiences that bring people together.

Grow your army or tell better stories

 Are you spending your time and effort developing a better, stronger army or are you developing the ability to attract people towards your vision through looking like a leader and sharing your stories in ways that those stories become the reality for others?  A coup can take the army away from you.  No coup can destroy the stories.
If you want to be a better leader, start by acting like the best leaders.  What is soft is strong.

Experts get it wrong.

The price we pay in trusting experts to take the important decisions for us is huge.

We don’t like uncertainty.  Experts give us a sense of certainty.

I don’t know what to do with my savings.  I go to a financial “expert”.  He tells me what to do.  I hand it over to him.  He loses it all in the property crash.

I feel sick and I go to the doctor.  He takes my temperature, looks in my throat, tells me to say “ahh” and then he sits down and writes out a prescription.  I feel good to “know” that the expert doctor “knows” what is causing my symptoms.

Adam's a Doctor
Photo: dalboz17

He doesn’t.  I have learnt to trust the white coats, the diplomas on the walls.  He has learnt to pretend.  He means well, but a system as complex as the human body cannot be diagnosed with temperature and a look in the throat.  Sometimes he is right.  Often he just prescribed some generic drug that seemed to work for the last case that looked like my symptoms.

Be aware of False Certainty.

We love the feeling of certainty that experts give. It is a false sense of certainty.

I am not saying “don’t go to doctors”.  I am not saying “don’t get financial advice”.

I am saying go to the doctor but take his opinion as another input into your own decision making about treatment.  Ask questions.  Ask “what are you seeing?  what are you thinking?  what other things might cause that?  what other options are you considering?”

Experts are more hero-worshiping than others.

Global warming, Financial investments: the “expert” has a vested interest in supporting the status-quo.  Experts’ power comes from the status quo, the accepted viewpoint.  Experts are less likely to question global warming science, year 2000, property bubbles, inflation estimates than those who are not experts.  Their egos are tied up in their status in the existing status quo.  They fear that changing.

Accept uncertainty as life.  Ask better questions.  Allow yourself permission to not agree.

ruinWe know what to do to achieve what we want.

We could make a list of the steps.  We could do each of the steps.

But we don’t.

Some people do.  But most don’t.  I include myself.

Why don’t we do what we know we need to do to achieve the things that we feel we want?

Why do we self sabotage?

It is because we don’t feel we deserve to achieve.

A great resource
Peter Shallard is the “shrink for entrepreneurs”.  He has a great blog.  He has a free eBook that identifies and gives practical steps to overcome the 10 obstacles that hold us back from succeeding.

I have prepared a series of short videos for my IESE courses this year. This is a 3 minute video outlining the 4 ways that you can handle anxiety or performance nerves. (The video is here on my blog).

I spoke about the 4 ways of handling anxiety in a previous post 4 ways to handle anxiety:

  1. Avoid,
  2. Manage,
  3. Tolerate
  4. Enjoy.

Over to you
How do you deal with anxiety? Do you manage your stress levels? Are there any stresses that you have learnt to enjoy? How did you achieve this?

The nice people at Virgin Media Pioneers asked me for some thoughts (in video) on the need for entrepreneurs to be confident, or at least appear confident.

“Authority is 20% given, 80% taken” Peter Ueberoth. Your confidence is a big part in getting others to treat you as a leader, to accept you as an authority.  I posted a couple of weeks ago a little article on  How to be more Confident and this video (here on the blog) is a summary of that post.

Over to you
Do you ever “pretend” to be more confident that you really feel inside?  Did it work?  Are there any other routes to confidence?  How about lots of practice?