This post was originally published on Alternet and it is written by coaching guru Cloe Madanes.

The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People

Cloe Madanes
Coach Cloe Madanes

Most of us claim we want to be happy—to have meaningful lives, enjoy ourselves, experience fulfillment, and share love and friendship with other people and maybe other species, like dogs, cats, birds, and whatnot. Strangely enough, however, some people act as if they just want to be miserable, and they succeed remarkably at inviting misery into their lives, even though they get little apparent benefit from it, since being miserable doesn’t help them find lovers and friends, get better jobs, make more money, or go on more interesting vacations. Why do they do this? After perusing the output of some of the finest brains in the therapy profession, I’ve come to the conclusion that misery is an art form, and the satisfaction people seem to find in it reflects the creative effort required to cultivate it. In other words, when your living conditions are stable, peaceful, and prosperous—no civil wars raging in your streets, no mass hunger, no epidemic disease, no vexation from poverty—making yourself miserable is a craft all its own, requiring imagination, vision, and ingenuity. It can even give life a distinctive meaning.

So if you aspire to make yourself miserable, what are the best, most proven techniques for doing it? Let’s exclude some obvious ways, like doing drugs, committing crimes, gambling, and beating up your spouse or neighbor. Subtler strategies, ones that won’t lead anyone to suspect that you’re acting deliberately, can be highly effective. But you need to pretend that you want to be happy, like everybody else, or people won’t take your misery seriously. The real art is to behave in ways that’ll bring on misery while allowing you to claim that you’re an innocent victim, ideally of the very people from whom you’re forcibly extracting compassion and pity.

Here, I cover most areas of life, such as family, work, friends, and romantic partners. These areas will overlap nicely, since you can’t ruin your life without ruining your marriage and maybe your relationships with your children and friends. It’s inevitable that as you make yourself miserable, you’ll be making those around you miserable also, at least until they leave you—which will give you another reason to feel miserable. So it’s important to keep in mind the benefits you’re accruing in your misery.

  • When you’re miserable, people feel sorry for you. Not only that, they often feel obscurely guilty, as if your misery might somehow be their fault. This is good! There’s power in making other people feel guilty. The people who love you and those who depend on you will walk on eggshells to make sure that they don’t say or do anything that will increase your misery.
  • When you’re miserable, since you have no hopes and expect nothing good to happen, you can’t be disappointed or disillusioned.
  • Being miserable can give the impression that you’re a wise and worldly person, especially if you’re miserable not just about your life, but about society in general. You can project an aura of someone burdened by a form of profound, tragic, existential knowledge that happy, shallow people can’t possibly appreciate.

Honing Your Misery Skills

Let’s get right to it and take a look at some effective strategies to become miserable. This list is by no means exhaustive, but engaging in four or five of these practices will help refine your talent.

1. Be afraid, be very afraid, of economic loss. In hard economic times, many people are afraid of losing their jobs or savings. The art of messing up your life consists of indulging these fears, even when there’s little risk that you’ll actually suffer such losses. Concentrate on this fear, make it a priority in your life, moan continuously that you could go broke any day now, and complain about how much everything costs, particularly if someone else is buying. Try to initiate quarrels about other people’s feckless, spendthrift ways, and suggest that the recession has resulted from irresponsible fiscal behavior like theirs.

Fearing economic loss has several advantages. First, it’ll keep you working forever at a job you hate. Second, it balances nicely with greed, an obsession with money, and a selfishness that even Ebenezer Scrooge would envy. Third, not only will you alienate your friends and family, but you’ll likely become even more anxious, depressed, and possibly even ill from your money worries. Good job!

Exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and, for 15 minutes, meditate on all the things you could lose: your job, your house, your savings, and so forth. Then brood about living in a homeless shelter.

2. Practice sustained boredom. Cultivate the feeling that everything is predictable, that life holds no excitement, no possibility for adventure, that an inherently fascinating person like yourself has been deposited into a completely tedious and pointless life through no fault of your own. Complain a lot about how bored you are. Make it the main subject of conversation with everyone you know so they’ll get the distinct feeling that you think they’re boring. Consider provoking a crisis to relieve your boredom. Have an affair (this works best if you’re already married and even better if you have an affair with someone else who’s married); go on repeated shopping sprees for clothes, cars, fancy appliances, sporting equipment (take several credit cards, in case one maxes out); start pointless fights with your spouse, boss, children, friends, neighbors; have another child; quit your job, clean out your savings account, and move to a state you know nothing about.

A side benefit of being bored is that you inevitably become boring. Friends and relatives will avoid you. You won’t be invited anywhere; nobody will want to call you, much less actually see you. As this happens, you’ll feel lonely and even more bored and miserable.

Exercise: Force yourself to watch hours of mindless reality TV programs every day, and read only nonstimulating tabloids that leave you feeling soulless. Avoid literature, art, and keeping up with current affairs.

3. Give yourself a negative identity. Allow a perceived emotional problem to absorb all other aspects of your self-identification. If you feel depressed, become a Depressed Person; if you suffer from social anxiety or a phobia, assume the identity of a Phobic Person or a Person with Anxiety Disorder. Make your condition the focus of your life. Talk about it to everybody, and make sure to read up on the symptoms so you can speak about them knowledgeably and endlessly. Practice the behaviors most associated with that condition, particularly when it’ll interfere with regular activities and relationships. Focus on how depressed you are and become weepy, if that’s your identity of choice. Refuse to go places or try new things because they make you too anxious. Work yourself into panic attacks in places it’ll cause the most commotion. It’s important to show that you don’t enjoy these states or behaviors, but that there’s nothing you can do to prevent them.

Practice putting yourself in the physiological state that represents your negative identity. For example, if your negative identity is Depressed Person, hunch your shoulders, look at the floor, breathe shallowly. It’s important to condition your body to help you reach your negative peak as quickly as possible.

Exercise: Write down 10 situations that make you anxious, depressed, or distracted. Once a week, pick a single anxiety-provoking situation, and use it to work yourself into a panic for at least 15 minutes.


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I encourage you to sign up for this training series (affiliate link) – you’re going to be inspired by what is possible. Tony has been an inspiration for me for over 20 years and I love how practical and direct he is in his trainings. His focus is on making a real difference in people’s lives.


4. Pick fights. This is an excellent way of ruining a relationship with a romantic partner. Once in a while, unpredictably, pick a fight or have a crying spell over something trivial and make unwarranted accusations. The interaction should last for at least 15 minutes and ideally occur in public. During the tantrum, expect your partner to be kind and sympathetic, but should he or she mention it later, insist that you never did such a thing and that he or she must have misunderstood what you were trying to say. Act injured and hurt that your partner somehow implied you weren’t behaving well.

Another way of doing this is to say unexpectedly, “We need to talk,” and then to barrage your partner with statements about how disappointed you are with the relationship. Make sure to begin this barrage just as your partner is about to leave for some engagement or activity, and refuse to end it for at least an hour. Another variation is to text or phone your partner at work to express your issues and disappointments. Do the same if your partner is out with friends.

Exercise: Write down 20 annoying text messages you could send to a romantic partner. Keep a grudge list going, and add to it daily.

5. Attribute bad intentions. Whenever you can, attribute the worst possible intentions to your partner, friends, and coworkers. Take any innocent remark and turn it into an insult or attempt to humiliate you. For example, if someone asks, “How did you like such and such movie?” you should immediately think, He’s trying to humiliate me by proving that I didn’t understand the movie, or He’s preparing to tell me that I have poor taste in movies. The idea is to always expect the worst from people. If someone is late to meet you for dinner, while you wait for them, remind yourself of all the other times the person was late, and tell yourself that he or she is doing this deliberately to slight you. Make sure that by the time the person arrives, you’re either seething or so despondent that the evening is ruined. If the person asks what’s wrong, don’t say a word: let him or her suffer.

Exercise: List the names of five relatives or friends. For each, write down something they did or said in the recent past that proves they’re as invested in adding to your misery as you are.

6. Whatever you do, do it only for personal gain. Sometimes you’ll be tempted to help someone, contribute to a charity, or participate in a community activity. Don’t do it, unless there’s something in it for you, like the opportunity to seem like a good person or to get to know somebody you can borrow money from some day. Never fall into the trap of doing something purely because you want to help people. Remember that your primary goal is to take care of Numero Uno, even though you hate yourself.

Exercise: Think of all the things you’ve done for others in the past that haven’t been reciprocated. Think about how everyone around you is trying to take from you. Now list three things you could do that would make you appear altruistic while bringing you personal, social, or professional gain.

7. Avoid gratitude. Research shows that people who express gratitude are happier than those who don’t, so never express gratitude. Counting your blessings is for idiots. What blessings? Life is suffering, and then you die. What’s there to be thankful for?

Well-meaning friends and relatives will try to sabotage your efforts to be thankless. For example, while you’re in the middle of complaining about the project you procrastinated on at work to your spouse during an unhealthy dinner, he or she might try to remind you of how grateful you should be to have a job or food at all. Such attempts to encourage gratitude and cheerfulness are common and easily deflected. Simply point out that the things you should be grateful for aren’t perfect—which frees you to find as much fault with them as you like.

Exercise: Make a list of all the things you could be grateful for. Next to each item, write down why you aren’t. Imagine the worst. When you think of the future, imagine the worst possible scenario. It’s important to be prepared for and preemptively miserable about any possible disaster or tragedy. Think of the possibilities: terrorist attacks, natural disasters, fatal disease, horrible accidents, massive crop failures, your child not getting picked for the varsity softball team.

8. Always be alert and in a state of anxiety. Optimism about the future leads only to disappointment. Therefore, you have to do your best to believe that your marriage will flounder, your children won’t love you, your business will fail, and nothing good will ever work out for you.

Exercise: Do some research on what natural or manmade disasters could occur in your area, such as earthquakes, floods, nuclear plant leaks, rabies outbreaks. Focus on these things for at least an hour a day.

9. Blame your parents. Blaming your parents for your defects, shortcomings, and failures is among the most important steps you can take. After all, your parents made you who you are today; you had nothing to do with it. If you happen to have any good qualities or successes, don’t give your parents credit. Those are flukes.

Extend the blame to other people from your past: the second-grade teacher who yelled at you in the cafeteria, the boy who bullied you when you were 9, the college professor who gave you a D on your paper, your first boyfriend, even the hick town you grew up in—the possibilities are limitless. Blame is essential in the art of being miserable.

Exercise: Call one of your parents and tell her or him that you just remembered something horrible they did when you were a child, and make sure he or she understands how terrible it made you feel and that you’re still suffering from it.

10. Don’t enjoy life’s pleasures. Taking pleasure in things like food, wine, music, and beauty is for flighty, shallow people. Tell yourself that. If you inadvertently find yourself enjoying some flavor, song, or work of art, remind yourself immediately that these are transitory pleasures, which can’t compensate for the miserable state of the world. The same applies to nature. If you accidentally find yourself enjoying a beautiful view, a walk on the beach, or a stroll through a forest, stop! Remind yourself that the world is full of poverty, illness, and devastation. The beauty of nature is a deception.

Exercise: Once a week, engage in an activity that’s supposed to be enjoyable, but do so while thinking about how pointless it is. In other words, concentrate on removing all sense of pleasure from the pleasurable activity.

11. Ruminate. Spend a great deal of time focused on yourself. Worry constantly about the causes of your behavior, analyze your defects, and chew on your problems. This will help you foster a pessimistic view of your life. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by any positive experience or influence. The point is to ensure that even minor upsets and difficulties appear huge and portentous.

You can ruminate on the problems of others or the world, but make them about you. Your child is sick? Ruminate on what a burden it is for you to take time off from work to care for her. Your spouse is hurt by your behavior? Focus on how terrible it makes you feel when he points out how you make him feel. By ruminating not only on your own problems but also those of others, you’ll come across as a deep, sensitive thinker who holds the weight of the world on your shoulders.

Exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair and seek out negative feelings, like anger, depression, anxiety, boredom, whatever. Concentrate on these feelings for 15 minutes. During the rest of the day, keep them in the back of your mind, no matter what you’re doing.

12. Glorify or vilify the past. Glorifying the past is telling yourself how good, happy, fortunate, and worthwhile life was when you were a child, a young person, or a newly married person—and regretting how it’s all been downhill ever since. When you were young, for example, you were glamorous and danced the samba with handsome men on the beach at twilight; and now you’re in a so-so marriage to an insurance adjuster in Topeka. You should’ve married tall, dark Antonio. You should’ve invested in Microsoft when you had the chance. In short, focus on what you could’ve and should’ve done, instead of what you did. This will surely make you miserable.

Vilifying the past is easy, too. You were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, you never got what you needed, you felt you were discriminated against, you never got to go to summer camp. How can you possibly be happy when you had such a lousy background? It’s important to think that bad memories, serious mistakes, and traumatic events were much more influential in forming you and your future than good memories, successes, and happy events. Focus on bad times. Obsess about them. Treasure them. This will ensure that, no matter what’s happening in the present, you won’t be happy.

Exercise: Make a list of your most important bad memories and keep it where you can review it frequently. Once a week, tell someone about your horrible childhood or how much better your life was 20 years ago.

13. Find a romantic partner to reform. Make sure that you fall in love with someone with a major defect (cat hoarder, gambler, alcoholic, womanizer, sociopath), and set out to reform him or her, regardless of whether he or she wants to be reformed. Believe firmly that you can reform this person, and ignore all evidence to the contrary.

Exercise: Go to online dating sites and see how many bad choices you can find in one afternoon. Make efforts to meet these people. It’s good if the dating site charges a lot of money, since this means you’ll be emotionally starved and poor.

14. Be critical. Make sure to have an endless list of dislikes and voice them often, whether or not your opinion is solicited. For example, don’t hesitate to say, “That’s what you chose to wear this morning?” or “Why is your voice so shrill?” If someone is eating eggs, tell them you don’t like eggs. Your negativity can be applied to almost anything.

It helps if the things you criticize are well liked by most people so that your dislike of them sets you apart. Disliking traffic and mosquitos isn’t creative enough: everyone knows what it’s like to find these things annoying, and they won’t pay much attention if you find them annoying, too. But disliking the new movie that all your friends are praising? You’ll find plenty of opportunities to counter your friends’ glowing reviews with your contrarian opinion.

Exercise: Make a list of 20 things you dislike and see how many times you can insert them into a conversation over the course of the day. For best results, dislike things you’ve never given yourself a chance to like.

—–

I’ve just listed 14 ways to make yourself miserable. You don’t have to nail every one of them, but even if you succeed with just four or five, make sure to berate yourself regularly for not enacting the entire list. If you find yourself in a therapist’s office—because someone who’s still clinging to their love for you has tricked you into going—make sure your misery seems organic. If the therapist enlightens you in any way or teaches you mind-body techniques to quiet your anxious mind, make sure to co-opt the conversation and talk about your misery-filled dreams from the night before. If the therapist is skilled in dream analysis, quickly start complaining about the cost of therapy itself. If the therapist uses your complaints as a launching pad to discuss transference issues, accuse him or her of having countertransference issues. Ultimately, the therapist is your enemy when trying to cultivate misery in your life. So get out as soon as possible. And if you happen upon a therapist who’ll sit quietly while you bring all 14 items on this list to life each week, call me. I’ll want to make an appointment, too.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/14-habits-highly-miserable-people Hat tip to Eka

Simplifying Leadership

I am sharing a new book and a short video by a friend of mine, Bill Treasurer.  The book is called “Leaders Open Doors” and is a short, simple answer to the question: what do great leaders do for those around them?  

I first met Bill over 20 years ago on an Accenture (then Andersen Consulting) training program in Chicago.  We were put on the same team and enjoyed the fun and challenges of 2 weeks of intense, sleep deprived, project work.

Since then, Bill has become a well known speaker and author.  Bill is the author of Courage Goes to Work, an internationally bestselling book on courage building. Bill is also a former member of the U.S. High Diving Team, a cancer survivor, and a champion for the rights of people with disabilities. Bill currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife and three children.

Leaders Open Doors

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0N9tR0xJeRI]

Transcript of Bill’s talk

But the reality is we’ve inflated this idea of leadership too much and after twenty years I had a conversation with a very wise person that brought me back to the essence of what leadership is really all about I had a conversation with my five-year-old son.

Now Ian, at the time, was a five year old at the preschool the Montessori School and Asheville North Carolina where I live. I came home and my wife said “hey honey Ian got to be the class leader today!”

“A class leader!” My son.

I’m the guy who goes around teaching leadership and my son got to be the class leader.

“Son give me a high five! What’s it like to be a leader? What did you get to do as a class leader Iain?”

He looked at me and with 7 words he cut through to what matters most about leadership.   He looked at me and said: “I got to open doors for people”

I get to open doors for people.

I thought about it for a couple of days… I kept thinking about that concept: leaders opening doors.  I thought about the leaders who had made a difference in my life; and there are always people that have taken an interest in me and nudged me into discomfort; sometimes to help me be accountable to my own potential… they believed in me until I start to believe in myself.

I can live up to, and into, my potential.   Leaders to open doors… and I thought about that concept and it turned into a book. “Open-door Leadership” is about serving people and organisations by creating opportunities for them to grow and develop.

What if leadership was that simple?  What if that’s the central idea? Leadership is serving others. Leadership is not about the leader, it is about those being led.  What are you going to do in the service for them?

Everyone wants to be Bruce Lee, but few want to put in the 10,000 (or more) hours of practice and preparation.  It is only when the bar is held high that we can consistently put in the practice and push our skills to the highest levels.

What makes for an ‘A’ Player?

Resilience
Resilience

The simplest possible definition is “somebody you would enthusiastically re-hire”.  Imagine you got to re-hire your team each morning.  Who would be the first people chosen?  These are your “A players”.

What attracts “A” Players?  Two things – other “A” Players and a meaningful challenge.

How do you create a culture of “A” Players?  There is only one path: Zero tolerance of mediocrity.  At the end of this post I describe this leadership attitude.

I was inspired to put this post together by an article on “Learning from the Catalysts at Goldman Sachs”.

I speak in depth about leading A players in the past post “Leading Teams: The 5 Styles of Managing People

The 6 Characteristics of ‘A’ Players

  1. Positive AttitudeResilient; life gives us all blows… some keep moving, some get knocked down.  A players keep moving.
  2. Adaptable – Open to Change, Flexible; what was right yesterday may be wrong today, what worked well yesterday may be ineffective today.
  3. Reliable – write things down, get things done, relentless follow through, do what needs to be done
  4. Big Picture – they know where they and their team are going, they have a personal sense of why they are doing the work that they are doing; building skills not just for today, but for where they want to be tomorrow.
  5. Connected and Influential – Plays well with others, listens actively, open to being influenced and capable of shaping the perspectives and attitudes of others.
  6. Always Learning – reading books, attending seminars, open to culture

 

How to run your talent program like FC Barcelona

At a conference at IESE Business School in 2011, Geoff Smart spoke to the audience about how to source, select and attract top talent to your organization.  He asked “has anyone ever hired someone who looked great on paper, only to find out weeks or months later that it was a terrible decision?”  Many hands were raised in the air.

Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, says that the very first step of leaders who create massive success in their businesses is “get the right people on the bus”…  and the corollary…  get the wrong people off the bus.

There are 4 parts to hiring well.

  1. Know clearly what you want the person to achieve. Go beyond vague descriptions of skills. eg. “Analytical Thought Process” develop further to “Distinguishes key facts from secondary factors; can follow a progressive thought process from idea to idea; makes sound observations.”
  2. Go to where the best people are. Where are the best people? They are not looking at job adverts.  They are not spending their weekend reading job websites.  They are passionate about their current role.  It is unlikely that those who are actively searching through non-personal channels are top performers.  The top performers are still doing well in their current jobs. How to find the best people? There is only one way: Network. If you want talent: ask who the best people are, get to industry events, meet people at conferences. Watch people in action, know them through their activity, read their books, their tweets, their Quora profiles, their blogs.
  3. Selecting the A players: focus on the past, not the future. Don’t ever ask “how would you solve the problem?”.  Ask “tell me about a time when you solved a similar problem?” Everyone can tell you a great story about what they would do.  The top performers are not smarter, don’t have better to-do list systems, better technology.  The differentiator is that they have found the way to overcome procrastination.  They actually do the things that they say they will do. Give them a present problem and ask them to solve it. See their creative thinking, not necessarily the solution. Look for performance, don’t ask for opinions.
  4. Selling the opportunity, building the culture. Selling the opportunity to an A player does not mean “be their friend”; it means sell them on the personal growth, the professional growth the opportunity to impact the world on a massive scale.  This is what great people want.  Not more friends. They want to be pushed and demanded and be allowed to change the world for the better. Jonathan Davis says that culture is hard to build and easy to destroy. Jonathan turned down a hiring contract recently with a big company.  He told the CEO “You cannot be client of ours.  I’ll tell you why. Your VP of sales is a !@#$%^!. He won’t waste an opportunity to tell you how awesome he is.  We can help you recruit a great employee, but he will leave.” It is the culture that you build that will really attract and keep the top talent.  If you create a great culture, you don’t need to pay employees to bring people in…  they will bring their ambitious, high performing friends in.  The online shoe retailer Zappos pay $2000 for people to leave.

Finding, Recruiting and Retaining Talent is Hard Work

How do you do this without any effort?  You don’t.  Good talent doesn’t just happen because you are showing up.  One of the hardest things in business life is removing a loyal but mediocre performer from your team.  There may be bonds of friendship, there may be many good shared experiences in the past, feelings of connection.  However, the continued presence of mediocrity in your team is a cancer that will eat away at your ability to achieve important goals.  One way to reduce the pain of having to let go of mediocre performers is to get very good at only hiring star performers into your team.

Leadership sometimes means Letting People Go

My father once told me that the greatest service you can do for an unhappy, under performing employee is to let them go – it frees them to search and find a place where they can contribute and find greater meaning.  They won’t thank you in the moment, but this is the service of a leader – it is not about giving – it is about serving; it is not about the easy answers, it is about the right answers.

Highly Demanding, with Love

How would you get Leo Messi to play for your football team?  It would help if you had 3 of the top 5 footballers in the world already on the team.  How do you attract the top talent to your team?  Build a culture of high performance around you.

This starts with a zero tolerance of mediocrity.

A participant on my course last year began his speech “I have often wondered whether it is better as a parent to be permissive or authoritarian.  Which is better?  At a conference a few years ago, I had the opportunity to speak to one of the world guru’s on child development.  I went up to him after his talk.  I congratulated him.  I asked him the question: ‘is it better for a parent to be permissive or authoritarian?’

The guru smiled and said ‘highly demanding with love’.”

It is the same as a leader – can you be highly demanding, with love.  Expect the best from those around you and they rise to the challenge.  Accept the worst, and they will coast in comfort.

The equation for human performance is the following:

Performance = Potential – Self-Sabotage

Photo Credit: Heberger Site via Compfight cc
Blowing myself up, Photo credit: Heberger Site

That is it. You achieve not what your boss lets you, not what the others let you… you achieve what you don’t screw up for yourself.

In the years since I first wrote this equation up in a class and people said “No… it can’t be that” I have become more and more convinced that the greatest devil in our own lives is the 4 Arts of Self Sabotage.

The 4 Arts of Self-Sabotage

  1. Distraction: Lack of Focus
  2. Fixed mindset: “I have what I have now because of who I am, not how hard I have worked”
  3. Arrogance: sometimes seen as Denial, sometimes as Nostalgia, sometimes as Victim, sometimes as Sole Hero
  4. Inability to Handle Anxiety (or anger, or rage, or fear)

Success in life, whether sporting success, writing success or financial success has more to do with overcoming these 4 arts of self-sabotage than any level of original brilliance or one-time shots of luck.

Question for you: What do you have as your description line in your LinkedIn profile?

Mine says “Moving People to Action”

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 6.58.09 PM

 

What does your LinkedIn Description say?

I see several varieties of description.  Some people just put their job title: “VP Marketing at Corporation Inc”.  Some people an abstraction of their past experience “Experienced Manager in Telecoms Industry”.  Some people describe what they aspire to be.  I leave it at the somewhat vague “Moving People to Action”.  What is your profile description?  It is important.  The founder of LinkedIn says so.

I am reading Reid Hoffman’s book “The Startup of You” at the moment.  He speaks of treating your own career like an entrepreneurial startup.

Life on Permanent Beta

One powerful idea from the book is to keep your career on “Permanent Beta”.  Beta is an IT term for a not-yet-fully-tested version of the software.  We release beta software so we can find out how it is really used by customers and make many iterative changes before the final delivery of finished software.  Permanent beta is to assume that I am never finished, I am always a work in progress.  Permanent beta is to stop the search for a comfortable, coasting job that pays the bills with little or no effort on my part.

Plan A, B & Z

He speaks of Plan A, Plan B, Plan Z thinking.  Plan A is your current career.  Plan B is your aspirational career.  Plan Z is what you would do if Plan A and Plan B fell apart, the worst-case scenario.

An example in the case of myself 11 years ago:  Plan A was working as a manager in Accenture and working towards promotion to partner.  Plan B was starting up my own company.  Plan Z was living off my savings for a year while studying.

Moving forward to today, Plan A is teaching at IESE, speaking and writing.  Plan B is unclear and needs some work.  Plan Z would be living off my savings for a year or two.  I clearly need to do some work on Plans B & Z.  Reid says you are in danger of unexpected environmental changes if you don’t have some meat on the bones of these 3 plans.

Plan B should be based around the Meaningful Contribution venn diagram.  Jim Collins calls it the hedgehog concept.  It is a combination of what you do well, what you enjoy doing and what the market will pay you to do.  Reid calls them:

  • Your assets
  • Your aspirations and
  • the market realities.

Your assets include hard assets like money in the bank; however the really important inventory is your soft assets – skills, network, personal brand.  What are you known for?  Reid is very, very strong on taking choices that value learning over monetary reward.  The more you learn, the more valuable you can become.

Who you know is What you know

I haven’t read this chapter yet, so I am assuming…  but in a world where google, wikipedia and youtube allow us to find any knowledge in an instant, it is no longer of great value to know stuff.  Practical wisdom – which increasingly is knowing who to call, and knowing that they will answer and take action because it was you that called is the valuable stuff.

Are you Indispensable?

If your boss gives you lists of tasks to complete, you are dispensable.  You are not “you” at work, you are a processor of standardised tasks.  The recipe for being “you” can be written down, and will be outsourced to cheaper labour.

If your boss gives you interesting problems to solve, you are of value.  You are “you” at work.

If you are the one that identifies the problems, and ask others the interesting questions: then you might just be on the path to Indispensable.

Become Indispensable.

How does one become indispensable?  The first step is changing the profile description on your LinkedIn profile.  If your description is your current job title, then it is likely that you have no Plan B.  You are not actively investing in yourself to make Plan B a reality.

To become indispensable, first make your profile description your Plan B “aspirational” title.  Click here to begin that change.

Now, start to invest time, money and energy in making yourself ready to live up to that aspiration.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and dreams and aspirations are supposed to take some work.

Curiosity, Learning and Adaption.

Curiosity is the first step towards Learning.  Explore beyond. How did he do that?  Why did they do that?  What is happening here?  Curiosity is to wonder at the things I do not yet understand.

Learning is the most important daily task to adapt to the changing reality.

Rapid Adaption for yourself and for those around you: you become indispensable.

If you are not indispensable, you are dispensable.

If you are dispensable, you are commodity.  You are competing on price.   There are some mighty cheap people out there, cheap & able to follow recipes, cheap & able to follow a process manual.

I was teaching a seminar recently and a young film producer told me “I am not a good manager”.  I asked him why he believed this.  He described a recent series of disasters that he had overseen with his team.

I asked him “who are the people on your team?”.

He said his cousin helped out with finances and his uncle was helping out on sales.

I suggested that his problem had nothing to do with management or leadership skills.  It was a HR challenge.  This reminded me of this video I recorded on “The 5 Styles of Managing People”:

Leading people

It’s important to adapt your leading style to each individual and actually it goes more detailed than that it is down to each major task that each individual has so that may be that one person in order to produce the weekly
status report they don’t need any supervision at all you can delegate it fully to them, but in creating a marketing plan for the department its something that they hadn’t done before and they’re going to need a lot more “hands-on” management.

As you think about managing people it comes down to individuals and the tasks assigned to them. With each
task that you assign to an individual: what is important to think about are two things:

  • the motivation to take on this challenge and,
  • the experience they have in doing this sort of thing

Motivation: 0, 1 or 2

What i would ask is that you think about for each individual motivation on a scale: zero, one or two

Zero: is they are not motivated. Someone with motivation zero: they really aren’t interested in doing this task perhaps with a particular employee they don’t want to be the one that creates the status report for the weekly team meeting, or you’ve asked them to do a planned visit and write up a report on how things are going and they are really not motivated by that they prefer some other aspect, perhaps the technology is something that turns them on.

So zero is that individual is not motivated by this task. One is there is some motivation there it’s not that they are jumping up and down its not that they are asking you “please please can I do this?” but, there is a desire to grow and two: is that you can see fire in their eyes. They really want to do this, perhaps it’s an area that they really want to develop for their future perhaps its a type of work they really love.

In my case i remember when I first started at Accenture, programming computers was something you didn’t need to manage me to do. I loved doing it. I would do it in my spare time, at the weekends. So, my manager looking at me while he hands me a programming task would see me light up and and be excited almost have to hold me in the room to explain the full project before I could go out and start playing with the computers. Because in my mind it was playing that i was doing when I was programming if that same manager had said “on friday, instead of programming i want you to spend the day with the accounts receivable team drawing a process map of how they conduct the process” – that fire would have gone out of my eyes because it was not something that really motivated me.

So with each task and each employee: it’s important to just think about what level of motivation they have to get this activity done and the same for experience and again we have a zero, one, two scale.

Experience: 0, 1 or 2

Someone who has done many years of this, perhaps someone on your team has been creating the minutes for the team meeting for a couple of years they do it well: their experience is two. They’ve got three or four years of experience doing it, they’ve got the template, they know what goes in there, they know what doesn’t go into there they don’t need to ask for help.

Maybe there’s someone has just started on the team, they’ve never created minutes and they don’t know what it quite looks like: their experience is zero.

Maybe there is someone on your team that for a programming task they really haven’t got a background in this, they don’t know the language or they have not programmed in this particular language before so their experience is zero or one or two. So you need to think through…

What’s what’s this skill level of this person how much experience are they bringing to get to this particular activity and you score for each activity and each person:

  • where they are on motivation: zero, 1 or 2
  • where they are on experience: zero, 1 or 2

This will give you some basis, so perhaps you have someone who is zero and zero…

The Leaders Window: Management Matrix

Lets move that onto our our management matrix: so you have taken a particular task and an employee… and and you have done the sums, and you have looked at how their motivation is to do this particular task, how their experience is to do this particular task and maybe the sum of motivation and experience is zero:

You decide this person is not motivated by this particular task. They have got no experience: zero plus zero leads to zero.

Motivation + Experience: Zero

When you are faced with an individual on your team that is not motivated and that does not have previous experience there’s nothing you can do as a manager to get them to do this well. So, a zero is a HR problem

A zero: there is no management that you can do to get good work out of this individual. It’s a waste of time giving this piece of the activity to that individual employee. So your best decision, if this is a very important piece of work for the team, is to give it to someone else and if you don’t have someone else to do it
you need to replace this individual on the team because there’s no short or long term solution under which
someone who is not motivated and doesn’t have a good level of experience is going to be able to contribute anything worthwhile to the team so if it zero for motivation and zero for experience you need to find someone else to do this work.

Motivation + Experience: One

Let’s say they’ve got a little bit of motivation but no previous experience; or the other case
they’re not really motivated but they’ve been doing it for long enough that they can do it fairly simply
the case of producing minutes from a team meeting the individual is not motivated but they know generally what it looks like which case you’ve got a one as the sum.

In the case of “1” we move to micro-management in the case of micromanagement you’re going to have to supervise quite closely you going to have to set the activity weekly set the timing and describe how you want it done and audit and look over it anyone who’s in this “1” level whether it’s because their experiences is zero or their motivation is zero it is going to be hard work.

Micro-Management is not something you have an enormous scope to be able to to do much of. So the only reason you will allow someone to be in this micro management level is because either some things is going to change or you can see a path for them either to be more motivated or to gain the experience to be able to do it unsupervised.

Your objective is to move people away from micro-management and move them to level “2”, so level “2” is perhaps there’s a little bit of motivation, a 1 score in motivation and a little bit of past experience: so
one and one gives you two maybe its someone who is young who hasn’t done this before, but is very, very motivated to learn so their motivation is 2 but their experience is zero or somebody who’s not very motivated but they’ve been doing this for a long time and have a great deal of experience and know how to get it done, in which case your score is 2 and that 2 an activity, and an individual with a score of 2: you can Manage.

Motivation + Experience: Two

In the case of Manage, you are delegating the “how” to them so the individual it’s up to them them to decide how they want to do it but you keep control of the when and the what. So its the status report: “I want it 10 minutes before the team meeting on friday”, “I want it to look more or less like what we have always had”, “It’s up to you when and how do you do it”.

Or marketing plan, you set the when: “its due in two weeks time” the what: its a market plan. I’d like it to look to looks somewhat like the template we did last time but you leave it up to them to come to you with the how. but you are available for helping with the how, but that is delegated to them.

In the case of management you’re still keeping control of what is being done, you’re still keeping control of the deadline but you’re passing over the day-to-day work on the project to the individual and again this with the accountability question needs to be reinforced each time they come to you you’re pushing back the problem to
them:

  • “what else do we need to do?”
  • “what other things could be done?”
  • “what do you need to get it done?”

Anyone that you are managing: you really want to be looking at how you can move them to to level 3. Because level 3 is where you can lead. The key here at the management level, and at the micro-management level; this side of this quadrant you have a scarce amount of energy and time to dedicate here once you move your employees, the people reporting to you over into the style of leadership of “leading” or fully delegating; you can start to have many, many more people on your team because they’re not sucking a scarce resource that you have in terms of energy, in terms of time.

Motivation + Experience: Three

Leading: if you look at a task, and this task + person: they are highly motivated, they are really motivated to learn, and there’s a little bit of experience so you have given them 2 on the motivation, given them 1 in terms of experience: “3”, you’re leading.

In the case of leading, you are handing over even more responsibility, you are delegating the “what”, you are delegating the “when” you are delegating the “how” over to the individual and you are being there just to
to make sure that they are being supported to remove obstacles and help them be successful so, you’re role is no longer manager but moving more to coach and pushing the ownership of all of the task over to the individual
and if you’ve got an activity where someone is fully motivated: motivation level 2 and they’ve got plenty of experience: experience level 2 you start to get to 4.

With 4 you can delegate and ideally you want to move everyone into this phase: into delegation

Motivation + Experience: Four

You are now handing over full control, and you’re trusting, you’re trusting and doing some regular verification.

The important thing in delegation: the difference between an employee, a team member feeling that they’ve received something delegated to them, or the negative, they have received it dumped onto them it is a very different feeling as a team member to have something dumped on to you.

The big difference between dumping and delegation: in delegation you tell the individual:

  • “I have specifically chosen you”
  • “I trust you to do it”
  • “I am here if you need anything”
  • “I know you could do it better than I can do it”

You need to come back regularly with praise. Let them know you are aware they’re working on it. Let them know that you think they’re doing a good job. Dumping is a very horrible feeling. It feels like someone has just
passed, thrown the work over at them because you don’t want to do it yourself.

Having something dumped on you is a very un-healthy feeling.  Having something delegated to you and someone look you in the eyes and say

  • “I have specifically chosen you”
  • “you can do this better that I can”
  • “I trust you to come to me if you hit an obstacle”
  • “if you need some support to think through the problems”
  • “I trust you to get it done”
  • “I am not going to follow up, I am not going to check up”
  • “This is yours to get done”

When you get your team into leading and delegating as the main styles that your working with them as the team lead you now are freeing up your time to really look ahead you are not stuck in the details of day to day
and you are going to be able to start to look ahead and create time really make those that work for you successful.

Freeing up time for the Future

The real job of a leader, a great leader, is someone that everyone underneath them is even more successful than they are without you as the leader that can only happen when you start to move most of the activity that is being done by your team into these modes of leading and and delegating, and giving you the time and the energy to look up to see the roadblocks, remove the obstacles, praise, and reward and really boost the team into a high performance team so these are some important things to think about as you are giving the work to each member of the team and each activity, and each individual team member will need a different style in terms of how you relate to them how you help them take responsibility for their work.

The objective is always to be moving people out of micro-management into management; out of management into a style of leading and as soon as possible moving them from leading to a style where you can delegate.

Delegation can only happen when the individual team member is motivated and they have enough experience to know more or less how to get the job done so your job as a leader is to make working on their motivation and on working on giving them the skills so that they can be a 2+2 person; giving them a “4”, keeping them in the delegate box

if you can achieve that: you’re going to be really successful as a team leader.

You can’t begin to improve at something until you are “knowingly bad”.

If you are not aware of the lack of something, you haven’t got “taste” yet.  If you think you are the best blogger in the world, two things could be true:

  1. You really are the best blogger in the world
  2. You are blind to the real criteria for what makes a great blogger

Taste is the beginning of Knowingly Bad

Photo Credit: RobertCross1 via Compfight cc
You got Taste? Photo Credit: RobertCross1 

The development of taste is the beginning of “knowingly bad”.

Taste is the ability to tell what is good.  Taste is what you develop as you progress that actually grows your disappointment with your results.  As you go through development, your talent grows slowly, but if you are going to be good, your taste grows rapidly.

As taste grows, the disappointment grows.

Ira Glass says “For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.  But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.”

Don’t Quit at Disappointment

When you have posted your 8th blog post and you feel it is going downhill, your posts are getting worse, your progress feels like it is backwards…  do not be afraid.  This is the beginning of “Taste”.

I know 2 types of anxiety-free public speaker.  Type 1 has never developed “Taste” and so has no capacity to concern himself that he could do poorly.  He is blind.  He makes no connection between the audience’s use of email on their phones and the bad-ness of his speech.

Type 2, if you are interested?  Type 2 cares so much about the message that the speech is not about him or herself.  The message is so important that his own performance doesn’t even enter the equation.  The message is so important that he has given the speech 100 times, over coffee, in airport lounges.

If I want taste in writing, I have to read a lot. I have to know why one author is better than another, and specifically what that author does that I am not yet able to do.

If you are writing and and not satisfied with the paragraph you are producing: Great! You have taste.

If you are speaking and are not satisfied with your quality of impact on the audience: Great! You have taste.

If you are leading a team and are not satisfied that you are a good enough leader: Great! You have taste.

If you are a parent, and are not completely satisfied that you are doing it well: Great! You have taste.

The Role of Teachers

Great teachers focus on developing taste as well as developing talent – because with taste, you can grow beyond the teacher.  If they don’t help you with taste, you depend on them.  I spend more and more time these days helping the participants in my seminars give structured feedback on themselves than I used to.  If I tell them what to improve, that’s ok… but if I help them develop that ability in themselves, they are getting “Taste”.

When does the switch from aiming to succeed to aiming not to fail occur? Has any company ever avoided it?

NASA, Microsoft… and next up?  Apple?

Dan Ariely asks this question on his blog. Why did NASA go from the ambitious 1960’s to 1980’s era moon missions to the conservative, blame-finding, cover-your-arse culture of the space shuttle era? Why did Microsoft go from its dynamic, opportunistic creation of DOS and early Windows to the risk-averse juggernaut of today?

Is Apple doomed to a similar fate?  Or is this not a generalizable trend?

When is the moment of the switch? Can you tell when you are inside the company? Can we trace these switches back to a single moment or are they slow, gradual, sweeping changes that no single person or event can be isolated as the cause?

What about in a person’s life? Is there a moment where success inevitably breeds an attachment to the fruits of success?  Is there a moment where the desire to hold on to my wealth, my status, my invites to the important events is stronger than the desire to test new ideas, to innovate, to risk failures?

When a person starts out with nothing, there is nothing to lose.  You look at potential gains and losses more equally.

When you experience some success then you start caring about what you have and you don’t want to give it up, so there is a natural trend towards conservative behaviour.  In this process, you also give up some of the things that made the success happen.

What can I do to see when I am becoming too defensive again?

Bill Gates said “Success is a terrible teacher.  It tends to give the false lesson of ‘I deserve'”.  This tendency to fall into a belief that I get because I am extra deserving, not because of hard work and a little (or a lot) of luck results in the complacency that leads to the fall.  The greek used the word “Hubris” to capture the arrogance before the fall from grace.

Ritual Sacrifice of Attachments

Joseph Campbell explains a ritual that he participated in late in life.  He was to bring 7 objects to a meeting.  These 7 objects were to symbolically represent the 7 most important things in his life.  During the ritual, the group passed through a dark cave with 7 doorways.  At each doorway a guardian demanded that the person give up one of their 7 symbolic objects.  Joseph speaks of a sense of a tremendous peace coming over him as he gave up his 7th object, passed through the cave and realised that he was still the same person.  This ritual didn’t require him to give up the fruits of his success, but it did emotionally allow him to de-attach from these external elements of his life.

What rituals can allow a company to keep alive the positive behaviours of its youth even as it experiences greater degrees of popular success?  What rituals can allow a person to keep balance even as he has more and more to potentially lose?

Photo Credit: John of Dublin via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: John of Dublin via Compfight cc

70% of organisation change efforts fail.

John Kotter has an 8 step process that can reduce the likelihood that your project of organisational change (and all leadership projects mean some form of change the the existing status quo).

A big source of failure is starting action before you have put together a solid base of support and understanding before acting.

The 8-Step Process for Leading Change

  1. Establishing a Sense of Urgency – Help others see the need for change and they will be convinced of the importance of acting immediately.
  2. Creating the Guiding Coalition – Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort, and encourage the group to work as a team.
  3. Developing a Change Vision – Create a vision to help direct the change effort, and develop strategies for achieving that vision.
  4. Communicating the Vision for Buy-in – Make sure as many as possible understand and accept the vision and the strategy.
  5. Empowering Broad-based Action – Remove obstacles to change, change systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision, and encourage risk-taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions.
  6. Generating Short-term Wins – Plan for achievements that can easily be made visible, follow-through with those achievements and recognize and reward employees who were involved.
  7. Never Letting Up – Use increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit the vision, also hire, promote, and develop employees who can implement the vision, and finally reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents.
  8. Incorporating Changes into the Culture – Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success, and develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession.

There is an excellent resource that goes into more detail for each stage at John Kotter’s website.

I just watched Thomas Hyunh speak about his lifetime obsession with Sun-Tzu, the 2,500 year old Chinese General, at Authors@Google (video at the bottom of this post).   Sun-Tzu was only 30 years old when he led the smallest region of China to victory over the largest region.  This victory made him famous, and made his book “The Art of War” into the widely read book that it has become.

What makes Sun-Tzu’s Art of War relevant to us today?  Conflict is part of our lives.  Personal relations, company market share battles, political struggle – how can we approach these challenges in an effective manner?

Whether it is military conflict or politics within an organisation, Sun-Tzu’s guidelines are relevant.

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Photo from Wikimedia

Sun-Tzu In a Nutshell

  1. Control yourself.  Thus you can influence others.
  2. Adapt to your environment.  It accentuates your strengths and ameliorates your weakness.
  3. Never sell out your principles. “The general who does not advance to seek glory or does not withdraw to avoid punishment, but cares for only the people’s security and promotes the people’s interest is the nation’s treasure”

“Before doing battle, in the temple one calculates and will win” Sun-Tzu

#1 Principle: Control Yourself

Number 1 is Control Yourself.  Sun-Tzu is very deliberate about his guidelines of separating out Ego and Emotion from decision making.   Thomas quotes him in his talk “Before doing battle, in the temple one calculates and will win” – take decisions away from field of combat.  As in combat, so in life.  Life decisions taken under high emotion or driven by ego desire are dangerous.  They need reflection in the light of a meditative peaceful pose.

“Those angry will be happy again, and those wrathful will be cheerful again, but a destroyed nation cannot be brought back to life” Sun-Tzu.   Strong emotions will go away, but actions can never be undone.   Battle that is driven by revenge, by anger, by frustration is not good battle.  Personal conflict that is driven by anger, revenge is not good for either party.

The 5 attributes of a Great General (Leader)

Sun-Tzu
Sun-Tzu
  • Wisdom
  • Credibility
  • Benevolence
  • Courage
  • Discipline

The 5 Factors for Victory

  • Way – Your personal connection to other people
  • Heaven – Environment outside your control
  • Ground – Environment under your control
  • General – Ability and Attitude
  • Law – Discipline and Commitment
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osQ2bLUd0UA]

Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osQ2bLUd0UA&list=TLp3MFP1RQA6E