I ran out of battery on my iphone this afternoon while sitting in starbucks.  I was waiting for 2 people.  I had to stay.  It was good that I ran out of battery, because I ended up looking at Tibidabo mountain for 30 minutes and thinking about life.

I was thinking about my post on Fear of an Ordinary Life from yesterday and the responses that it generated.

The Origin of a Fear of Ordinary

Where did this fear of living an ordinary life come from?

I read intensely as a child.  I would read anything, but by far my favourite type of novel were the fantasy or science fiction novels where a young unknown hero saves the universe.

From age 7, I watched Star Wars repeatedly.  I would watch 10 to 15 minutes each morning during breakfast before going to school.  The books are terrible, this was a movie world not a book world.

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The final Dune book, in my hands today

Starting from age 11, I read fantasy books.  My favourite fantasy world of all was Dune.  I found Dune aged 12.  There are 8 books (I still have them here on my bookshelf) in the series.  We follow the life of Paul Muad’ib from his life as an unknown son of a small time aristocrat to his becoming the Divine Emperor of the entire known galaxy, including mystical powers of telling the future and reading other people’s minds.  I fancied myself as a version of Paul.  I tried the mental skills that he was taught in the book.  Never did work.

Didn’t stop me imagining. As a teenager, I read the Dune books twice; from start to finish.  Each time, it was a 6 month journey.  (I have only ever read 3 books twice:  Dune, Lord of the Rings and Steinbeck’s East of Eden.)

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The bottom of my bookshelf

I remember the first time I finished the Dune books, I searched everywhere to see if there might be a ninth book.  There was no google, no amazon – only my local library and local bookshops.  When I realised that it was over, that there was no more adventure to be had in the fantasy world of Dune (and that Frank Herbert had passed away…  the final book was finished by someone else) I was devastated.

Real life never felt as intense or as alive as the experiences that I was living in these book-based worlds of fantasy.

In the real world, I went to school (boring), did my homework (boring), climbed trees (fun), ate breakfast, lunch and dinner (alway enough and healthy).

I think it is this immersion in these fantasy worlds for much of my childhood that shaped my fear of living a life that is ordinary.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

The Fantasy Worlds I Lived In

The Author’s & series that I loved during the ages of 10-15 (in order of preference):

  1. Frank Herbert – Dune Series
  2. Isaac Asimov – The Foundation Series
  3. Terry Brooks – Sword of Shannara
  4. Orson Scott Card – Ender’s Game
  5. Tolkien – Lord of the Rings
  6. Stephen Donaldson – Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
  7. Arthur C Clarke – 2001 Space Odyssey

My anxiety: It’s not FOMO but FOOL

Last week, I was given the thoughtful gift of a book “How to be Bored“.

It describes the anxiety arising from the Fear Of Missing Out, made famous as FOMO. I have a hard time sitting at home doing nothing productive. I have a sense that I am wasting my time.  Classic FOMO.  (I won’t mention the clues of social media addictions…  I had to delete facebook from my iphone…  it was becoming too consuming).

Summer amplifies this anxiety as I have too much time to think.  I don’t teach too many classes and spend a lot of time reading, reflecting and thinking.

As I reflect, I think my fear is less FOMO – fear of missing out, and more FOOL – Fear of an Ordinary Life.

I am a F.O.O.L.

…it does cause anxiety late at night, through the morning, before lunch, after lunch…  etc.

Fear of an Ordinary Life

It strikes me as supremely arrogant to believe that I deserve a greater than “ordinary life”, but there is definitely a striving inside myself pushing me to live a meaningful life. I have the feeling that I was given great gifts in this life: where I was born, when I was born, the brain I had, the health I had, the options that a good education has opened for me.

As a meditative exercise I sometimes reflect upon how tiny I am in this universe. It is 11 billion years old, and more enormous than I can imagine. I am miniscule. In 100 years I will be forgotten. In 1 million years… why does any achievement or lack of achievement matter?

This meditation takes away the rational questioning about whether I should care about doing meaningful things or not, but it doesn’t take away the underlying unease with myself.

The Buddhists say that this is an itch I should not try to scratch. I should learn to observe the itch without being driven, moved, affected by it.

I am a poor observer of the itch. FOOL is running like a clogged back-end server process on my brain’s CPU.

Where’s Ctrl-Alt-Delete?

There are 2 ways to categorize work:

  • cognitive or manual
  • repetitive or non-repetitive.

4 Kinds of Work

There are basically 4 kinds of work:

  1. Manual repetitive – Assembly line factory worker, farm labourer
  2. Cognitive repetitive – Call center operative, Bank teller
  3. Manual non-repetitive – Jewellery maker, Custom car builder
  4. Cognitive non-repetitive – Project manager, Sales of large complex systems

Generally speaking, repetitive manual work requires the least self-management and is the lowest paying, and cognitive non-repetitive work requires the most self-management and is the highest paying.

Are you good at Self-Management?

“We must manage ourselves, and help others manage themselves” Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker wrote an article called Managing Oneself that is still the best summary of Self-Management.  As a summary, you need to be answering these 6 questions:

  • What are my strengths?  Feedback is the only way to find out.  Do you have a systematic process for getting feedback on your behaviours?
  • How do I perform?  How do I learn best?  Don’t struggle with modes that don’t work for you.  (on Mastery)
  • What are my values?  “What kind of person do I want to see in the mirror in the morning?”
  • Where do I belong?  Mathematicians, musicians and cooks are mathematicians, musicians and cooks by the time they are 4 or 5 years old.  Successful careers are not planned, they happen when people are prepared and positioned for opportunities that suit them.  Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person into an outstanding performer.
  • What should I contribute?  Given my strengths, methods and values: what is the great contribution to what needs to be done?  Don’t look too far ahead – 18 months is the range of good planning.  Define courses of action: what to do, where and how to start, what goals, objectives and deadlines to set.
  • Who can I work well with?  Adapt to what makes those around you successful.  Adapting to what makes your boss most effective is the secret of managing up.  Take responsibility for communicating how you are performing; take responsibility for building trust

Past Posts on Work and Money

Student: “When I speak, people don’t listen.  Why is that?”

Teacher: “It depends…”

It always depends…

There are many possible reasons that people don’t engage with you, don’t care about what you are going to say, don’t pay attention.

Rarely does anyone come to me and say “I need help.  I am boring.”

However, this condition is not uncommon.

Some people find that they never have anything to say to others, they are left alone at parties, no one invites them out more than once; they are shy, bland, awkward or bland.  Being boring is a serious social problem.  In general, boring people are inhibited, lack spontaneity, never take risks; boring people say things that are always predictable.  They say what they believe others want them to say.

No Executive Presence
Careful… you are boring me…

Boring people are squashed souls.  They have been made boring by their childhood environment.  Underneath the surface boring persona, there is a creative, childlike, vital person.  You can’t get there by shock tactics, you have to coax the inner child to push past the surface obstacles.

How can you develop executive presence?

14 Characteristics of Executive Presence

  1. You make others feel important and helpful
  2. You have an elegant way of approaching, engaging and getting to know others
  3. You smile and maintain eye-contact
  4. Your presence is felt once you walk into a room
  5. You inspire people; you are likeable and trustworthy
  6. People are curious to know more about you
  7. People want to build a relationship with you
  8. You are perceived as important, valued and respected
  9. You ask relevant and thought-provoking questions that begin a dialogue
  10. You are well read and share fresh perspectives
  11. You always leave a message that people remember
  12. You relate equally well with different types of people (regardless of hierarchy or rank)
  13. You positively impact others and those around you immediately
  14. You share and create opportunities for others

Interested vs Interesting

The key is to be interested in other people, their lives, their challenges, their dreams.  If you are interested in others, curious about their stories: you will not be boring.

Presence is about your effect on others, not any quality of you.

On success, there is no one right answer: You cannot learn absolute rules from another person. You cannot take the life recipe of another person. You can learn from their stories, but only you will take what you take from a story.

Seek out Stories

Tribes, civilisations and families have found that life lessons are best communicated through stories.  Stories have existed since words came to the homo sapiens.  Joseph Campbell has identified common themes through the stories of every human society – clarifying the roles we play as human beings, the struggles we face in our lives and the search for underlying meaning to the bits and pieces that make up a life.

Stories connect to heart and to head, to reason and emotion.  There is a truth to a good story that is deeper than the factual truth of the events.  When a story resonates with you, it is not because of the objective truth of the story, it is because it connects with a subjective search for truth within you.

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Reading a story about story

A post shared by Conor Neill (@cuchullainn) on

Once Upon a Time in A Speech…

I tell many stories in my speeches.  It always amazes me how different individual members of the audience take their own particular meanings from my speech.   Sometimes one particular off-the-cuff comment has an oversized impact for one individual.  Each person takes what they need from a good story.

Every person’s life experiences lead to answers in this moment for that person.  We each live in two worlds, the outer world that we share with all others; and the inner world that exists inside us, and that will disappear from this world when we ourselves leave this world.  Stories connect between my inner world and your inner world.

Stop Searching for Rules

Seek out experiences, not certificates.

Seek out people, not facades.

Seek out stories, not answers.

There are not answers, only stories.

 

The mission of the IESE Business School, where I teach about 1,000 EMBA, MBA and Senior Management participants each year, is to “develop leaders who aspire to have a deep, lasting and positive impact on people, firms and society” and I have spent a lot of the last 13 years attempting to find a way to achieve this mission.

A leadership decision will always look wrong from somebody’s perspective.  Leadership decisions are always difficult because they play off between values.  We learn from Homer’s great hero Odysseus is that a leadership decision is always a decision between two bad outcomes.  If one path led to a good outcome, then the decision is an excel spreadsheet decision…  not a leadership decision.  Leadership will always be hard because you can never be right from all perspectives.

What stops someone developing as a leader?  What is the single greatest obstacle we face in developing Leaders?

Self-Delusion.

We are born aware of how we view others, but unaware of how others view us.

Some learn quickly to see how others see them.

Some never learn.

Some face an insurmountable challenge (psychologists call this a “boundary experience”) and realise that it is they themselves that must change.  It is they themselves that act in ways that make their goals unachievable.  It is only a major failure in their life that forces them to reflect and see that they are responsible for the behaviours that are causing failure.

Overcoming Self-Delusion

How do those institutions that develop leaders open human beings up to the nature of their self-delusion?  How do I as a teacher help someone realise that they don’t know everything?

I was reading “Return on Character”, a book by Fred Kiel this week – it is a 10 year study into the financial impact of having a leader who behaves with 4 “leadership character qualities”.  He worked with many CEOs.  He surveyed the CEOs, and he surveyed the direct reports of CEOs.

  • Great CEOs think they behave well 80% of the time, and their direct reports say 80%.
  • Poor CEOs think they behave well 80% of the time, and their direct reports say 50%.

Every one of his CEOs think they show these 4 categories of behaviour over 80% of the time…

  • Integrity – clear sense of right & wrong; tells the truth; seeks the truth
  • Responsibility – self control; fixes own mistakes
  • Forgiveness – cooperation; conflict resolution
  • Compassion – empathy; builds attachments; shows and receives affection

And, by the way, the answer was yes, leadership character matters to direct reports.  In a big way.

The Challenge of Self-Delusion

An individual is delusional about their qualities as a leader.  

This is the teaching challenge – students do not believe that they have poor behaviours around integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion. 

How do you get people to realise that they are not as good as they think they are?  (how to get them to actually listen to direct reports and to team mates feedback?)  Now… that is our teaching challenge.

I met Dandapani at EO Instanbul University and have since met him in Barcelona when he came to run a 1 day retreat for our chapter of the EO organisation.

He spent 10 years as a Hindu monk, and now shares what he learnt about using our mind and our awareness in an intentional manner.  We need to learn to use our mind well.  We need to learn to concentrate.

Here is his TEDx talk, titled “Unwavering Focus”.

Unwavering Focus

We become good at what we practice and most of us are experts at practicing distraction. We live in a society that trains us to multi-task and jump from one thing to another in an uncontrolled way. The great panacea for a world plagued by distraction is learning and practicing the art of concentration. In this talk Dandapani shares tools to learn to create focus in our lives.

PS My favourite joke in the speech 5:56 “She asked me ‘Is it ok for monks to use email?’  I turned to her and said ‘yes, but as long as there are no attachments'” 😉

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 13.50.41Here’s a video I shared recently on my YouTube channel.

What is the underlying structure of your life?  What habits are made easy because of the layout of your home, your office, the friends you hang out with?  How might you change the structure of your life in order to make certain positive habits more likely to happen?

Our surroundings affect us more than our intention and our discipline.

Making Changes that Stick, Building Good Habits

Right or wrong? 😉

Companies today aren’t managing your career. You must be your own HR guru. That means it’s up to you to identify your place in the world and know when to change course. It’s up to you to keep yourself engaged and productive. This is the premise of Peter Drucker’s 2005 HBR article “Managing Oneself”.

Managing Oneself Drucker

Peter Drucker asks some great questions the article (available as a short book).  This is a very brief summary of his article.  (The summary image above is a wonderful thing to print and keep in your notebook.)

  • What are my strengths?  Feedback is the only way to find out.  Do you have a systematic process for getting feedback on your behaviours?
  • How do I perform?  How do I learn best?  Don’t struggle with modes that don’t work for you.  (on Mastery)
  • What are my values?  “What kind of person do I want to see in the mirror in the morning?”
  • Where do I belong?  Mathematicians, musicians and cooks are mathematicians, musicians and cooks by the time they are 4 or 5 years old.  Successful careers are not planned, they happen when people are prepared and positioned for opportunities that suit them.  Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person into an outstanding performer.
  • What should I contribute?  Given my strengths, methods and values: what is the great contribution to what needs to be done?  Don’t look too far ahead – 18 months is the range of good planning.  Define courses of action: what to do, where and how to start, what goals, objectives and deadlines to set.
  • Responsibility for Relationships:  Adapt to what makes those around you successful.  Adapting to what makes your boss most effective is the secret of managing up.  Take responsibility for communicating how you are performing; take responsibility for building trust

  Final thoughts from Peter:  In management…

  • Success is at best an absence of failure
  • People outlive organisations
  • People are mobile and will move
  • We must manage ourselves, and help others manage themselves
  • Each worker must think and behave like a CEO

Further Reading

The Original Article is available at Harvard Business Review: Managing Oneself – Harvard Business Review or as a short book Managing Oneself (amazon).

Which question do you find hardest to answer in your own life?  I will share some resources with those that comment or email.

They lie, they manipulate and they pick fights: Some colleagues are ruthless, especially when it comes to their own professional advancement.

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Avoiding a toxic employee can save a company more than twice as much as bringing on a star performer.  The trouble with Toxics is that they are difficult to detect. Often, Toxics are popular with colleagues, seen as friendly and interested. It’s only after a while that co-workers begin to notice that the Toxic is sucking the joy and engagement of an entire workplace.  Poor leadership creates the perfect breeding ground for Toxics.

Who is likely to be toxic?

Overconfidence and narcissism are toxic.  I know these traits…  because myself, Conor Neill, at age 35 was massively overconfident and pretty narcissistic.

Overconfidence:

What it takes to get the job is not just different from, but often the reverse of what it takes to do the job well.

The main reason for the uneven management sex ratio is our inability to discern between confidence and competence.  Men are more apt to show confidence, women tend to hold themselves back from overconfidence.

Unstructured interviews are a terrible method to evaluate a person for a job – they reward self confident individuals and fail to analyse real competence.

Narcissism:  

High-flying leaders dream of their faces appearing on the front of Time, Business Week and the Economist.  Not their brand, not their team, not their investors…  their own face.  (That was my dream when I was 35 – fame for me).  This is narcism.

Freud told us that there is a dark side to narcissism. Narcissists are emotionally isolated and highly distrustful. Perceived threats trigger rage. Achievements feed feelings of personal grandiosity. Freud thought narcissists were the hardest personality types to analyze.

Narcissistic CEO Larry Ellison was described thus by a subordinate: “The difference between God and Larry is that God does not believe he is Larry.”

The 4 Apocalyptic Qualities of Poisoned People

Harvard Research showed that employees who showed the following characteristics were more likely to be toxic workers:

  1. Overconfident – as described
  2. Self centred – narcism
  3. Productive – individually highly productive in visible areas; note: this is individual rather than team focus on productivity
  4. Rule-following – a stickler for the formal rules

A self-centred, overconfident productive and rule following person will poison their team – taking all the credit, ruining the spirit, enjoying and promoting the failures of those around them.

How to be Un-Toxic?

What can you personally do to be less toxic?  What can you look for in others to ensure that they are competent and serve others?

Jim Collins identifies the 4 characteristics common to Level 5 leaders:

  • Humility
  • Will
  • Ferocious resolve
  • Responsibility: Give credit to others while taking blame upon themselves

How do you achieve humility combined with ferocious resolve?  How do you stay responsible even as you do start to achieve more and more?  I believe there is only one way to keep our feet on the ground:

Feedback from Trusted Peers

You must be surrounded by a group of people who can keep your feet on the ground, but believe deeply in your capacity to be a powerful, positive, valued leader.  There is no way to keep this journey going alone.  We need others to regularly see something in ourselves that we become blind to when left alone.  As the story goes, we are 2 wolves…  alone we feed the bad wolf, supported by peers, mentors, coaches and inspiring people…  we feed the good wolf.

Watch people – do they seek feedback from trusted peers?  If not, they are likely Toxic.

Robert Fritz says that we each have two limiting beliefs: powerlessness and unworthiness.  We don’t have to pretend to be better than we are.  We don’t have to pretend that we don’t do shameful things that all humans do.  The only cure?  Allowing trusted peers to really know us, and let us see what they see in us.

Benjamin Franklin brought together a peer group of 12 friends who would be fully open about their lives, challenges and opportunities.  A group who aspired to live bigger lives, and who worried about the dangers of self-delusion.

I have been part of a peer group forum for 8 years.  Each meeting we push each other to share the real person, not the one we have created to impress others.  I have found over these years that each time I share something that I am ashamed of, it loses its power over me.  Each time I share my real me, the others respond in a more positive way than when I share the carefully crafted impressive version of myself.

For 2016, Get Trustworthy Feedback

In 2016, be sure to surround yourself with people who believe in you, and in turn, make every effort to give them the same gift.

Do you have a trusted group of peers?  If yes, let me know how you found this group.  If no, I’d love to hear from you – I can share some tools to help you get started.  


 

More on Toxic Employees:

More On Peer Feedback Groups