This is the recording of a session I did yesterday with IESE Business School on the topic of writing as a tool to help your career. In this context, writing is not so much about writing for magazines or in a blog… but writing to set goals, to stay focussed, to identify what is important, to gain clarity, to track progress, to plan…

Do you need Motivation? …or do you need Clarity?

Many people say they lack motivation, when what they really lack is clarity. They are not de-motivated, they just don’t have any clear sense of where and how to place their energy and their time.

If you don’t have a plan, you can’t procrastinate. If you didn’t have a plan, procrastination is your plan.

If your goals aren’t written down, it is hard to refocus on them when you get distracted.

PS My friend Christophe took this so seriously that he tattooed an intention on his arm. Tattoos are a big step… maybe start with a piece of paper.

More on Writing as a Tool for Clarity

If you liked this, you will also like Free your Mind: Writing a Journal. and Writing to Reflect. Mindful Leadership. or Reflect on the Past, Clarify the Future.

I recently heard Sadhguru share 3 ways that people approach life and work:

  1. Idiot – these people don’t enjoy what they do each day
  2. Smart – these people have created a life where they do enjoy the activity and the people that they spend time with each day
  3. Genius – these people have learnt to love what they have to do. They know how to connect all important activity to their personal purpose and make it feel meaningful.

A couple of comments on youtube suggested that this was an “arrogant statement” and that not everybody has had access to education and opportunities. I don’t believe any of these 3 approaches are necessarily only accessed through formal education… in fact I see many well educated people from wealthy backgrounds who really struggle to get out of the “idiot” category.

Another comment on youtube suggested that we each operate at these 3 levels in different areas of our lives… it may be that you are a genius in health and exercise, but an idiot when it comes to personal finances… or a genius in your professional career and an idiot as a family member.

The route to genius involves having clarity on your purpose and a set of practices or rituals to connect necessary action to that sense of meaningful purpose.

What do you think? Where do you operate most of the time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thinking generates hours, but does not generate reps.

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

I first met Dandapani at an Entrepreneurs Organisation event in Istanbul in 2012, I have since met him in Boston and then helped bring him to Barcelona to spend a day with our Entrepreneurs’ Organisation chapter.

Dandapani teaches some simple but highly important lessons about awareness and our mind, and how to be intentional about your life… and in particular your energy.

Video summary from Eugene Wong on LinkedIn

Wisdom from Dandapani

  1. Winning and social approval is not the motivation of the gold medal athlete. They do it to learn more about themselves. Winning or losing is not so important, it is about knowing who you are. Failure is like an enhanced moment to learn who you truly are.
  2. Your life now is a manifestation of where you direct your energy or a sum total of where you have been investing your energy.
  3. There’s people in your life that boost your energy. There are those who are energy neutral. Be kind and detached from your energy vampires. Give the work back to them.

How to Improve your Concentration

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

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

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

Further Resources on Dandapani’s lessons

Check out my previous videos and blog posts that were inspired by Dandapani:

I’ve been reviewing my purpose statement. I rewrote it earlier this year. The year of Covid shook up my routines and threw me out of balance. It took some discipline with mentors, coaches and my journal to get re-connected to why I get up in the morning.

My purpose is “to inspire and challenge others to do the most important work of their lives”.

This video is a reflection on the context necessary for someone to do the most important work of their lives.

The 4 Ingredients necessary to do the most important work of your life:

  1. Work on Important Problems
  2. Surround yourself with Great People
  3. Learn to Communicate effectively
  4. Play the Infinite game

If you enjoyed this post, you will also enjoy 22 Excuses that I use to not Do Important Work and Plant Acorns. Grow Oaks.

What makes a person into a leader?

Charisma? No.

Communication? No.

Experience? No.

They deserve a promotion because of past efforts? No.

What ideas do you have?

There is one characteristic without which you cannot be called a leader.

Followers? Yes…  but what do you need to have as a leader so that others actually follow?

The Fundamental Characteristic of a Leader

A Destination.

You know where you are going.

…and then the power to Communicate

…and then you need to develop the ability to engage with people so that the destination becomes a shared destination.  

If you can begin to paint the destination in the minds of others with stories you begin to engage not just their hands, not just their skills, but their whole self in the committed pursuit.

A Shared Vision of a Worthwhile Destination

How do you engage those around you to commit to the journey?

Don’t “motivate” people.  

Figure out something that is worth doing.  Figure out how it will make your life better, how it will make their lives better and how it will make society better. 

Help others understand that being part of it will be better for them and their life.

How do you share this destination with others?  How’s this as a script:

  • Let us move forward: This is a good use of our time…
  • Here is what is in it for me…
  • Here is what is in it for you…

Business as an Infinite game

Simon Sinek shares a powerful concept in his book “The Infinite Game”.  He has popularised the distinction between Finite games and Infinite games. 

Chess is a finite game.  Soccer is a finite game.  Tennis is a finite game.  They each have a set of agreed rules, and a clear victory condition at which time the game ends.  The objective in a finite game is to end the game as victor.

Business is not a finite game.  Life is not a finite game.  Leading human beings is not a finite game.  

Success in life is keeping it engaging to play for all those involved (including yourself!). 

A game everyone plays voluntarily is more successful than a game where some must be compelled to play.

If you are going to set up an organisation, you can compel people to perform with threats and fear.  It is much more effective to engage them to play a game that is meaningful for them, and for you… and for society as a whole.

How to lead the whole Person

Imagine these two requests from a leader:

  1. “Go home and take 4 hours to think about how you will contribute to this organisation over the next year” or
  2. “Go home and take 4 hours to think about your life and formulate a plan for your life with this business being a part of the plan”

Which is the question of the bigger leader?

Jordan Peterson reports a 10% increase in contribution where leaders ask the 2nd question to their teams. 

You want yourself and your team to see that working for you serves their higher order purpose.  

If not, this is not the job for them.  Help them find a place where they can serve their higher purpose.

If you liked this post, you will also like Finding Purpose and Defining a Vision for your Life and What is Leadership?

This post was inspired by Jordan Peterson in this Bigthink video: 

 

I was interviewed by Thomas Capone of the New York Distance Learning Association yesterday and the video recording of our 55 minute conversation is now available on their website.

About Thomas Capone, Director NYDLA

Thomas A. Capone is CEO of MTP-USA, one of the fastest growing telecommunications companies in the United States. Servicing over 300 of the Fortune 1000 companies in the United States. Thomas Capone’s clients include the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S secret service. Thomas Capone is also executive director of the New York Distance Learning Association (NYDLA).

His idea behind the New York Distance Learning Association (NYDLA) is that everything is now about distance learning, not just higher education. Everything is about remote work, tele-work, file sharing, virtual classrooms, virtual work. Even virtual play! Look at the world of video games and virtual reality technologies. The NYDLA brings not only the technology – but smart people – the subject matter experts to those who must master this new world of global distance learning to be successful. The future of our world is to be a global marketplace, and it only makes sense to master the technologies and the distance learning techniques of this new world.

Original Recording here: https://nydla.org/podcasts-conor-neill/

What we cover in the Interview

  • 00:00 Welcome to Coffee in the Clouds
  • 00:27 Who is Conor?
  • 02:35 How did you become a teacher?
  • 05:35 A story about my father… “Those that can, do; those that can’t teach”
  • 12:40 The lessons of life: Faith, Hope and Love
  • 14:40 Let your intuition guide you
  • 15:30 How do you define Teacher, Coach, Mentor, Manager and Leader?
  • 15:57 What is a teacher?
  • 17:12 What is a coach?
  • 18:56 What does a mentor do? How do you find purpose?
  • 31:30 What is a manager and what is a leader?
  • 36:10 How did Aristotle have such an impact on the world?
  • 37:40 How to move from in person to online communications?
  • 42:00 “you can’t coach speed!” what are the limits to coaching/teaching?
  • 47:00 What value would you share with a child as the basis of a good life?

Be Persistent. Success takes time.

Tom Peters often says that “Everything important in Life takes time”. If you can start something and get it done ASAP, it probably is not that important.

In order to plant the seeds for important things… you need to shift your time horizon to the long term.

Building trusted Relationships… takes time.

Establishing the support of allies… takes time

Listening… takes time

Thoughtfulness… takes time

Gratitude and small gestures… takes time.

Tom Peters says that 50% of your time should be unscheduled. He asks “What’s the most important thing you do as a leader?” I paused and thought… and then he answered.

Daydreaming.

Daydreaming. Visualising a better future. Allowing your ideas to flow. Seeing from a bigger perspective.

The Worst thing a Leader can do

There is nothing worst than a boss running around from one meeting to another, unprepared, arriving late, rushed, busy, frustrated, hassled.

Speed for speed’s sake is crap.

Don’t scale crap.

Great people know that the most important thing is deep, trusting relationships with good people.

I’ve had some tough days this year.

I am not alone.

Covid is a physical disease, but the wider impact will be on the mental health of the billions who have been hit by the economic shutdown.

Who do you feel is struggling to keep things together?

Every single one of us has incredible power to lift up the spirits of the people that are around us. It requires a choice. It is harder when you are struggling yourself. It is important. The people around you need your leadership.

How can we help those around us feel good about themselves?

In the video, I share 3 ideas.

  1. Ask Questions
  2. Let them help you
  3. Shine a light on their strengths

Who needs your attention today? Who around you would benefit from a few minutes of facetime or skype or a phone call?

This summer I played a lot of tennis (for me): I played 5 hours each week.

Initially, I played with my family, but then was encouraged to hire a tennis coach. I haven’t had a tennis lesson since I was a kid. Rackets have evolved in the last 30 years and so have techniques. I booked 10 lessons with the clubhouse. They put me in contact with Victor.

Victor today is in his fifties, but as a younger man at various times he was the #1 Portuguese tennis player.

Victor was the best coach that I have worked with in years.

There are a couple of things that Victor did that made the time we spent together valuable for me – not just for my tennis, but also as a general improvement in my approach to life.

100% Focussed on Tennis

On our third session, I asked Victor about his recent trip up to Lisbon. He said “we are here for tennis, not for conversation. Conversation when we finish.”

I was surprised, but rapidly saw that this was Victors approach. I started to enjoy the freedom to not have to be “friendly” but to focus 100% on tennis. He was focussed for the hour on how to make me a better tennis player, not for friendly chat.

As soon as a lesson would finish, he would happily share about his life… but not when we had work to do.

Always Assertive with a Clear Plan

At all times, Victor had a plan for our time together. All lessons started immediately with tough warm up drills. All lessons moved through a sequence of practices that build up to full rallies towards the end of the hour. I could ask questions and ask for specific improvement tips, but Victor remained in control of the sessions at all time.

This is a balance I find difficult as a teacher and as a coach. There is always an element of friendship that emerges between the students and me, and between those that I coach… I sometimes feel it to be rude to not engage in some friendly conversation.

Victor showed me that there is a time for friendly conversation, and there is a time for doing the work.

Mentally and Physically Challenging

Victor ran the sessions as if I was preparing to play at Wimbledon the following week.

people sitting on bench watching tennis event on field during daytime
Photo by Raj Tatavarthy on Pexels.com

I play tennis as a fun social game, but not something that really improves your fitness. Lessons with Victor left me feeling as if I had done a 6 mile run. I finished each session physically exhausted.

Victor never treated me like a 47 year old weekend social player. Initially I felt like telling him that it was too much, that I only wanted to improve the technique on my forehand and backhand… but once I accepted that this was not just technique coaching, but challenging me to be able to play against the toughest players, even when physically exhausted… I started to get into the idea of taking tennis more seriously.

Victor expected me to act at all times like a serious player. If he was ready to hit and I was walking slowly back to the baseline, he would shout “come on, get into position!”

As I got tired and I felt frustrated that my technique was falling apart because of total exhaustion, he was clear that it is vitally important that you continue to play well at the end of games when both players will be tired.

I find this balance between challenge and fun a difficult one. My approach to teaching business leaders has changed dramatically since my first classes in the IESE MBA program back in 2005.

Initially I taught like a kind friend who shared information and jokes with students. After 5 years I had a radical change of approach.

This shift was caused by the bankruptcy of a company that I had founded. As I led the company in the financial collapse of 2008, I just wasn’t emotionally, spiritually or financially prepared for the challenge. I asked myself “How can I have an MBA… and 8 years experience as a management consultant… and yet be totally unprepared to face real difficulty?”

Class should be tough. Training should be harder than real life. If leaders are not facing the hardest challenges in training, then we are not preparing them for life.

Everything Matters

How I showed up, how I gathered the tennis balls, how I stood in the ready position were all aspects of my game that Victor challenged me on. Everything mattered. Everything was coached towards the mindset of excellence as a tennis player.

Given the intensity of the sessions, I had more little muscle injuries than I have had in years. Sprinting from side to side and from the baseline to the net put stresses on my knees and legs that I haven’t faced since my days playing squash in my 20s. Even here, Victor was unrelenting. “Sore leg? Can you play? Then let’s play…”

Tennis and Life

What’s true of success in tennis, is also true for life. I found that the 20 hours with Victor not only improved my tennis, but shifted my outlook and approach to life.

Victor was a great coach for me not because he was a great tennis player. He was a great coach because he didn’t coach the 47 year old social player, he coached me as if I was an excellent player. This attitude more than anything shifted my mindset and attitude.

As I return to Barcelona to refocus my energies on our CEO development at Vistage and to my teaching at IESE, I hope to take a bit of Victor into these interactions.

If you enjoyed this post, you will also like Why Business Leaders Hire Coaches and CStuart Lancaster (England Rugby Coach): How to be a great leader of Rugby teams.