This week I had the privilege of listening to Toni Nadal, coach of #1 tennis legend Rafa Nadal, share his story with the Vistage community. He spoke about his approach to helping Rafa prepare for difficult times. The central focus of Toni was removing all excuses from Rafa’s mindset.

How to Prepare for Difficult Times

Lessons from the life of Rafa Nadal

Conferences 2020 style…

The Struggle is the Way. It was important for Toni Nadal to help Rafa learn to love the struggle, to accept that nothing worthwhile comes easily.

He worked in practice on Rafa’s capacity to stay the course, to struggle to the end, to fight to the last minute of practice, the last point in a match.

“An excuse has never won a match”

Toni Nadal

The excuse may be true, it may not be my fault, but only when I completely accept responsibility for my current situation can I find the power to change the path.

Your excuses are all correct.

Rafa: “It was hot” -> Toni: “It must have just have been hot on half the court?”

Toni Nadal worked on character, not on ability

Character gets you through the tough times

Where is your Locus of Control, 2 choices:

  1. Me as responsible,
  2. World as responsible

I only have power to change my life when I take responsibility for my current and future situation.

It is easy to Give Up

It is easy to complain

It is easy to find reasons to stop fighting

It is easy to give up

It is easy to say that today is not your day

It is easy to say that tomorrow will be better

It won’t be…

Not until you change.

You can use your mind in two ways -> find the excuse, or find the resourcefulness to get through.

If you search for excuses you are guaranteed to find excuses. The smarter you are, the better your excuses.

If you want to throw in the towel, throw in the towel. Just get that life is an uphill struggle…

Uphill Habits

The habits that matter are uphill habits Exercise, Listening, Getting clear on your goals… these take work

Donuts, Complaining and putting the TV on… these just flow down easily.

In the most recent edition of James Clear’s weekly newsletter, he shared this gem on improving your quality of life.

Be “Selectively Ignorant”

  • Ignore topics that drain your attention.
  • Unfollow people that drain your energy.
  • Abandon projects that drain your time.

Do not keep up with it all. The more selectively ignorant you become, the more broadly knowledgable you can be.

What or who do you need to start ignoring?

We cannot control how the news will make us feel, but we can decide whether to watch it or not. We cannot control how someones words will make us feel, but we can decide to spend time with people who want the best for us. Choose who and what you let into your mind.

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?

On a walk yesterday in the Perimola region of Catalunya, about 2 hours drive from Barcelona. We went on a hike up to the hermitage of Castell Llebre.

My friend Mathieu Carenzo teaches Entrepreneurship at IESE Business School and is an early stage investor in many successful spanish startups, including some Unicorns. He shared 4 keys to identify a great business opportunity…

The 4 Keys to Identify a Great Business Opportunity

  1. Market: People need you. Your product or service solves a real pain in the lives of potential customers. The people with the pain have decision power over the money.
  2. Talent: You can get Resources. Computing resources, people with skills, infrastructure, good supplier network. You will be able to systematically deliver on your promises.
  3. Profit: Revenue greater than Costs. You have an ability to produce the product for less cost than the market is able to pay.
  4. Timing: The Market is ripe. If your idea comes too early and customers aren’t ready for it, they won’t change. If your idea comes too late and there are already a number of different competitors in front of your target customers, you won’t be able to squeeze in.

Entrepreneurship and Small Business

I’ll be making a number of videos over the coming weeks and months addressing the challenges of starting a business. There has been huge growth in new business formation in the US during Covid lockdown. One suggestion is that the government handouts of money have given many people the cushion of a couple of months they need to set up their own business. Entrepreneurship is not an easy ride, but it can be a path to a meaningful and rewarding life experience.

If you liked this post, you will also like reading Can we teach entrepreneurs? and entrepreneurial sales: overcoming the 3 major objections.

Neuroscience based Habits for Happiness… There is a saying that I heard recently from Elsa Punset… “Our brain is teflon for the positive and velcro for the negative” It is a powerful metaphor.

It is solidly grounded in psychological research. In good relationships the ratio of positive to negative comments is 7:1. 1 negative comment about a friend needs 7 positive statements to balance out… because our brain is so much more tuned into anything that risks our safety.

I noticed in the summer that I was paying attention to the difficulties, the challenges and was regularly in a state of anxiety and frustration. The habit that Albert shared with me – sending him a whatsapp each day for the next 21 days with 3 things I was grateful for – achieved a significant shift in how I was paying attention to the world around me… and then a shift in my inner state.

We never really have life figured out. There are a set of practices that help me remember what is important and help me put my mind into a creative, productive state. Sometimes I forget to do these practices, and over time I lose the power to access that creative, productive state.

My Grateful Whatsapp for today:

Gratitude 1/21

  • went for a run up on Ctra de les Aigues, along the mountain of Tibidabo this morning… there was a misty rain that is more common to Ireland… and it was wonderful to run with this light cooling mist.
  • I completed several Zoom-based online leadership and communications programs this week and I am feeling positive about my ability to teach via video.
  • Had a good night’s sleep. (I stopped drinking coffee 3 weeks ago because I was having trouble sleeping… and it is so good to wake up refreshed in the morning)
  • I can hear my daughter singing the music from Frozen II right now. She regularly fills our home with songs.

This morning’s run… atop the hill of Sant Pere Martir.

There are two modes of dealing with our life:

  • Living in Fear – the mode of seeking “Freedom from” and seeking validation for our past decisions
  • Living in Confidence – the mode of clarifying “Freedom to” and making choices as a responsible being.

Over the last 7 months, I have noticed that I have slipped into the living in fear mode. I knew what I didn’t want, but not what I did. I was waiting to see how the world would work out rather than committing to creating my own clear path.

I share these two modes in the video.

Stay safe.

In an episode of internet procrastination, I came across this tweet… and it led me down a rabbit hole.

Tom Peters, the Original Management Guru

Tom Peters wrote the book “In Search of Excellence” back in 1983 and began a major shift in Business studies. In place of scientific management, business began to look at what leadership might be… and begin to treat employees not as robots, but as human beings. The role of leadership is not to maximise production, it is both to achieve productivity and to make sure that employees, customers, owners and communities benefit in the process.

I came across a recent interview with Tom Peters. He spoke with Vala Afshar of Salesforce and Ray Wang of Constellation Research. I’ll share Vala’s summary of the interview (original article here)

11 Lessons on Life from Tom Peters: 

1. The most important leadership lessons were taught to us in middle school.  

Peters has advanced college degrees from Stanford and Cornell, and yet he remembers his 4th-grade teacher as one of the most influential people in his life. Peters said that his 4th-grade teacher loved him and the other students. It is about people who deeply care about other people. Care about your people. Teach them to be better humans. 

2. Never hire anyone who does not have high emotional intelligence (EQ).

And never, ever promote anyone who does not have a sky-high EQ.

“We only hire nice people” is a mantra that Tom Peters admires. Don’t hire the jerks, regardless of their deep expertise. Can we train for higher EQ? Peters thinks that if we have institutions that are thoughtful, caring, and people first, then we will have teaching opportunities to increase emotional intelligence.

3. Positive reinforcement is 30X more powerful than negative reinforcement. 

Peters talked about a Google study of their top employees and what made them perform. They discovered all of the top 7 attributes of their top employees were all soft skills. Project Oxygen had surprising results — the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last.

The six top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills:

  1. being a good coach;
  2. communicating and listening well;
  3. possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view);
  4. having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues;
  5. being a good critical thinker and problem solver;
  6. being able to make connections across complex ideas.

Peters also talked about the negative impact of categorising players as A-players vs. B-players — the fastest way to demotivate half the population. 

4. Always start with honesty and humility. 

No living human being today knows what they are doing. There are no experts in unsolved problems. Regardless of the size of your business, we must all admit that we do not have the answers. Instead, let’s work together to make forward progress. Be human and care about people. Peters weeps about a 20-person restaurant owner who is struggling now. Peters talked about mangers who had to execute layoffs, but when doing so with compassion and empathy, the workers effected ended up hugging their hiring manager. Be human. 

5. Take care of your employees by protecting their safety, health, and future. 

Peters read a memo from the Blue Mountain Community College, Boardman, Oregon that was communicated to their employees during the work-from-home quarantine: 

  1. You are not “working from home,” you are “at your home, during a crisis, trying to work.”
  2. Your physical, mental, and emotional health are extremely important right now. Take care of yourself!
  3. You should not try to compensate for lost productivity by working longer hours.
  4. Be kind to yourself and don’t judge how you are coping based on how you see others coping.
  5. Be kind to others and don’t judge others on how they are coping based on how you are coping.
  6. Success will not be measured the same way it was when things were normal.

6. It is about stakeholder value, not just shareholder value. 

Peters talked about long-term thinking companies have produced vastly more income, jobs, and wealth as compared to short-term thinking companies. You cannot expect customers to love your company before your employees do. Caring about your employees, customers, partners, and the community is good for business. If you take care of people, you will make a lot of money, this according to Peters. Maximizing shareholder value is no longer the path to sustainable growth. Values create value. 

7. This is the time to listen, learn, care more, and change. 

Tom Peters was not willing to comment about racial tensions in our country because he said that “I am part of the problem.” I asked Peters to talk about the current state of health, economic, racial, climate, and leadership crisis and he said that no one should pretend to know the answers to these unsolved problems.

8. What you have done in the past two months, and what you will do in the next two months will define your leadership legacy.  

Peters strongly urged business and community leaders to recognize that who they are as human beings will be defined by what they are doing now. Leaders emerge in times of crisis. How you behave, the degree which you were helpful, the degree of thoughtfulness will define you. 

9. There are two kinds of virtues — resume virtues and eulogy virtues. 

What will people say about you at your funeral?

Peters referenced the work by David Brooks and his article on eulogy virtues. Brooks wrote: 

“It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues, and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?”

David Brooks

Peters reminded us to focus on the eulogy virtues — this is how you can live a recommendable life. 

10. Leadership Team Must No. 1: Put more women in charge. 

In the age of COVID-19, Peters released a new piece titled “Excellence 2020: The 27 Number Ones,” succinct guidance about where to focus your leadership — from hiring and training to culture and management — now and always.

Tom Peters shared several research findings regarding why women are better leaders than men. Peters also talked about the importance of pay equality. Women should be paid the same as men for the same work. Peters also shared encouraging news about more women are graduating from colleges than men. When Peters graduated from Cornell, there was only one woman graduate out of 800 engineering students. Today’s Cornell graduating class consisted of 51% women graduates. 

The final story that Peters shared with us was an emotional story for Peters. The story involved Dwight David Eisenhower and the 76th anniversary of the D-Day landing, where Eisenhower went to the beach, putting his arms around the soldiers and wishing them Godspeed. I want you to see the video (35 minutes, 40 seconds into the video) because the delivery from Peters will bring tears to your eyes. 

11. Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; the third is to be kind. 

Tom Peters referenced the famous quote from Henry James. Peters said that this mantra should be the guiding principle for all schools and businesses. Let us behave well as individuals now. Let us hold ourselves to a higher standard. 

Check out the original article by Vala or watch the full interview here below:

If you liked this post, you will also like 17 Daily Personal Habits for a Fulfilling Life.

Yesterday, I had a coffee with my IESE Business School colleague Miquel Llado. We were celebrating his new book “Fall in Love with the Future” (available now in Spanish: Enamorarse del Futuro).

Miquel’s book shares valuable lessons on life and leadership from his career as CEO of Sara Lee, CEO of Bimbo, VP of Pepsico and his years of teaching at IESE. Miquel was elected Spain’s Best Executive 2000 by the Spain Business Association AED.

I’ve ordered 100 copies of the book to share with our Vistage CEO members in Spain.

Coffee with Miquel, and his new book “Fall in Love with the Future”

On Feedback…

Miquel shared a recent anecdote. A successful leader was sat in his office when a colleague came over to his desk.

Colleague: “Do you want my feedback?”

Leader: “No. I have no interest in your feedback. If I had listened to all the feedback that people threw at me all my life, I wouldn’t be a millionaire today.”

Miquel was shocked. All feedback is good feedback? or No?

Leader: “I am very careful about who’s feedback I am open to hearing. Not everyone’s feedback is useful… and many people have no idea what my actual objective is.”

Not all Feedback is Good Feedback (for you)

I heard this a few years back and I wrote it into my notebook at the time. “Evaluate feedback not on its face value, but on the quality of the life of the person giving you the feedback.”

If they have a life that inspires you, if they live to a set of standards and values that you aspire towards… then take the feedback seriously (whether it seems useful or not!).

How to Make Feedback Valuable

After I heard Miquel’s story, I thought “In my course we use feedback all the time, from everyone… is that something I should reevaluate?”

In my IESE courses, we make extensive use of peer feedback… from as many people as possible… but the first thing that the speaker must begin from is their statement of purpose. We call it Point X. “When I have finished speaking my audience will…” All the audience feedback is based on helping increase the power and the potency of the speaker’s words and actions towards consistently achieving that result.

If a speaker’s objective is “when I have finished speaking my audience will write their email address on a paper to commit to donate an hour to mentor an MBA student this week”… If nobody in the audience has written down their email, I am pretty harsh when feedback is “your speech was wonderful and I loved your story”. The purpose of speaker was not to be seen as wonderful. Their purpose was to get the audience to commit to giving 1 hour of their time. You can give an entertaining speech that totally fails to achieve its original objective.

Improving Feedback

In giving feedback, maybe I should be first interested in asking the person “What was your objective?” before I throw in my 2 cents. Often I have assumed their intent, but maybe I am incorrect.

When someone approaches me with feedback, maybe first I should ask “I’m intrigued, what do you think was my primary objective?”

Hitting the Bullseye

I shoot an arrow at a target and I miss. I ask a colleague for feedback. “I don’t like the colour yellow on your t-shirt… it is distracting” It is honest, sincere feedback, but it doesn’t help me hit the target next time.

If you liked this post, you’ll love my friend Florian Mueck’s guest post on this blog The Virtuous Circle of Feedback.

In his 30 years of asking this question, Wharton Business School Professor Stew Friedman has heard one word become increasingly common: Flexible

Elements of Flexible Leadership

What does it mean to be flexible as a leader?

flexible adjective

  1. capable of bending easily without breaking; able to be easily modified to respond to altered circumstances.

What context do we need to know in order to easily adjust our plans and strategy to altered circumstances?

Flexibility requires Context

In order to be consciously flexible as a leader, you must have clear the relative value of different aspects of your life. As a leader of teams, you need to help others develop their own clarity and explicitly use it in your decision making.

Dr Friedman says that too many people take a binary approach. They take for granted that professional and personal are two ends of a weighing scale. Increase one, reduce the other.

This is not a straight trade off. This trade-off approach leads to unnecessary sacrifices.

In Vistage, our stated mission is to increase both profesional effectiveness and enhance quality of life. We place both at the core of the question. We don’t want your life quality sacrificed for professional effectiveness, nor vice versa. We want a conscious integrated decision.

The key of flexible leadership for yourself and for those around you is to get clarity in 3 ways:

  • Be Real
  • Be Whole
  • Be Innovative

What does it mean to “Be Real”?

What does it mean to “Be Whole”?

  • You are good at clarifying expectations
  • You help others
  • You build supportive networks (you cannot live a good life on your own: without peers, coaches, mentors)
  • You apply all of your resources effectively
  • You manage boundaries intelligently (sometimes firm, sometimes loose)
  • You weave disparate strands of life together

What does it mean to “Be Innovative”?

  • Your focus is on results
  • You resolve conflicts among domains
  • You continually challenge the status quo
  • You seek new ways of doing things (crowdsourcing solutions, ask for help)
  • You embrace change courageously
  • You support innovation attempts by others

Video: Dr Stew at Google

How Flexible is your Leadership?  What areas are clear, unclear for you?  What action will you take?

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.