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:
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.
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.
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-highEQ.
“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.
possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view);
having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues;
being a good critical thinker and problem solver;
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:
You are not “working from home,” you are “at your home, during a crisis, trying to work.”
Your physical, mental, and emotional health are extremely important right now. Take care of yourself!
You should not try to compensate for lost productivity by working longer hours.
Be kind to yourself and don’t judge how you are coping based on how you see others coping.
Be kind to others and don’t judge others on how they are coping based on how you are coping.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
Life 101: Develop competence. Build the discipline to finish small projects. Solve interesting problems. Help good clients succeed. Do lots of small good things for other people. Share the credit. Take the blame. Share your journey. Associate with good people. Help others realise they are capable of more than they think. Give them confidence. Lift them up if they fail. Celebrate their courage. Ask them what they learnt. Be present in their lives. Live with purpose and intention.
The days of sending your CV over to HR and waiting for the job offer are dead. No great job offers come through HR.
As Seth Godin says “No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.”
“My boss won’t let me”
“They won’t give me permission”
“I don’t have a publisher”
“Oprah Winfrey won’t respond to my emails”
Stop “waiting to be chosen” and “Pick yourself”.
If you want to write, write. If you want to make videos, make videos. If you want to be creative, make things with creativity. If you want to run an event, invite 50 people to an event. Don’t wait for permission… because there is nobody left to actually give you permission.
If you ask your boss for permission to do something, this is what they hear: “If this fails, blame goes to you (because you gave me permission); if this succeeds, credit goes to me (because I did it)”. Only an idiot would take this deal. Your boss didn’t get there by being an idiot.
Great problems create great leaders. Take the time to build the foundations before you build the skyscraper. Take responsibility. Become a trusted team member.
A friend shared with me a wonderful resource on business innovation over on the Visual Capitalist website. I’ve share links to the original source at the bottom of this post, and a number of other valuable resources that can help with business innovation.
I remember a lesson from my MBA. “…to remain profitable in the long term, your products must remain different over the long term.”
Warren Buffett and “Big Moats”
Warren Buffett talks about businesses with “big moats”. A big moat for a medieval castle kept the attackers from reaching the castle walls. A big moat for a business means that competition finds it difficult to offer a similar value proposition at a similar price point. If your product or service is not different from the competition, you have no moat.
In today’s open society, outside of state regulated monopolies, the only long term source of differentiation is innovation. Where does innovation come from? How can a company think about the different directions to innovate their product offering?
The 10 types of business product innovation:
How you make money
Connections with others to create value
Alignment of your talent and assets
Signature of superior methods for doing your work
Distinguishing features and functionality
Complementary products and services
Support and enhancements that surround your offerings
How your offerings are delivered to customers and users
Representation of your offerings and business
Distinctive interactions you foster
Innovation Tactics: 100 approaches to Identify Innovation
One useful resource is Doblin’s (part of Deloitte) list of over 100 tactics (pdf) that correspond with 10 Innovation Types framework.
Further Reading on Business Innovation
The original Visual Capitalist post is very much worth a read… and provides much more depth on each of the 10 types of business innovation:
This post is a summary of the MIT Raising Teens report which is available on the MIT website (links provided below the post).
“An extraordinary body of research exists on the powerful ways in which parents and families make a difference in the lives of teens. Yet, little of this knowledge has been reaching the media, policymakers, practitioners, and parents.”
Dr Rae Simpson, Director of the MIT WorkLife Center
The 10 Tasks of Adolescence
There are 10 major adjustments that need to happen as a child moves through adolescence towards becoming an adult.
Adjust to maturing bodies and feelings – Teens are faced with adjusting to bodies that as much as double in size and that acquire sexual characteristics, as well as learning to manage the accompanying biological changes and sexual feelings and to engage in healthy sexual behaviours. Their task also includes establishing a sexual identity and developing the skills for romantic relationships.
Develop and apply abstract thinking skills – Teens typically undergo profound changes in their way of thinking during adolescence, allowing them more effectively to understand and coordinate abstract ideas, to think about possibilities, to try out hypotheses, to think ahead, to think about thinking, and to construct philosophies.
Develop and apply a more complex level of perspective taking – Teens typically acquire a powerful new ability to understand human relationships, in which, having learned to “put themselves in another person’s shoes,” they learn to take into account both their perspective and another person’s at the same time, and to use this new ability in resolving problems and conflicts in relationships.
Develop and apply new coping skills in areas such as decision making, problem solving, and conflict resolution – Related to all these dramatic shifts, teens are involved in acquiring new abilities to think about and plan for the future, to engage in more sophisticated strategies for decision making, problem solving, and conflict resolution, and to moderate their risk taking to serve goals rather than jeopardise them.
Identify meaningful moral standards, values, and belief systems – Building on these changes and resulting skills, teens typically develop a more complex understanding of moral behavior and underlying principles of justice and care, questioning beliefs from childhood and adopting more personally meaningful values, religious views, and belief systems to guide their decisions and behavior.
Understand and express more complex emotional experiences – Also related to these changes are shifts for teens toward an ability to identify and communicate more complex emotions, to understand the emotions of others in more sophisticated ways, and to think about emotions in abstract ways.
Form friendships that are mutually close and supportive – Although youngsters typically have friends throughout childhood, teens generally develop peer relationships that play much more powerful roles in providing support and connection in their lives. They tend to shift from friendships based largely on the sharing of interests and activities to those based on the sharing of ideas and feelings, with the development of mutual trust and understanding.
Establish key aspects of identity – Identity formation is in a sense a lifelong process, but crucial aspects of identity are typically forged at adolescence, including developing an identity that reflects a sense of individuality as well as connection to valued people and groups. Another part of this task is developing a positive identity around gender, physical attributes, sexuality, and ethnicity and, if appropriate, having been adopted, as well as sensitivity to the diversity of groups that make up American society.
Meet the demands of increasingly mature roles and responsibilities – Teens gradually take on the roles that will be expected of them in adulthood, learning to acquire the skills and manage the multiple demands that will allow them to move into the labor market, as well as to meet expectations regarding commitment to family, community, and citizenship.
Renegotiate relationships with adults in parenting roles – Although the task of adolescence has sometimes been described as “separating” from parents and other caregivers, it is more widely seen now as adults and teens working together to negotiate a change in the relationship that accommodates a balance of autonomy and ongoing connection, with the emphasis on each depending in part on the family’s ethnic background.
The 5 Basics of Parenting Adolescents
What role do parents play in helping teenagers make these 10 adjustments?
The Raising Teens Project identified 5 significant ways in which parents can influence healthy adolescent development:
Love and Connect – Offer support and acceptance while affirming the teen’s increasing maturity.
Monitor and Observe – Let teens know you are paying attention.
Guide and Limit – Uphold clear boundaries while encouraging increased competence.
Model and Consult – Provide continual support for decision making, teaching by example and ongoing dialogue.
Provide and Advocate – Provide a supportive home environment and a network of caring adults.
This post is a summary of the MIT Raising Teens report that can be found here: MIT Raising Teens. Learn about the 5 Basics of Parenting Adolescents here.
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