What is your relationship to success and failure? I have been reflecting these recent weeks about how I respond to “failure” – when things do not turn out as I hoped or wished.
The video below shares my thinking about a better way of approaching failure in our lives.
How I let failures derail me…
I let small failures easily put me in a state of frustration and stop me making progress (and then checking social media and seeking out other simple distractions).
I take small setbacks incredibly personally.
I’ve been reflecting on why I let these small failure events have such an effect on me.
I realised that I was telling myself that all setbacks are bad.
This is not a great story to tell myself. A new story is that failures are a sign that I am working towards important goals. A lack of setbacks would be a demonstration that I am only working towards easy, unimportant goals that don’t push me to grow as a person.
A couple of weeks back I shared something that my father said to me over and over again when I was young. “It might be their fault, but its your problem”. His point was always to take responsibility for what you yourself can actually control in any situation. Robbie van Persie shared a similar conversation with his son recently on the High Performance podcast. This sparked my recent video from Seville…
High Performance interview clip with Robbie van Persie
I came across the High Performance podcast when they interviewed Dan Carter, the great New Zealand rugby fly-half (the equivalent of a quarterback in american football). I have listened to many of their episodes over the last couple of months as I travel or go for walks. I love a couple of things about this podcast – the way the two hosts Jake and Damien play off of each other, are each so curious and passionate about the human side of performance and the guests that join them on the podcast.
I loved this bit of the High Performance Podcast interviewing Robbie van Persie… on taking responsibility for what you do control. Here’s the video clip:
“Every opportunity is attached to a person. Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky. They’re attached to people. If you’re looking for an opportunity — including one that has a financial payoff — you’re really looking for a person.”
My life is an example of this quote in action. The most transformational opportunities in my life have come to me through people. I would not be teaching at IESE without Brian Leggett opening the door for me… not just to teaching, but even to the idea that I might be able to teach. I would not be involved with Vistage without Verne Harnish.
In both of these cases, I didn’t even know that the opportunity even existed. I was not looking for the opportunity. It took the vision of the other person to see a path for me that I would never have seen myself.
The power of people luck is that others can often see an opportunity that you cannot see yourself.
Return on Luck (especially People luck)
I had the privilege to meet Jim Collins a few years back in San Diego. A powerful idea that Jim has shared is “Return on Luck”. Over several years, Jim and his team investigated the hypothesis that “successful people/companies are just luckier”. They defined what it would mean for a life event to be considered “luck”:
A luck event is one that meets 3 criteria:
outside of my control
Jim and his team looked at successful and unsuccessful companies, and leaders, and identified every luck event that had occurred. They found no difference in the absolute number of luck events.
Successful People & Companies are not Luckier
There is no difference in the absolute number of luck events in the lives of successful or unsuccessful companies or leaders.
However, Jim and his team did find a difference in what happened after the luck event… Once luck happens… how do you respond?
Jim calls this “Return on luck”. Once a “luck event” has happened, there is a big difference in how successful and unsuccessful companies and leaders respond.
The luck event happens… then what? You meet the girl of your dreams and say “Nice to meet you” or you say “I want a coffee, will you join me?” You meet a key person in the company you dream of working for… what do you do with this moment?
When something lucky happens in your life, do you seize it and take action? Are consistently getting prepared for future luck events in your life?
This week’s video was inspired by a recent conversation that I hear with Dan Sullivan on the Strategic Coach podcast. He spoke about 2 elements of overcoming fear and beginning to make significant progress on the really important project in your life.
In the video, two thinking tools to overcome fear and take action:
As a teacher, Zander faced with the same problem every year for 25 years… students so worried about their grades that they did not take creative risks.
Benjamin Zander tells his students that their grade for the year is an ‘A’.
There is one condition. Students must write a letter to him within 2 weeks of starting the course. The letter must be dated from one year in the future. In this letter students are to state what they did to achieve the ‘A’ grade, and to write about the person they have become by the end of the course.
In writing their letters, Zander tells students to “place themselves in the future, looking back, and report on all the insights they acquired and the milestones they attained during the year, as if those accomplishments were already in the past. Everything must be written in the past tense. Phrases such as ‘I hope,’ ‘I intend,’ or ‘I will’ must not appear.”
Zander encourages students to also reflect on their mindset over the coming year: what thoughts and beliefs they hold about themselves. What types of thoughts will they be thinking in their journey towards deserving the A grade?
A company has only one ultimate decision maker: the CEO.
The CEO is the only person in a company without peers. No other individual holds such a full and final responsibility for the company. The CEO is the most powerful and sought-after title in business, more influential than any other. The CEO takes the company’s biggest decisions. These decisions account for 45% of a company’s performance.
This power and influence comes with a heavy burden.
The role of CEO can be all-consuming, lonely, and stressful. Just 3 out of 5 new CEOs live up to expectations in their first 18 months… and many CEOs struggle with their quality of life (health, family relationships, friendships) in the face of the pressures they face.
I run Vistage in Spain. Vistage is the world’s leading CEO coaching organisation. Over more than 60 years, Vistage has worked closely with CEOs to take and implement better decisions which enhance their performance and increase their quality of life.
I spend time with hundreds of CEOs each year. They are good people and they want the best for the good people around them. This makes it extremely personally challenging for them to deal with underperformance. They like the people around them. They want to give them lots of opportunities. They feel that it is a personal failure when someone close to them repeatedly underperforms expectations. They give more time. They allow for environmental factors. They wait and hope.
The single biggest regret of CEOs is not dealing quickly with underperformance.
In my work with CEOs through Vistage, over half of all of our work is about the current and future performance of the people and teams that surround the CEO. We challenge CEOs to stop waiting for underperformance to fix itself.
The Differentiator between Great and Good CEOs
According to McKinsey, the distinction between good CEOs and the great CEOs is the ability to focus.
Great CEOs place “big bets”. They focus on the top 3-5 most important initiatives. They dedicate 90% of their time, energy, resources to the 5 most important projects. They say “no” often. They don’t allow their time to fill up with many different activities and different priorities.
The Good CEOs avoided this level of focus. Their prioritisation of what is truly important is less clear. They are involved in many initiatives. They allow their agenda to fill up and try dedicate a couple of hours each week to the most important projects. They try to fit the important initiatives in around their “day job” of running the company.
The Great CEO has delegated the running of the company to an effective leadership team. They have made themselves unnecessary for operating the company today, so they can dedicate themselves to building the company of the future.
I recently heard Sadhguru share 3 ways that people approach life and work:
Idiot – these people don’t enjoy what they do each day
Smart – these people have created a life where they do enjoy the activity and the people that they spend time with each day
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?
“On many occasions I have seen presenters who thought that displaying a great memory was more important than punching home a well-crafted message.”
This is a guest post by my father Terry Neill. It is an edited version of 2 emails that I was cc'ed into recently.
Christmas 2019. We were in St Patrick’s cathedral (where Jonathan Swift was Dean) waiting for the start of the service.
A friend of one of our friends stopped by. I was introduced. He said “Oh I remember you for a terrific after dinner speech at the Strollers Club last year” , and then he said – with a laugh – “Even though it was all written out.”
I remembered the occasion. Speaking at the Strollers dinner was an important event for me. They invite excellent speakers. You have to be at your best – and funniest.
In every similar circumstance, I have a script. I know I will be nervous (it’s a source of energy). Opening and closing need the right words with the right cadence. Every punchline must have the words in exactly the right order. As the chair thanked me, he felt the need to tell the audience that “Terry had it all written out”. It was hard to know whether it was compliment or criticism. I suspected the latter.
For me, having the script means I can focus on ‘the theatre’ …. The pauses … the ‘chapter headings’ …… the changes of pace … the key repetitions …. The body language ..the big points of emphasis ….. the build up to punch lines …..
There is a prevailing belief amongst after-dinner speakers that using a script or notes of key points is ‘un-macho’. Often times, the memory failed and key messages got lost or forgotten – or stories fell flat as the punchline got mangled.
We have to get over the embarrassment of being prepared. With some few – irritating – exceptions, ‘winging it’ is always high risk. In my experience, every great speaker or presenter is always superbly prepared – and practised. Notes or full script are a matter of individual choice. I regard them as a measure of professionalism and as evidence of a commitment to excellence.
Golfers will know that Gary Player was/is one of the great sand bunker players. When he was asked why he seemed so lucky, he said “It’s amazing. The more I practice, the luckier I get”.
It often happens that the unplanned, informal moments provide the most powerful opportunities to deliver a message or make an impact. I know that a newly appointed CEO is generally not ready to listen – as they, usually over optimistically, take on the challenges of their new role. My role as a consultant required me to be well prepared to communicate, when that CEO was prepared to listen – which could be anytime.
In about 1997, I stepped into an elevator on a high floor of the Rhiga Royal hotel in New York. I recognised the one person in the elevator was Marvin Bower – the founder of McKinsey & Co. He said good morning. I said ‘good morning Mr Bower’. He was surprised … and asked me what I did …. ‘Accenture’ (in those days Andersen Consulting). He said tell me about your firm. I had the 3 lines and he said ‘have you time for a coffee’.
I was late for my meeting, but got to spend nearly an hour with one of the great icons of professional services/consulting. I hope that his opinion of Accenture rose as much as my opinion on him and McKinsey.
The title of this blog comes from a session in a course that Professor Paris de l’Etraz teaches about Life. I met Paris at a dinner in Madrid 4 years ago hosted by another inspiring teacher.
Stand in the Traffic: I love the simplicity of this life strategy.
Whatever you want in life, there are places where opportunities are flowing… and there are places where opportunities are not flowing. Abundant places… and stagnant places.
Stagnant: There are very few opportunities passing the person sitting on their sofa watching Netflix.
Abundant: There are many more opportunities passing the person out there in the world engaged in conversation… on a university campus, in industry conferences, in associations, online via youtube and blogs and writing articles.
If you have any idea what you are looking for…
If you have any idea about the types of things that you want to come into your life, the next step is to ask yourself “Where is the traffic?” Where are relevant people, resources, ideas, activity flowing?
Go stand there.
Put yourself where opportunity will pass you by.
If you are at an industry event and it is coffee break time, where do you stand?
If you stand by the wall with your mobile phone in front of you… you are not “in the traffic”.
If you stand by the coffee machines or the food service area, all the traffic will pass by you.
If you know how to smile and ask a few questions “hey, how are you doing? what brings you here? what has impressed you so far?”… now you can engage with the traffic.
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.
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