The Secret of Life…

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time

There ain’t nothing to it

Any fool can do it

Nobody knows how we got to

The top of the hill

But since we’re on our way down

We might as well enjoy the ride

James Taylor

As I reflect on James’ words, I am reminded of an equally important corollary, the power of the pause. 

Pause and notice what is around us

Pause and consider before responding

Pause and reframe what we hear

Pause and consider an alternate point of view

Pause for perspective, Nobody Died.

How Do You Know When It Is Time To Go?

Whether you are a business owner, a professional manager, an advisor, or anyone engaged in an enterprise for an extended time – how do you know when it is time to go?

“Nothing is forever,” the saying goes, and yet sometimes, perhaps even frequently, we stay too long. We watch professional athletes stay past their prime, and we participate in the debate about term limits for our congress. Yet, when it comes to our own engagements, how often do we look inward and debate our own need for term limits?

When I was negotiating my exit from the corporate world years ago, I remember a conversation I had with a friend. My friend asked, “What are you going to do if you don’t get the deal you want?” My answer was, “I guess I will stay one more year.” Her response, “How many more years are you going to say, one more year?” At that moment, I realized it was time for me to go, regardless of the negotiation outcome. And… because I had made my decision to exit, I, of course, handled the negotiation more effectively.

While this topic comes up for most leaders now and then, it typically surfaces in a time of frustration. I wonder if it might serve us to ask ourselves this question as part of our annual strategic planning instead. What if, as part of strategic planning, every business owner or executive answered the following five questions:

  1. What did I give to the business, other than my time, this past year?
  2. What did I get, other than $$, from my engagement in the business?
  3. How do my answers to #1 and #2 compare to previous years?
  4. If my give/get has declined, what do I need to do to change this, and do I have the passion and skillset to do it?
  5. If I didn’t lead or own this business, what would I be doing instead?

If you have asked these questions in the past and have stopped asking them, you may already know that it is time to go.  

Who Knows What Is Good and What is Bad

A few months ago, I began a Mental Fitness Coach training program with Shirzad Chamine, founder of Positive Intelligence. I have found this program to have profound results, and I have integrated it into my YOU PIVOT™ coaching practice. A key tenet of the program is the concept of The Sage Perspective.  

The Sage Perspective encourages us to look for the gift in everything that happens and is grounded in an old Chinese Proverb that goes something like this.

A farmer has a stallion as his most prized possession. One day he enters his stallion in competition, and his stallion wins first prize. 

His neighbors bring their congratulations—the farmer replies, who knows what is good and what is bad. 

The neighbors go away, puzzled by this strange reply. A week or so passes, and the thieves in the area, having discovered the stallion has won first prize, come and steal the stallion. 

The neighbors bring their condolences—the farmer once again replies, who knows what is good and what is bad. 

Another week or so goes by, and the stallion finds his way back to the farmer bringing with him two precious wild mares.

The neighbors again bring congratulations—and once again, the farmer replies, who knows what is good and what is bad. 

Another week or so passes. The farmer’s son is riding one of these wild mares to try to tame her, he’s thrown to the ground, and he breaks his leg. 

The neighbors bring their condolences. —and once again, the farmer replies, who knows what is good and what is bad. 

The neighbors are certain this guy is losing his mind. 

In this eventful village, where every week, lots of stuff happens, a week later, a war breaks out. Every able-bodied young man is conscripted; the farmer’s son cannot go because he has a broken leg. 

By this time in this story, the neighbors don’t even bother to bring their congratulations because they know what the farmer is going to say.

There is profound wisdom in this ancient Chinese story of life. From the Sage Perspective, the message isn’t to passively wait and see; instead, the message is to find or create the gift actively. The gift could be a learning opportunity, or it could be the classic blessing in disguise, or something else, perhaps an inspiration. 

Who knows what is good and what is bad.

As you travel your day tomorrow, when S*it happens, remember the farmer and ask yourself, where might be the gift in this.

Are You An Unreliable Narrator?

Last week I wrote about the importance of telling your today story before answering the question, What is Your Tomorrow Story?

One of the challenges I observe in my work as an executive life coach is we are often an unreliable narrator of our own story. Successful people tend to focus on what is next. They become accustomed to asking themselves, “what could I do better?” “What could my company do better?”  

While this approach is perceived to drive results, it also leads to negative feelings and perceptions, judging ourselves, others, and our circumstances. This judgment then shows up when we tell our story.

I recently began work with a CEO who had spent the last seven years transforming a founder-led, founder-dependent company into a steady, stable, independent profitable growth company—the result: a company that couldn’t find a buyer, sold for multiples of EBITDA.

Yet, when I asked him to tell me his story as he prepares for his next gig, I heard a story that went something like this. “I am good at team building and creating order out of chaos, but I am not a charismatic leader. I expanded a local company and turned it into a national company, but it wasn’t growing at 10x multiples of earnings. The company had up and down years before I took over, and under my leadership, results were consistent, but not double-digit.” 

With all these “buts,” he was an unreliable narrator of his own story.

The unreliable narrator is a storyteller who withholds information, lies to, or misleads the reader, casting doubt on the narrative. Authors use this device to engage readers on a deeper level, forcing them to come to their own conclusions when the narrator’s point of view can’t be trusted. 

While this is a useful device to keep our attention in a novel, when we tell the story of our lives and our career, it can send us down a rabbit hole of self-doubt and lies we tell ourselves.

What to do? Here are two approaches that I have found helpful:

  • Try telling your today story and your tomorrow story in the third person; write it as though you are talking about someone else.
  • Find a friend, a family member, a coach, someone that either knows you well, or is good at asking questions to draw out the real story. In short, find an editor to become the reliable narrator of your real story. 

Nobody Died

I have a new CEO client who used to be a trauma surgeon. We’ve had many conversations about the differences between leading an ER surgery team and leading a business. The other day, he said something that has stayed with me since, so I decided to write about it.

Here’s what he said, ” while I certainly see the leadership differences between the two roles, the most profound difference is with very few exceptions, in business, nobody died.”

In business, no matter how serious the challenge, it is a rare situation where we can’t gain perspective from his words. Sure it matters, and sure we need to give every business challenge our full attention and full effort. And, if we can simply remind ourselves that nobody died, I wonder how that might enhance our ability to resolve issues and address our challenges.

My client told me that one of his last patients was a little girl he could not save. He shared that it turned out one of the nurses in the ER knew her family and shared a photo of her in happy times. He plans to keep that photo on his desk, he said, to remind him that no matter what the stress, no matter what the challenge, nobody died. 

Perhaps we all need to keep her photo in our mind’s eye. 

Happy New Year, L’Shana Tova

This past Friday night began the Days of Awe in the Jewish religion. Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the New Year in the Hebrew calendar, marks this period’s start; Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, marks the end. It’s a time for reflection, which I enjoy, even though I do not consider myself a religious person.

The prayer we read at the opening of the service goes something like this, ” On Rosh Hashanah, it is written, and on Yom Kippur, it will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea that everything is pre-ordained, and yet, the Stoics remind us of the same thing, Amori Fatal, Momento Mori. The message of the ancient rabbis and the ancient Stoics is the same, make today matter, it may be all you have.

For me, it is this reminder, especially in these times, that causes me to pause, reflect, ask and affirm that what I am doing today, and each day, in the words of Steve Jobs, is what I would be doing if I knew today was my last. L’Shana Tova, Happy New Year.

Labor Day In A Pandemic

Labor Day has taken on new meaning in these times. In the early months of the pandemic, we celebrated the labor of our essential workers:

  • food production and food service workers who make it possible for the rest of us to eat
  • health-care workers who care for the sick
  • sanitation workers who keep our communities clean
  • public safety workers who keep us safe 
  • manufacturers that produce the good we need
  • energy workers, and others I am likely leaving off this list

Labor Day historically marks the beginning of the school year. And once again, it is different this time. Different because the definition of school is both unclear and variable. Different because the clear division between parental responsibility and teacher responsibility has become blurred. 

The impact of the lack of clarity is reaching into businesses in unexpected ways. Employees with children struggle to meet their work responsibilities while caring for their children and tackling e-learning.   

The economic impact from this, both short and long term, remains to be seen but certainly, there will be an impact. A text I received from a young executive friend of mine back in July keeps rolling around in my brain “All the northwest suburbs have announced e-learning, the communities near me are doing hybrid. It looks like a lot of parents aren’t going back to work. How is this sustainable? If we had a woman workforce issue before, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.” 

And, the world I live in is full of innovators. Education was already a system under disruption; I am looking forward to seeing what entrepreneurs come up with to address this latest labor challenge.

Perhaps this Labor Day will mark a beginning. 

Let’s work together. If you are looking to grow or get unstuck and cut the time to action to six months or less, there is no better time than now to contact me.

Stuck In The Middle

As time marches on in this COVID-19 world, life is becoming more challenging. While we are all becoming accustomed to the “protocol,” many, perhaps most, of us don’t want to become accustomed to “it.” 

The masks, the temperature checks, the exposure questions, the monitoring, all of that seems almost ordinary by now.  

And at the same time, the emotional toll this has taken is staggering. 

  • Last week one of my clients summed it up well when he said, “for my own sanity, I have to believe and act as though this is temporary.”  
  • A friend of mine who is a psychotherapist, and was planning to retire, told me, “if I wanted to work 24×7, I could;” her phone doesn’t stop ringing.

The most telling sign of how tired we all are of the loss of life as we knew it, is the loss of humor. Before, when things didn’t go as we expected, or even when egregious things happened, we usually found a way to laugh. No more. 

Everyone is humorless for different reasons, same storm, different boats. For some, it is personal, losing a loved one, even if not from the virus, and not being able to mourn in the usual way; or not being allowed to visit an ill friend or relative in the hospital. For others, the pain may be economic, losing all or a portion of the family income or business income. Finally, there are some for which the loss is one of freedom and leisure. Bottomline worldwide, or at least what I see in my tiny part of the world, is we all feel a sense of loss. 

In the beginning, we banded together, much as we did after 9/11. I remember traveling to Europe soon after 9/11 and feeling the warmth and support from everyone we met. I saw the same amongst colleagues, families, and friends back in March and April. Everyone showed their support with Zoom cocktail hours, and the like. We frequently connected with friends and family worldwide, and it felt wonderful. A hidden benefit, we said, of the pandemic. 

Now that we are several months into this, Zoom has become a grind, we are on it all day, we crave a break, some real connection, and it feels elusive. Some choose to create the connection anyway; the risk feels worth it, “my mental health is as important as my physical health,” they say. Others choose to continue to isolate and protect their physical health. 

Most of us say we respect each person’s right to be themselves and choose that which gives them comfort. Yet, we can be quick to judge when someone in our inner circle makes a different choice than we do. 

What to do? 

Frankly, I don’t have the answers; I am challenged with this myself. What I do know is it has become clear that this is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Each day, I remind myself to find opportunities to laugh and be grateful, take my judgments lightly, and look for opportunities to be in service to others. I don’t succeed every day, and I plan to keep trying.

Leaders Are The Unsung Heroes

As chair of a CEO Peer Advisory Board, I am getting to see first hand the courage, dedication, and determination of leaders during this pandemic. I am humbled and inspired.

Leaders of essential businesses all over the world are working hard to keep their employees safe while serving their customers at the same time. Not one of these individuals, trained for this or frankly signed up for this, and yet here they are doing what they know they must.  

Each day, these men and women are on the front lines making the hard decisions to maintain that delicate balance between safety and production. 

Each day, these men and women must stay current on the latest developments. Each day, they must adapt to whatever changed from yesterday.  

  • It’s the outgoing CEO of the public company, who could easily call it quits and instead visits factories; 
  • The CEO of the privately held company that quickly pivoted to make safety products thereby keeping the business viable and enabling all employees to keep their jobs;
  • The mayor of your local community who gets paid only a service honorarium, and yet works countless hours to serve, 

All of these leaders deserve our thanks, appreciation, and patience as they navigate this storm. They are the unsung heroes of these times.

Let’s work together. You can learn more about my leadership and transition coaching as well as my peer advisory boards here.

WE ARE NOT ALL IN THE SAME BOAT

A friend of mine shared this essay in his weekly letter. It resonated for me, so I am passing it on to you.

I have heard that we are all in the same boat, but it’s not like that. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.  Your ship could be shipwrecked and mine might not.  Or vice versa. 

For some, quarantine is optimal.  A moment of reflection, of re-connection, easy in flip flops with a cocktail or coffee.  For others, this is a desperate financial and family crisis.  Some who live alone are facing endless loneliness. While for others it is peace, rest, and time with their mother, father, sons & daughters. 

With the $600 weekly increase in unemployment, some are bringing in more money than they were working.  Others are working more hours for less money due to pay cuts or loss in sales.  Some families of four just received $3,400 from the stimulus while other families of four saw $000.  Some were concerned about getting a special candy for Easter while others were concerned that there would not be enough bread, milk, and eggs for the weekend.

Some want to go back to work because they don’t qualify for unemployment and are running out of money.  Others want to punish those who break the quarantine.  Some are home spending 2-3 hours each day helping their child with online schooling while others are spending 2-3 hours each day trying to help educate their children on top of a 10-12-hour workday. 

Some have experienced the near death because of Covid-19, some have already lost someone, and some are not sure if their loved ones are going to make it. Others don’t believe this is a big deal.  While some have faith in God and expect miracles during this 2020, others say the worst is yet to come. 

So, friends, we are not all in the same boat.  We are each on different ships during this storm, experiencing a very different journey.  We are going through a period when our perceptions and needs are very different.  Each of us will emerge from this storm in our own way.  And for all, it will be important to see beyond what we see at first glance.  Not just looking, but seeing and understanding.  

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