The Single Question That Takes Your Impact Way Bigger Than Just Results

As a little sneak-preview for you, an excerpt from one of my favorite chapters of Tap Into Greatness… 

What rank did we end up with? What KPI are we pushing for? Where are our numbers? How far did we increase our reach? What was the final score?

Sound familiar? As most leaders, you spend a lot of time talking about and focusing on results. Your success is judged, competition monitored, and team’s success measured by them.

If your team doesn’t know the result they’re shooting for, they lose momentum, focus and direction. Without a clear finish line, no one will keep running faster. Got it. Really effective managers get concrete results clear first. But you’re more than a manager…

You need to play a bigger game than that as an Influencer. While you might do a great job at outlining the specific deliverables or framing out the metrics expected of you by your stakeholders, how often do you go bigger- beyond those measurables? What if you asked the question a bit differently… 

“WHAT DO I WANT TO HAVE?”

Importantly different than “What result are we going for?” this is more than semantics. Changing the question gets to something deeper, broader and more activating- where influencers make their distinctive mark. They don’t just get results, they have impact, they have reach, they have pull from the inside out. 

HAVE is the very first thing that every great influencer asks herself before she goes into any idea, plan, conversation, presentation, meeting, and especially the office for the day… 

"What do I/we want to have out of this?” 

Yes- they call out specific results, but also isolate all the other indicators which equal true impact

Result only: We’re going for 1 million units in sales for this new product. 

With the Have added in: We’re going for 1 million units sold… And want to have a fired up team, have buzz in the market, have people converting to our brand, have the street cred of solving what others couldn’t… 

That’s much more impact than just the finite result of units sold. As you broaden the horizon this way, it sets a bigger game and more meaningful orientation to it for everyone involved. Now they have something to rally to, not just finish. 

Don’t just hit results, have impact.

Real Influencer Moment: 

A coaching client from the restaurant industry took this on. A notoriously intense chef for the highest-grossing restaurant of a fun, successful brand, he leads teams under serious time and performance pressure. They do it, but it can be tense. With this HAVE question, he decided that he wanted to have a different environment- a fun environment with a kitchen staff of people who were having fun all of the time, cranking in their quality of results; productive, effective and happy despite the slams of pressure. This changed the game for his staff, his culture, and his bottom line.

 

Deep & Wide

Have gets at impact that goes wide…. answering the question of, “If we have that… then, what else will we cause?” This is the ripple effect of what you do, and getting strategically intentional about what else you're causing with your efforts.

As in: 

If we have a fired up team, then what else could we cause beyond that (ripple effect)? 

Ambassadors for the brand, talking it up in their circles outside of work. 

Which could then trigger having… 

The word of our brand getting out there to new prospective clients, who will check us out… 

Which could then trigger having… 

Expansion to a completely new demographic of clientele coming in the door… 

You can see where this is going, right? 

Keep asking the question, “Then what?” and you’ll map the ripples of impact you can strategically have. 

 

Have also gets at impact that goes deep answering the question, “If we have that, what else would we of course have to make that happen?” This is drilling into the layers of impact deeper than the initial obvious answer. Go intentionally for depth of impact, which takes root to grow stronger. 

For example:

If we have a fired up team, what would that mean we also have? 

People who believe in what we’re doing. 

Which means we’d also have… 

People who are committed to the brand. 

Which means we’d also have… 

People who will have longevity. 

Which means we’d also have… 

People who will invest their talent and trust in us. 

Which means we’d also have… 

A solid core of all-in people who will truly help us build to a whole new level of impact….

You get it. 

Every time I take a client from a result they’ve identified into a Have-Deep and Have-Wide exercise like this, they come back to their targeted result with renewed energy, because the stakes of it get bigger- one little result turns into the platform for broad, deep, meaningful impact. Bam! 

Think about that project you’ve got happening right now, and the results you’re shooting for in it. Take a minute to brainstorm deeper into the impact you want to really have out of this project beyond just the articulated result? If you had that, then what? What else would you have? Then what? What else? (you get the idea of these layers deep and ripples out, yes?)

This expansion from result you're getting to ImpactYouHave applies to individual interactions all day long, too. What good is the big plan if your steps along the way aren’t focused for impact too? Make it intentionally count there, too. 

For example: 

Halfway through a regular weekly conference call, as people tune out and you’re wondering what the point is…STOP.

Sure, what you’re covering was emailed in the agenda, but to what end? Get the haves clear, articulated and understood, before you move on. Ask them:

What do we want to have by the end of this call?

What results? What plan? What deliverable completed? 

What level or energy and engagement from this team? What problem solved? What alignment? If we had those then what? 

…then notice how the whole call shifts with fuller engagement from everyone. 

Better yet—start the next call with the Haves as part of your WIIFM: 

“By the end of this call we will all have:

  • Every question you’ve been confronted by with the client clear and answered
  • Total alignment about next steps and who’s doing what
  • Relief and fired-up-ness for what’s coming in this project

…Let’s dive in!”

For awesome influencers, this gets very personal. It’s why they inspire and affect you so much—because they ask the Have question of themselves right before diving into an exchange with you, every time. They clarify the impact they want this interaction to have on you and your process… then they make the time with you count purposefully. 

You can too: 

  • Go bigger. In your next planning conversation, take the question broader and deeper. What do we want to really have out of this? Elicit as much as you can there, identify the strongest impact, and then clarify the concrete result you’re trying to hit. It may help to give prompts like “have on our team, in the industry, in the world, in our own process.”
  • Pause first. Before picking up the phone or responding to your next email, pause and clarify: Out of this communication, what do I want to have? Agreement? Collaboration? The other person put in their place? Maybe.
  • Focus in. Outside of work, think about what you want to Have before you automatically dive into experiences, and notice how it focuses it for you…I want to have true connection and focus on one another with my family tonight. 

With focus set on what impact you’ll Have, your next choices of what to Do and what facet of yourself you’ll step into to create it become clear and simple…

To see what happens with our Real Influencer the chef and how he set himself up to identify what he needed to Do and how to Be the version of himself to cause that major shift in his staff (and of course how you can too, every time), check out Chapter #5 of Tap Into Greatness… :)

 

©SarahSinger&Co. 2015

The Pyramid of Perspective

How many times have you gotten sucked into the stress of someone else’s timeline or making sure the details of the steps were exactly right? This occurs on teams and in leadership daily, and perspective gets lost. One of the most effective ways to channel the brilliance of your team while grounding it to something solid is to continually give them perspective on their process.  Think of it like a Pyramid of Perspective

So, where’s your vantage point?  Each of the levels on this pyramid represent different viewpoints of perspective.  In the way that you lead and communicate, you can come from any of the levels of the pyramid, each one coloring your message and influence differently.  The deeper you go on the pyramid, the more foundation of grounded perspective you bring to the team.  As a leader, you’ve got some choices…

WHEN- Coming from this place, you’re concerned with time (usually never enough), the schedule and the deliverable deadlines.  For a competitive team, When is an important and effective driver for them to get to their results and come together before another team beats them to it.  High achievers often do their best work under pressure, so time and an impending constraint of When can bring out their best. As a leader, it’s important that you leverage that as a motivator without becoming the watch-checker. If you cross that line to become overly concerned with time, your team can dismiss you as valuing time over content or process quality.

• Build and show timelines to give your team a sense of how their process will play out in concrete terms, and give them a sense of “we are here” on the map.

• Adjust the timeline as you go, making space for their emergent process as they collaborate.

• Strategically, use time and deliverables to create urgency when needed. Deadlines spur action.

HOW- Here, the focus is on the process, the steps and the way we get there. If you’ve got a team of individuals coming from successful yet diverse disciplines and experiences, the How will be important to them. They can get stuck on How your team is approaching the work, attached to a particular process to achieve results from their previous world. I’ve seen potentially brilliant teams crumble because they couldn’t get aligned on process.  How your team goes about its impressive disruption is ultimately your call as the leader. It’s critical, because How your team does its magic may be the very thing that sets you apart from your competitors and defines your brand. Yet if you’re overly skewed on form and checking off every box just so, they’ll feel micromanaged and stifled, without enough creativity.

• Direct the approach, honoring and incorporating their expertise, then getting their buy-in on why X is the best way for the team. As the leader, be the keeper of the process.

• Get alignment on it early, check in and adjust course often, looking to make sure the How is tapping their talent consistently and providing a way for it to manifest in great work.

WHAT- This is the outcome or result you’re going for. Achievers and concrete thinkers on your team will always need this to be as clear as possible. If it’s not, they’ll each come to the team’s work with their own interpretation of What you’re trying to accomplish, which can be problematic when they clash with one another. While they each may hold their own important piece in the puzzle, they all need to be working toward the same picture on the box lid to guide them together. Clear focus on the What elevates the team’s dynamic and conversation to a common goal and a reason to rally in collaboration. The more vividly they’re able to envision the outcome they’re going for, the more they’ll be pulled to it, causing the How and When to fall into place to make it happen.

• Get What your team is going for- the change you’re trying to impact- clear and concrete.

• Have the team articulate the goal, get it visually up on the wall of your workspaces, and keep reiterating it for them.

• If the result you’re going for is ambiguous, then set shorter term What milestones along the course for them to focus on and hit.

WHY- All the layers of the pyramid are key in keeping your team and the work focused on the right things at the right times. And Why is is the one that makes the difference between managing and really leading people. The Why both trumps and grounds everything above it on that pyramid, because it gets to the heart of motivation.  This could be what brought them all onboard with you in the first place- a mission to ________ (fill in accordingly). It’s their cause, their call, their drive to do the work and push through to the other side. It brings it all back to purpose which is energizing, clarifying and even calming.  For you as the leader, getting the Team Why clear and articulated is the most important thing of all, after which everything else (What, How and When) is about execution.  This is the conviction that makes the game matter, and the impact of their efforts bigger in the world. It’s what engages these individual brilliant people on your team, bringing their separate Whys and visions of what’s possible in the world to this work together.

• As a leader of disruption, you see the layers of Why to the work. Sort and prioritize them, then keep bringing it back to focus for your team.

Lead your team with the Why. Tell the Why. Ask the Why. Every time, every conversation, every day.

• Open with the Why, then layer the What, How and When on top.

 

THE BIG WHY- The deepest level of individual personal drive we all have is our Big Why… why we’re doing this in the great scheme of life. This is our biggest game, truest purpose, greatest good and what gets us out of bed in the morning.

Steve Jobs: “To make a dent in the universe.”

As a leader, get clear about yours. Once you do, it will come through as the passion that fuels everything else you do, and will serve as inspiration for every person you lead.

You also need to get  … their individual Big Whys. Once you know their WHY, it can be very powerful, giving you a way to frame communication with them- an entrance into their world at any moment.  When they’re in need of motivation, acknowledgment or perspective, you can frame it in the most meaningful way for what matters most to them.  Their why is their buy-in, and your why can be their inspiration.

Once you’re grounded in this deepest, most stable part of the pyramid, the others- WHAT, HOW, and WHEN are easy to reference and command as needed, because they’re truly held in perspective of the biggest Why.

• If you don’t already know them, find the Big Whys for each on your core team… by asking them!  While this is getting to what’s most essential to people’s core, many don’t talk much about it or even think of it consciously to the level of easy articulation. Getting them to unearth it will help them get more passionate about what their doing, and help you to lead them more accurately.

• As you ask, know that these questions are the kind that may require people to search a little internally for if they haven’t already clarified it for themselves. Give them space to think about it and then ask in layers…

You may ask them, “So why do you do this?”

They may say, “because I’m intrigued by X kinds of challenges,” or some other such practical but not meaningful answer.

You then follow up simply with, “Why are these kinds of challenges intriguing to you?”

They might answer, “Because I really care about X…”

You probe, “Why do you care so much about X?”

…until you’ve asked five levels into their Why. Think of it as helping them peel the layers back on the onion of their Big Why, getting down to their most fundamental Big Why beneath.

As you lead and manage every day, the art of it is to keep perspective for yourself and your team. When, How, What, Why are each important in different ways,  can demand its own hyper focus, and can become consuming if you’re not careful.   Picture yourself as standing at any level on the pyramid, grounded at that level,  easily able to reach every level above it. If you’re standing all the way up in When, you can’t even see, let alone reach the others below you. The deeper you go on the pyramid, the better your perspective is, allowing each of the other levels to fall into place. Standing and starting with Why, you can layer, reference, tap and pull from What, How and When easily, without getting sucked in to them and losing your vantage point.

Your perspective colors how you choose, lead and relate… so keep yourself grounded.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2013

It’s Getting All Over You… The Power of State, Part 3

“Excuse me, but can you get your foul State off of me, please? I’m trying to be creative and inspired here, and you’re contaminating it with your irritated grouchiness, which is getting all over everyone. Please go handle that.“

 

What would it be like to work on a team where you could actually say that to someone? I’m here to testify that it’s actually possible, and can be awesome. Maybe you won’t start off quite that pointed, but I can get you close...

We know by now that what we’ve called “mood” before is actually State, comprised of three interconnected parts- Mental, Emotional and Physical. We mess with one of those parts, the other two shift instantly, every time. If you’re just joining us here, take a few minutes to check out Part 1 and Part 2 to get the full power of State in how you’re embodying it yourself- it’s huge. 

Once you’ve got a handle on your OWN State (which you’ll tinker with for a lifetime), you’re halfway there, since your State is the model for theirs, and they’re watching you all the time. So now it’s time to directly take on something just as clutch... other people’s States.  As we’ve established, most people have little awareness of their own State and even less aptitude in effectively changing it. If you came at most people with the opening statement of this post they might slug you or cry, because they simply don’t get it (yet).  So until they do (and even after), it’ll be YOU in many moments who will need to do it for them.   

Check them out.  

...In a different way than you have been, paying attention to their State. At any given moment, any person you’re with is in a particular state. The key question is twofold- 

What State are they in? and… 

Is it the state you want them to be in (for the task at hand, the news you’re about to drop on them, the next XX hours you’re about to spend with them, the way their State is spreading to others etc.)? 

As a leader, start paying attention as much to their State as those other things like what they’re contributing, focusing on and doing. This matters because it’s fueling all of those things already, and will get you to the core of what makes them awesome (or not) moment to moment. To maximize not just your performance but your team’s as well, start managing States. Your ability to facilitate their State is directly proportional to their motivation, focus, and productivity.

Cues tell all. 

80-90% of all communication is nonverbal. What we feel and think manifests itself in our tonality, body language, eye movements, breathing and facial expression. It’s incredibly hard to fake these things (maybe impossible, but that’s for another day), and the people you’re with tell you a lot about where they are without ever uttering a word... if you pay attention. Notice posture (leaning forward, into you or turned away, avoiding), jaw set and brow furrow, eye contact, and the tonality/cadence of their speaking. Even breathing- if someone’s breathing is high or shallow, they’re stressed. If it’s low and abdominal, they’re more relaxed. Practice first paying attention to these cues, then labelling them in your mind as different States (excited, bored, curious, sad, irritated, reflective, pumped up, grouchy, inspired…). Then, ask yourself if the State they’re in is a good one for what’s happening, or not.  If not, then get busy… 

Change from the outside in. 

You can change someone else’s state in a second. In fact you do it all the time without labeling it such. 

Take someone who’s State is resistant, for instance. Arms folded, jaw set, breathing high in chest, brow slightly furrowed, voice monotone and forced. Yet with a simple question that gets them to think about something else completely... you get that person to a much more open and receptive State.  That’s an outside-in State Change.

Or… you and a teammate were brainstorming on a question with you recording at the whiteboard, and at one point you switch spots- you hand over the marker to your partner to get her up and writing as you then walk around the room, new ideas flowing. That switch was another State Change

Or... you’re presenting to a group, and you see their eyes glazing over, as Bored State starts to take over the room. You have everyone quickly stand up, you pose a question for them all to answer to another person, then have them sit back down, now awake and engaged.  Nice State Change. 

Here are some more (some deliberate breaks in pattern/focus, others quick resets) : 

  • Have them tell you about their last success with this team in vivid detail. (mental)
  • Take them for a walk. (physical)
  • Change the subject completely. (mental) 
  • Continue the conversation standing up if you were sitting. (physical)
  • Give them a compliment. (emotional)
  • Give them a high-five. (physical)
  • Tell them a joke. (emotional)
  • Everyone rotate positions in the room. (physical)
  • Ask their opinion about something you know they care about. (mental/emotional)
  • Toss them a ball. (physical)
  • Offer them a snack or drink, like a bottle of water or a cup of coffee. (physical)
  • Change or put on some music with the energy you’re going for. (mental/physical/emotional)
  • Show them a hilarious or inspiring or thoughtful or intriguing post or video online. (emotional)

Switch it Up- Early and Often

Those state changes are key when someone’s in a overtly negative or low-energy state, as each will break the pattern they’re in, changing their State to something more engaged, positive or higher energy.  The higher the energy, the better in most cases. 

That said, your team needs deliberate State Changes more than you think.  

The average attention span correlates with age (like 5 minutes max for a 5 year old)… up to about age 18, at which point it maxes out. So 18-20 minutes is about the limit of most people’s attention span in the work you’re doing (outside of gaming and other immersive altered-state activities).  All attempts of “plowing through” beyond that window are a waste of time and energy, because we know that once State’s gone so is focus, learning and performance. Instead, Change State! All you and your team need is a reset of attention- a State Change- about every 18-20 minutes in your work process, and the brain/performance/focus stays fresh. 

While the list above is a start, personalize, customize and add to it with your own State Changes, and then start playing them all to try out what fits best where. 

You can call it. 

There is tremendous power in State management- for you as an individual and for the people around you. Once you and your team understand it, you can then own it and call it with one another. I coach high performing teams across industries and rank, whose productivity and morale has been transformed with the power of State. On these teams, because they get it, everyone is responsible for his/her own State, making sure it’s productive, conducive to what the team’s up to, and able to help others accelerate. They incorporate State Changes as regular team practice into their work, which makes all the difference. You’ll see high-fiving between agenda topics, movement as they work, koosh balls flying purposefully to engage the right States, and people owning their own attention, performance and focus with their State.  And when they don’t, you might just hear that line I opened this post with, to which someone would respond,

“Actually, you’re absolutely right. My grouchy State isn’t helping anyone- I apologize for getting it on you. I need a State Change. I’ll be back in a few minutes, better.”  

And then they go, take a few minutes to change their State, re-engage, and the team’s on on its way. It’s a beautiful thing. 

Your turn...

 

©SarahSinger&Co. 2013

Up and Out...

Eyes up and out…

I thrive on horizons.  It’s all over most of my writing, speaking and coaching.  That’s my strength- always seeing or creating the horizon, no matter the situation- for others, for myself, for challenges. The path to get from here to there comes easily, too- my brain automatically conjures several ways at once.  The challenge for me actually occurs when I have to look down. I got that today.

As I set out for a run, most of my normal path was covered with snow and ice- not treacherous, but enough that I had to slow down and really pay attention to every step to avoid falling.  I HATED it. Crazy how much I hated it.  Breathing harder, working to get traction and tensed up as I navigated the right places to land and push off, I found myself completely irritated that I was spending so much energy to go slower when I really wanted to just look up and out at the horizon and run full out toward it.

Gee- a little metaphor, there?  So much about leadership, what it takes to make progress, and of course how I’m wired.

Understanding the focal point that gives you strength is key. 

Part of what it takes to lead and make change happen is being able to see and hold a focal point of what’s possible and where we’re going. Call it vision, horizon, the long view- a future state of what’s possible that’s different from where we are right now. This is critical. Organizations, teams and relationships without this can get mired in what is or what’s always been, which can lead to stagnation, circular issues and overall fatigue. Someone’s got to be able to look up and out of it, see possibility, help everyone else see and focus it vividly, and hold it as the focal point to progress toward.  It’s not that we ignore the present, don’t honor the past or are never looking down, but the pull has to be more forward to the horizon than down at each step on the path.

That ratio of focus is important- notice it. 

Looking primarily down at where to place each step at a time is a different kind of focus.  It’s deliberate, slower and careful. It’s necessary too- so we don’t actually get taken down by landing on some little slippery patch of detail along the way because we’re not paying attention to what we’re doing tactically, step by step.  Having people who are wired to focus this way is critical to balance any good leadership team.  While I can do this, I know it’s not where my patience or strength lie at all… so I really value the people on my team who bring this present, careful step-at-a-time thinking first.  They offer ballast to my horizon.

The key is finding some balance in focal points.  

The first half of the run was miserable, because I was spending more time looking down than up, muscling my way through it to think tactically about each step without losing too much momentum. I kept going because I knew it was only necessary for so long before I could get traction again to accelerate. This is sometimes how I lead, too. I’ll muscle my way through the deliberate slowness (often impatiently) until I can get the necessary traction (right team, right support, right game) to accelerate toward what’s possible again. Then my strength as a leader comes out, and my energy can carry us all forward quickly.

By the second half of the run, I was able to balance a bit more- looking down at my steps, then up at my horizon more equally. Probably more down than I prefer, but doable. Just that little ratio increase of up and out vs. down and narrow helped tremendously.  It actually made me tactically more deft in the moment, able to navigate nimbly and quickly. Toggling between horizon and steps, long view and details, strategy and tactics in running or leading- connects the whole picture enough for my energy to increase, thinking to clear a bit and stride to relax.

Just that added bit of what energizes can be enough to carry and fuel the rest. 

When I finally got back to dry path for the last few legs of my run, I couldn’t help but notice how everything shifted. My gait, my speed, my breath all smoothed, and I accelerated. My thinking opened up, my ideas started flowing again, and I found my stride. Of course I had my direct steps in peripheral sight and looked down to maneuver smartly as needed, but most of my focus was up, out and forward. I was reminded of how instantly fulfilled and impactful I can be when my focal point is where I’m strongest… on the horizon, where possibility is.

This explains why I love the last stretch of every run, including today’s. It’s where I run down the middle of my street, focusing on a precise horizon- the very top of a 4-story tree at the end of the road.  As I do, I quit pushing and become pulled by that treetop, sprinting full out, 100%. Everything peripherally falls away, all the best ideas in my head come together, and I hit my personal best… as I always do with a horizon that’s clear, magnetic and vivid.  Those moments of going full-out with everything I’ve got are exhilarating, symbolic of what’s possible and what we can pull out of ourselves, and definitely what I love the most.  On all of my paths, slogging through the rest to get to that as a person and as a leader is worth it every time.

Find those moments of personal best- both fulfilled and impactful- to make all the rest worth it along your path.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2013

The Upside of Pressure

“With eight seconds left in overtime…” This line and the song that goes with it has been stuck in my head for weeks.  (Over My Head by The Fray)

“Just in time…” is how I recently described my coaching style.  Might even be the title of a new book I’m working on.

"The Art of the Timeout under Pressure" ...a misunderstood and underutilized coaching tool I've been talking with leaders a lot about lately. 

The Timeteller”...book by Mitch Albom, who I got to see and hear speak the other day, and left thinking about time, our infatuation with it, and its impact.

A pattern here, maybe?  While it’s telling of where my thinking has been, there’s also some bigger learning here to share about time, pressure, and what you’re doing with it.

Of course it came together with a recent coaching client, as I reoriented her to a breakthrough. Currently in between the high-stakes, high-pressure, all-consuming projects she normally leads… this high-performing, rising star of her firm is currently in a period of downtime, and presented with several internal “interesting,” ongoing initiatives within the firm which have been waiting.  While critical and the stuff of which the future of the firm will be built (like groundbreaking new business development), she’s just not fired up about taking it on.  She reached out to me because she’d like to move up to the next level of leadership in the firm, yet is feeling stuck with this current outlay of not-so-exciting initiatives to engage with and wanted direction.

I chuckled to myself at the irony-  a high-performing rising star, eager to move up and forward but wholly unmotivated by all there is to create around her, and unsure how to engage.

So… what happened?

Downtime.That golden time when things slow a bit, and you should theoretically get so much done in all those key areas you otherwise neglect when you’re slammed with other time-sensitive work… right?  These key areas are important; building-the-structure-and-system work, completing-the-growing-ideas work, writing-the-article-to-share-the-success work, mapping-the-course-forward-to-ensure-our-long-term-success work. When we’re slammed with getting deliverables out the door, we fantasize about having space to think about, let alone execute, these fundamentals.

And then… things slow down. The calm arrives. Except all that completion, creation and productivity we envisioned actually doesn’t happen, does it?

When the pressure cooker we’re used to (in which we regularly produce multiplied brilliance within a compressed time) cools off and we have clear space to create, complete, be deliberate and thoughtful… we’re less productive, less motivated and slower.  This happens, right? At least it does for some of us, including my client today.  Why?

Pressure vs not. For some of us, while we might even complain about it, the truth is that we feed on the pressure of… the glorious impending deadline.  Under it, the clock ticks down, pushing the best ideas to the top, the endorphins through our system and the rush of creativity to our thinking. The more we thrive on that pressure- the 11th hour before the presentation to create the very best insights and work and client deadlines to drive our process-  the more we need it to get to that endorphin-firing state of creative productivity.  That pressure keeps us driving, cranking and producing.  Yet it can also become a crutch we’re dependent on in order to produce.

For my rising star coachee, even the desire to excel wasn’t enough to generate the same spark.  I’ve been there, too.  As the pattern emerged today, I pinpointed the most important and deadly word in it all for her (describing the initiatives she had to engage with)- the very word we should all eliminate… ongoing.

Sometimes there’s nothing worse than something that goes on and on and on with no clear end.  It’s like a life sentence- ugh.  Our brains like clean beginnings and clean endings to things, lights at the end of tunnels, and yes… clear finish lines to cross.

Time is finite for a reason- it gives us both perspective and the push to get moving. Tick tock.

Messing with it...                                                                                                               
When we compress time (or someone/thing compresses it for us), performance goes up, because it doesn’t have a choice. Create it now, take your shot, or you lose the moment forever. Tick tock.

Some people naturally feed on this dynamic as fuel- knowing our best work happens under pressure, best ideas right before the deadline… maybe even in not starting until just before deadline, knowing it’ll just come.  Other people may not be inclined this way (and our apologies if you’re teamed with those who are), yet learn to adapt to it and learn how to generate under pressure. Some don’t, and the best thing for them is to identify it early on. I’ve coached many people out of roles, teams and jobs where cadence and pressure-response were just too mismatched in this way- misery for them.

For most, though- when we expand the time allotted, then the work and the process also expand to fill it. The urgency disappears and often the energy right along with it.  I have gone into lethargic, deadened team settings as a coach, simply compressed everyone’s time a bit, and noticed the energy and productivity come alive instantly, because deadlines spur action.

So… create the pressure where you need it.  The magic is when you can create it yourself rather than having to be dependent on (or at the mercy of) life, clients, teammates to put the pressure on. There is a way we need to set ourselves up to get moving and bring it. 

I said to our star…. “Leaders task themselves. They don’t wait until there’s the pressure of an expectant client or challenging leader or deadline- they CREATE them. Often from nothing. Take every “ongoing” initiative that’s been labeled and compress its time- give it a 10-day deadline to get to resolution, concept or deliverable. Then what might happen?”   She paused, then simply said, “Thank you.  That’s all I needed.  I’m on my way.”  She then went on to reset those firm initiatives with real time, tight deadlines, rallied and dove in.

Could it could really be that simple?  Just compress the time for yourself, create a deadline, and work within the constraints you’ve given yourself.                                           
If you’re working on your own, and need the pressure to kick you into gear, you may have tried setting arbitrary deadlines for yourself to get your brain to activate.  If you have amazing self-discipline in this arena, that’s probably working beautifully for you.  You give yourself little deadlines and force yourself to hit them.  And you do.  That’s awesome.  Yet sometimes it’s actually not that straightforward. For many reading this, I’m guessing that the results in the arena of “just set a deadline for yourself” have been inconsistent at best.  It may have worked the first time or so, but then didn’t anymore.  Here’s why…

• Deadlines and the pressure that goes with them have to be real, or they don’t work.  Your brain is too smart for fake deadlines.  It’ll skate out of it and go through its normal evasive pattern of avoidance until it has real pressure to push it into action.  There are a few ways to make it real…

• Get someone else to be accountable to. This could be someone you choose to whom you’ll deliver the finished product to by a certain time- who will hold you to it.  A team is even better. Just knowing that they’re expecting it, planning around it can kick you into gear. They will be your pressure.

• Create an event around it.                                                                                      
Beyond just people expecting something from you, create an actual happening around your deadline, so you’ve got something on which your performance will hinge.  A team meeting, a presentation, even a “let’s meet for coffee so I can show you…”  The impending event is great pressure- you’ll perform.

• Lead.                                                                                                                                  
This brings all of it together. One of my favorite parts of leading is being able to have others able to help execute great ideas. When I told my coachee today that “leaders task themselves” I was serious- leaders task themselves- often along with tasking others, and that’s why it works.  It’s a beautiful thing- an idea is born- you put it out there, and create a deadline for the team/organization to hit.  They’re fired up about the goal, you’re in it with them (to varying degrees), everyone performs and… it gets done.                                    
And if you’ve been paying attention… make that deadline short.

• Most importantly… Keep it in Perspective.                                                               
The one thing none of us want is pressure that goes toxic, and turns into unhealthy overwhelming stress. There’s good and bad stress- and that’s the bad kind.

Sometimes it’s about just getting perspective on it.  Specifically, keep checking your WHY in it all- that’s your reason for doing whatever it is in the first place.  It’s easy to get wrapped up instead with When (as in deadline pressure).  The Why is what gives it all a reason to be- your reason to care in the first place.  Find your Why in what you’re doing until it speaks to you.  Then come back to the When as your trigger to action- to get moving.

So- check your Why, get yourself set up for optimal push, and then…

Tick tock.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2012

Double-edged...

A long-time coaching client recently told me that his biggest peeve about me as a coach is that I don’t ever just let him be where he is if it’s a negative place.  I always have to turn the conversation eventually to movement somehow-  “so now what…” or “let’s talk about what you can DO with that…” when what he really might want in the moment is to just be in it rather than move through it.  Me doing my job or not?

It’s true- I have a propensity for forward motion, getting people on board, steps toward the horizon, no matter what.  It’s in my language, my patterns, my material, my teaching.  It’s gotten me into immense success and trouble throughout my life so far.  It’s definitely what makes me great at what I do, and really challenging to people in my life at the same time.  A true double-edged sword with really sharp blades on both sides.

I’m guessing that you have some strengths like this too, yes?  What is it that makes you great at what you’re great at, yet is maddening to others?

In StrengthFinder, I’ve got:

Activator • Strategic • Ideation • Command • Relator • WOO • Individualization

How it’s been described in feedback I’ve gotten from others…

The upsides:

  • Taking action when everyone else is swirling in the discussion for too long.
  • Facilitating other people’s process quickly to get them to move through it to resolution or breakthrough.
  • Being able to see the path out of the mire as a guide for teams.
  • Having an instinct for the big elephant in the room (or issue/situation), calling it, so all can move on.
  • Energizing rooms full of stuck, bored people to inspired action and change.
  • Taking groups farther than they’ve ever gone before.
  • Getting people to try things they’ve never tried before, and having fun doing it.
  • Creating change and possibility where it was needed for a long time.
  • Empowering people to walk away feeling that it was their idea all along.
  • Turning someone from frustration and stuckness to resourcefulness and excitement about what’s possible.

The downsides:

  • Being too reactive.
  • And impatient.
  • Pushing too hard.
  • Not accepting “no” for an answer.
  • Moving too fast.
  • Being too positive or focusing too much on the positive.
  • Always ending the conversation with what’s possible when someone wants to just stay with what is or what their complaint is.
  • Being too charismatic (really?) and convincing when someone wants to hold their position.
  • Being hard to slow down when I’ve decided to go after something.

Of course I would argue that a lot of those “downsides”-complaints are often exactly what’s needed in a situation, even though they’re uncomfortable for others.  My wiring for unsettledness when I see an opportunity for change I might be able to impact is what drives me. I can’t NOT go there in my head, although I can quell it for short periods of time in my actions or speaking (usually by request of others).  That never lasts very long before I can’t take it anymore, so speak out or take action anyhow.  I also get that this pattern often has clear costs, usually to those around me.

What are your instincts which you can’t turn off, which kick into gear every time?  Have you identified them as strengths? While every trait has an up and downside, finding the way to leverage them as strengths is the key.  

So again, it comes down to balance, intention and acceptance.

I am forever tinkering with the balance of my own actions and patterns.  A self-awareness of my own presence and how it gets on people around me is critical. Some days I’m better at that awareness than others, which has everything to do with my own state management.  Putting the focus back on the others around me and really noticing their responses to my way- both verbal and not (tonality, eyes, facial muscles, blink patterns and movements) helps me to balance my responses.

Are you noticing the responses you’re eliciting all the time, both spoken and unspoken? Choosing next steps based on that response helps

Intention is what I always come back to, in order to make the Why of my course clear.  I often state my authentic intention in conversations explicitly (“…I’m telling you this because I’m committed to your success, and I think this will help…”) so that people can trust where I’m coming from.  While this doesn’t always work (if there’s no trust to begin with), it’s the most honest thing I can do, so I keep putting it out there.

People will always make up your intention in their head unless you state it clearly.  If there’s any tension or mistrust, they’ll assume your intention to be negative. Check yours, make sure it’s pure, and state it.

In the end, I accept that my wiring is what it is.  It brings incredible strength and also thorny challenges. While I have no plans to change who I am, I am learning how to also accept that I must flex more than I might want to when my strengths aren’t working for others, and cultivate more patience.  I trust my coaches, teams and trusted advisors to give me the feedback I need to pivot when necessary (though I need to ask for it more).  I also accept that my every action has ripple effect way beyond what I can see no matter what.

So do yours, by the way. As you trust your instincts and choose your actions, accept that you’re impacting more than you know all the time.  Have your fully accepted both the greatness and challenges of your wiring?  What are both sides, and their impact on your world?  

Intentionally or not, who we are, what we think and how we act in moments and patterns- have impact and influence all the time.  The more we put it out there in the world, the more impact it has, for better or for worse.  Who I am, and who you are is both awesome and troublesome- always.  A true double-edged sword with really sharp blades on both sides.

So really self-mastery means learning then mastering dexterity with both edges of one’s sword.  I’m on it. 

©SarahSinger&Co. 2012

Talent vs. Strength

Strengths and Talent are two different things.  Strengths are what you do easily and regularly, without thinking about it.  These usually come from talent.  Yet we all have talent that isn’t necessarily manifesting as strength.  It may come out in moments or episodes of brilliance, but isn’t reliably consistent yet. While a lot of my work is in the former, what I’m most interested in is the latter.

Strengths.

In some ways, strengths are the low-hanging fruit of my coaching work.  Most people don’t truly realize what their strengths are, or why they’re so amazing.  We’re all too close to have any perspective on it.  Someone with a strength like being able to establish instant rapport and agreement with others doesn’t really acknowledge it as a strength, because it’s as instinctive as breathing for him or her, yet enviable, difficult and a mystery to another person watching. The groundbreaking work of Clifton and Buckingham in this realm has been a gamechanger for millions- so much so that I require groups and teams to take StrengthFinder as a prerequisite for any work I do with them.  We have to at least surface, understand and leverage what we all do well without effort before we start working on how we can grow in new ways.  Simply getting people to be more conscious of what they already do well as their unique and important contribution, and to confidently leverage it as such is groundbreaking for most people.  That’s also telling about our society-  that this initial work (which seems like it would be quick and easy) is huge all by itself for people.  For adults, some of this is from becoming desensitized to our own strengths. Our instinct, common sense and lens through which we see the world becomes as invisible to us as the air we breathe, and we accept it as “normal” (and therefore not anything worthy of leveraging). Meanwhile, our personal set of strengths is unique from everyone around us (and could be genius to them).  It also has a lot to do with our pre-occupation with what we’re not, and what we should be (“Yeah, but if only I were more X…”), rather than an ownership and confidence in what we are, and how we’re uniquely brilliant- and the value of either. The a-ha that people and teams have when they suddenly see their own talent-strength that’s been there all along under those layers is awesome and empowering.

I do love coaching strengths, yet secretly love and crave more, as all coaches do.

Talent.

Great movies love to depict the classic inspirational story of the semi-retired coach or trainer who comes back into the game to develop a wild, raw undeveloped talent into something solid, something strong.  Million Dollar Baby, The Karate Kid, Rocky, Any Given Sunday, Tin Cup, A League of Their Own, The Replacements, even Star Wars

There’s something different there- much more intriguing, exciting and possible.  This is why my favorite work is with youth vs. adults- it’s much more about working with the talent itself and honing while exploding it vs. working to clear away the layers of stuff on top of it.

Raw talent all by itself is a different thing- it’s trickier.  It’s less predictable and a little rougher around the edges than a bona-fide strength.  Talents can absolutely develop into strengths through deliberate or naturally occurring practice and investment- think Tiger Woods spending more practice time than those with half his talent, because he gets the deliberate path.  How that talent gets developed is one of my favorite topics to think about, coach and experiment with.  Different personalities need to approach it different ways. An awesome article today powerfully shows how even at the top- among the best of the best of the best in a particular field of talent, this happens differently.

But it starts with one thing, which is the most important part… realizing that you have the talent, then deciding that you want more and are ready to explode it into a strength. Maybe it’s just manifesting as an unsettledness now- pay attention to that feeling, and dig into it a little further. Then find the coach, the environment, the team, the training to shape it.  You can do this, and you should, only because you know deep-down that you can, and if you don’t you’ll be forever haunted by “what if I had…”

There’s one more piece in the getting-your-own-talent puzzle, even though it deserves its own day and post.  Personally, I always come back to the most basic piece in developing talent and reaching mastery in any arena- surround yourself with those who ask more of you than you do of yourself.  That means people who challenge you to not just be happy with what you’ve always done, but pushing you to get better, go farther, dig deeper- all from a true commitment to what’s possible in you because they get your talent.  Of course having a good coach or mentor is important, but it’s just as important to look at who else you’re surrounding yourself with.

Pay attention to your unsettledness, consider your own level of talent and mastery, check out who you’re surrounding yourself with, and start building your strength. It’s time.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2012