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January 19, 2009

Positive, Strong, Aware.

I had a long chat a few weekends ago with a really smart guy on start-ups and Harvard Business Schools new way. I realize there are a lot of entrepreneurs who read my pages and thought to share the discussion. He noted that hardly anyone takes the first step of creating self-awareness. At Harvard Business School, they have an entire course on the subject. Most of us can’t go to Harvard but we can review the course and take the best points that come from it.

HBS`s course notes that it is extremely tough for us to figure out ‘where we belong’. In the world that we live in, in current economic conditions, so many people are struggling just to pay their rent, never mind figure out what and who and where and how to really make themselves happy. They suggest that we should start by noting where we don’t belong as well as the situations that don’t suit our strengths. This sounds simple, but how many of carry around a simple laminated piece of paper with reminders of what to avoid and what to pursue? Do you log your successes and failures, to avoid patterns of failure?

They counsel that we enhance our strengths while working to eliminate our bad habits (rather than our weaknesses). Lord knows we all have bad habits. I have a few I am always working on, so avoid “the shoe from across the room to the head” with Marilu. There is much greater return from supporting top performers than “fixing” mediocre players.

Focus on being polite, trim the bad habits and place yourself in situations where you can use our strengths. Simple right?

We all have intellectual arrogance that limits our success on a daily basis. I know very very few people who have conquered that. Tonight I am going to do a bit of a write about the areas where I am intellectually arrogant. I know it might not be pretty but it’s needed. I am far from perfect.

To know, but not to do, is not to know. (thanks Gordo)

I am constantly trying to surround myself with people who do it, instead of knowing it. There is an important role for the academics – those of us that have “done” are biased by our experience – combine us with people that are biased by their textbooks and we might breakthrough together.
In my youth, my greatest limiter was a core belief that winning was everything. I competed all day, with everyone. In my teens and early 20s, all that mattered was performance. Now, if you are a high performer then you can get away with that for a while. However, we pay a high price in terms of ultimate success and effectiveness. I was fortunate that my first boss had lots of patience. Thanks Al. Hope Australia is rocking.

Values – we tend to think of values and ethics as being crystal clear – black/white or right/wrong. HBS makes the point that, in life, we can find ourselves in a situation where conflicting values are both “right”. To give an example, here is what this website stands for:

• Low leverage
• Full disclosure
• Focused, specialized personal excellence
• Clear instructions
• Return on capital employed focus
• Long term achievement trumps short term gains

Consider the opposite of the above points – Snazzy Company Limited values:

• Maximum leverage
• Necessary disclosure
• General, personal excellence
• Accepts that life is imperfect with changing information
• Growth focus
• Consistent short term gains

In one job, I would be happy – in the other… a disaster. It is important for me to remember that the other company isn’t a “bad” company, just different.

Armed with your strengths and personal values you can decide if an opportunity makes sense for you. Before signing on, use your self-awareness to lay out what is required for you to succeed. The other interesting part of the discussion was a description of the different ways that people communicate, learn and work. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I work/learn by writing and reading.

Define the people you work with. Are the readers, writers, talkers or listeners? Your business won’t be successful unless you know how to effectively deal with the people around you properly, by focusing on their strengths and how they do things. You can’t change who they are! If you are working with people with a different style then acknowledge it. We are paid to be effective, not right. The tip here is to remember that, more than changing your style, respect and adapt to the styles of our co-workers.

Feedback analysis each time you make a key decision – write down what you think is going to happen and revisit it 9-12 months later. I have so many business plans lying around, that I should really go back and learn from them. They each have something I could possibly be using today.
Some things that I notice about my daily life:

• When I get nervous about a situation there is usually a reason
• My goals are challenging, I achieve them but rarely exceed by a large margin.
• I need people around me who believe in me
• I need people with excellent people skills around me
• I would benefit from pausing after my greatest successes
• Painful personal feedback from the people closest to me is normally correct – I listen but, typically, at least two years after I am told. This could indicate that I am stubborn…correct.
• I could be far more effective by taking a greater personal interest in the people around me. This is a general point for most people.

The best thing that was pointed out to me was that in any situation there is the person acting and the person facilitating. Maybe this is why women communicate so much better. They seem to understand this, whereas with guys we seem to need to be in control.

As a coach, athletes try to get the professional OK to continue with their bad habits. At one level they want success but, at another level, they want acceptance/love and the OK to keep rolling just as they are. So we start by acknowledging what is working and good in their lives, and then I try to get them to stop the stupid stuff. It’s harder with some than others, especially the ones who are irregular with their training. They won’t see the benefits and they will find blame in the coaching methods, rather than just accepting their own decisions.

Without a basis of trust, we can get fired when we refuse to facilitate. When we fail to surround these difficult conversations with manners and tact, they often fall on deaf ears. Nothing fruitful will come from deaf ears, and with the amount of anger and fear in society today, there is rarely an opportunity where someone listens with a truly open mind.

Whether we like it or not, our actions have a multitude of direct/indirect impacts. Questions that I considered:

• Do the companies that I support back the best people?
• Do the websites that I visit share my values?
• Would I be friends with a person that had a personality like my favorite sites?
• Do the blogs that I read bring out my best emotions? Do they lift me up?
• With the people/firms that don’t share my ethics, how are they linked to me? Am I facilitating them? DO they take credit for my work?
• Would direct action strengthen, or weaken, my adversaries?
• If I cut my RSS list down in half, what would the impact be?

I read a great tip the other day which was “Stay on message and stay positive” – with that in mind, I won’t share my answers. One of the things that I am working on is my need to “be right” all the time. I am finding situations in daily life where it’s best to just “Shut up”. Who would have thought, right?

– This article was combined from a great conversation, reading up for an hour on self awareness and the HBS philosophy (some cool stuff on the net these days) and some time and effort. It plants a clear message in my mind, and I hope it does the same for you.

One Comment on “Positive, Strong, Aware.

Jacques Redelinghuys
January 20, 2009 at 8:28 am

Ooooh it hits deep! Amazing how true this is and how many hardships and suffering I have endured – brought upon myself by being plain ‘hardegat’! ‘To listen and not to do is not to know’ and ‘being right all the time’ has stuffed up my IMSA 2008! My IMSA2010 campaign (and all other aspects of life) is based on ‘Positive, Strong, Aware’.
Thanks for a great write!!

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