Change by Choice or by Chance

choice vs chance

As I look back on my career, the major milestones are combinations of things done by choice and some by chance.

I would like to claim I had made all of my decisions by choice, not chance. That simply would not be true. Regardless of the reason for making a move, in all cases, change was the common requirement.

Whether I made a job change or location move by choice, change was there. The occasional chance happenings still required some form of change on my part.

3c concept - choice, chance and change

Planning

You can try to plan your career (and I encourage everyone to do so), but some things happen by chance that alter the course of the best laid plans. Circumstances can change in an instant when companies get acquired or spun off.

Market crashes and economics alter what would have been the plan. Layoffs happen and lives are changed. Or you get unexpectedly recognized for an accomplishment and you are whisked off to another assignment.

Big change can occur almost instantly. The question is what are you going to do with such a change?

After my book “The Uncommon Commodity” was released, I got this note from a longtime friend and college buddy:

For some reason your book has pulled a one liner out of my sub-conscience, which is “if you don’t like the result, change something”.

My Dad hammered into my brother and me that one of the biggest constants in your life is CHANGE. The way he said it is “you will find the only thing that won’t change for the rest of your lives is CHANGE” or “the only thing in life that is constant is CHANGE”. He would follow that with “the better you are at adapting to change and solving problems, the better off you will be”.

Great principal no doubt, but I have found that effecting change within ourselves (I should just say within me since that is all I have control over) is very difficult. Sometimes we have to be inspired and sometimes we have been trying to make changes, but, for whatever reason, have not been successful in either making any change or in making effective changes. The human tendency to stay with or return to what we are comfortable with is a very strong instinct and quite often prevents us from making effective change.

And finally, sometimes we humans want to make changes, but don’t have the knowledge to make the best or most effective changes. That seems to be where encouragement, mentoring and life coaching stands to be most effective.

Change is a Brain Thing

When faced with change, our bodies go into a fight or flight mode. Using an extreme example, when our cavemen forefathers were surprised by a wild beast in the woods, THAT was an immediate change. In just a nanosecond, they had to decide whether to fight or flee.

Our bodies have a natural mechanism to react to sudden change. It’s part of our survival instincts. Our brains drive that response mechanism.

In our current more modern setting, science has proven we can alter our thought patterns to manage our response to many things, chief of which is our reaction to change.

In 1949, Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist known for his work in the field of associative learning, coined the phrase “Neurons that fire together , wire together.” Hebb’s axiom reminds us that every experience, thought, feeling, and physical sensation triggers thousands of neurons, which form a neural network. When you repeat an experience over and over, the brain learns to trigger the same neurons each time.

44957814 - concept of human intelligence with human brain on blue background

Awareness of the need for change can allow each of us to condition our thought habits to respond more positively in the face of change rather than negatively.

Old Habits Die Hard

Practical experience tells me that old habits die hard. I’ve coached way too many professionals who simply freeze like deer in headlights when major change comes their way.

Events happening more by chance than choice have a greater probability to triggering the wrong response.

At least when you’ve made a choice to do something, the change factor is mitigated by your own thought process to get there (through the change). However, an event happening by chance is a whole different story.

Therefore, when a sudden change happens by chance, your response mechanism needs to be trained to handle the change. People who perpetually struggle to accept change will be routinely thrown out of balance by the chance happenings in their life.

How are you equipped to deal with change in your life? Share some insights.

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Here’s a video I shot talking about this choice versus chance dimension.

Leaders: Are You a Pretender or a Contender?

If your desire is to be a better manager at work, at home, or in the community, you may want to develop some actual leadership skills.

However, if you are already following certain leadership principles, there is always room for lifting the lid to expand your reach and influence.

After many years working with clients of all kinds, I see one recurring theme, time and again. The biggest difference between managers and leaders who are pretenders versus contenders is a small six-inch piece of real estate; the distance between your ears.

Yes, I am talking about the space inside your head. The things you allow to happen in your thought life will drive the rate of success. You can be a pretender or you can be a contender. The difference is isolated in this really small space.

In the following diagram, you can see the natural progression of thought, action, reaction and behavior that is derived from our beliefs, expectations, and experiences. It’s all centered in the mind.

BELIEFS

Beliefs are your values, judgments, interpretations, assumptions, and attitudes. When you wake up each day, you have a whole set of these beliefs waiting ready in your head. The sum total of all these makes up your outlook for the day, often before you even begin. The collection of these beliefs set the stage for the way each day might unfold.

If a string of circumstance has tainted your set of beliefs, you will look at new opportunity through a jaded lens. On the other hand, if you have achieved a certain success, you may be more inclined to view new opportunity with a more optimistic mindset.

BEHAVIORS

Your beliefs drive your behaviors. Your “style” openness (or not), your habits, skills, practices, and actions stem from the beliefs you carry.

If you prefer mustard over mayonnaise, you are expressing an eating behavior based on some belief you established a long time ago. And so it goes with many of your daily choices, clothes, cars, hobbies, reading, entertainment, music, etc.

RELATIONSHIPS

Even the people you may choose to call friends will be governed by your beliefs turned into behavior. The kind of tribe you may join at work or in the community will be influenced by your behaviors.

If you align with a certain religious belief system, that will dictate the house of worship you choose to attend. Political affiliations, other social settings, and even workplace choices will be heavily swayed by the relationships you think you want to make; all having root in your mind’s eye.

RESULTS

Finally, the results will reflect the collection of beliefs, behaviors, and relationships. The direct circles of activity you choose will have a specific set of outcomes. These results (outcomes, impact, improvements, and “performance”) will all serve to reinforce your belief system.

When the results align with your original beliefs you say “see, I told you so.” You feel you knew it all along.

On the other hand, if an outcome somehow runs counter to what you expected (as many things will do), you may be inclined to fall deeper into your beliefs saying things like “I will never do THAT again”, or “I wish I had followed my gut.”

The Remedy

The successful leader will learn how to control that delicate real estate between the ears. Negative thoughts will be replaced by ones that provide a more meaningful value. The cycle of belief, behavior, relationship, and result will become a momentum-generating machine for positive action and success.

Whenever limiting thoughts creep in or pop up, the prudent, experienced leader will properly address the thought and prevent it from taking root to undermine the rest of the experience.

Whenever in doubt, the seasoned, learning leader will seek advice from trusted counselors and coaches or mentors and friends, to better evaluate the thought. If the thought has merit, then it can be addressed with a balanced, healthy view, never interrupting forward progress.

When you handle the root belief system, you set the stage for a more positive outcome. More importantly, you set the process by which you can grow, profit, and prosper in all areas of your life.

team building via trust

I’ve coached hundreds of business people helping them develop more effective leadership skills. Whether you own the business or you’re climbing the ladder in a larger corporate setting, you can benefit from finding a close, confidential advisor to help you develop the extra skills that make a difference. Use the contact forms here to reach out. Let me introduce you to my proven programs for leadership growth.

Are You Focused Deep or Wide?

If you start talking about leadership, you may get several different reactions; everything from eye-roll to serious looks. Regardless of the guru you follow or the school where you took leadership training, there is one key question that remains.

Will your leadership ability be deep or wide?

If you’re thinking about big organizations with high headcount and multiple lines of business, you are thinking about wide leadership influence. This includes large communities or tribes where your influence can be experienced.

However, if you think in terms of the immediate circle of your peers and direct reports, then you are thinking deep leadership.

There is not really a right or wrong to either of these two schools of thought.

Wide Leadership Thinking

As the name implies, wide leadership reaches far. The edges are way out there. You might be hoping to influence or impact a large population, whether that’s within your company or inside an industry.

Your idea of a vision has a really big scale to it. You are wanting to leave behind or accomplish making a big difference.

Ironically, a great leader with a wide vision isn’t necessarily thinking about numbers of followers. Instead, they focus on the need. Their heart centers on service.

The best picture is that of the pebble cast on a calm pool of water. The place where the stone hits the water causes ripple effects that have energy enough to reach the far edges of the pond or lake. If the pool was perfectly still, a single stone will create ripples that are seen the whole distance beyond the center of that circle.

Great leadership creates ripples of influence and impact in the hearts and minds of the ones who stand in the outer bands of the circle surrounding the leader.

The Deep End

Deep leadership is limited in numbers. It is a more personalized experience, dealing with a few.

In business, we think of it as our “direct reports”, those who are assigned directly to us with whom we have a day to day contact.

Mentoring someone is a deep leadership happening. The leader will be pouring wisdom, encouragement, and experience into the individual, one on one.

Deep leadership impact will be life changing for the recipient. Perhaps the influence will be limited to just a few nuggets of truth or learning, but the substance will be powerful. The person receiving the lesson will be forever changed.

The Best Do Both

The best leaders I have ever known or studied do both. I’ve tried being that kind of leader in what I do. I’ve tried teaching it to others.

When you take on a position of responsibility, you have to make the team work first. Your influence should be the deep kind. You must feed and nurture those assigned to you or hired by you. It is up to you to explain the vision and purpose.

You’ll be doing individual development of those around you.

As the team becomes productive, you can shift your focus to the wider perspective.

Your business may have many layers and your team is just a part of the bigger picture. Your influence as a leader can be felt by others outside your team. You do this by supporting other units or departments.

If you own your own business, you have to get it up and running smoothly (deep leadership) before you reach too far outside into the community to make yourself known (wide leadership).

A Pivot

I could go on about this and maybe will in another installment later. But I need to interject something.

I had this article in my writing queue for some time. My calendar was clicking by and my process to go to press was running normally. Then it was time to polish this one off and prep it for release on Sunday, April 12.

It hit me.

That Date is Easter.

Then it hit me again. What better an example of deep and wide influence than the story we know about Jesus’s life.

I intentionally do not force my faith and beliefs on you my reader. Nor will I start now. But please allow me a moment to reflect on this, a very significant holy date for many.

The story of Jesus began with him assembling a small group, twelve to be exact. His intent was to go deep with teaching, mentoring and messaging. He attempted to dispel many teachings of the day and bring better clarity on the subject of God and Heaven.

The disciples as this group later would be called, didn’t always get it at first. It took many tries to explain and demonstrate the principles to them. They eventually did get it.

Then focus turned to a wider audience. A gathering in a town square, a following on a hillside. The pebble was thrown into the lake and ripple it did.

The twelve are gone. Yet, the legacy created 2000 years ago remains.

I don’t judge your beliefs. None of this is an attempt to sway you otherwise. Yet for those who do believe this story and these teachings, the model is perfect.

Leadership delivered deeply to a few had impact far and wide on many. Today, we as leaders can do much the same.

OK most of you will not start a movement or create a global cause. But you can be the leader your team and your community need right now.

I encourage you to reflect in this Easter season.

Where does your leadership stand right now? Deep, wide or both?

Are You Managing Your World or Is Your World Managing You?

managing world

With so many of us confined to limited movement during the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been touching base (OK touching is a bad word) with colleagues, clients and close friends. The gist of the discussions have to do with “what do we do now?”

An old title from my archives came to mind. I thought I’d dust it off and share. I hope this thought will be helpful to you as you figure out your “new normal.”

Here it is from  the vault.


We all suffer the daily grind. Some days are better than others. For anyone in management or leadership, you need to take a pause to make some critical assessments. I like to call it recalibration. This is a key leadership quality.

Let’s face it, the demands on your time and your life can get overwhelming. In today’s tumultuous market, we really never know from day to day what next may come.

A Story

In my consulting days, I was project manager of a very large engagement with over 600 consultants working for me. It was a coast to coast assignment with teams scattered across 7 job sites. I had nine different work streams running concurrently, with cross-over dependencies between teams.

The hours were long and the travel compounded the pressure. The client was a large national banking institution and the mission was to help the bank respond to a critical regulatory mandate. To say the least, the stakes were great. It could have been easy to get overwhelmed with the scope of the situation. I confess, at times I did feel consumed.

Fortunately, my many years of prior training, both military and civilian, had prepared me for just such a mission. I was a long time practitioner of the principle I am about to share

If you let these pressures mount without routinely asking yourselves some essential questions, you run the risk of spinning off into some other orbit that you never intended.

I suggest that one of the most essential questions to ask yourself is :

Are you managing your world or is your world managing you?

The Frog

There is an old story of the frog in the pot. The story says that if you drop a frog in boiling water he immediately jumps out. But if you set him in cool water and slowly add the heat, he’ll boil to death. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to be like the frog.

boiling-frog

You have to gauge the temperature on a regular basis. Are you getting comfortable with the heat rising?

You have to pay attention to the circumstances around you. There needs to be the routine recalibration of your own role in the middle of the work demands going on around you.

React or Respond?

Here’s another point. If a doctor prescribes medication and I have a reaction to it, that is NOT GOOD. Yet if I respond to it, I am going to get over the condition. Just like with the medicine, being reactive to the things in our world really will not help the situation. Of course there are things that may happen that are totally unexpected. We have to deal with that.

At the core of this idea is the challenge between being proactive or reactive. The point here is that we should not let everything that happens become a topic of reaction. Truly we should be able to do some things to be proactive with what may come. Proactive people are better positioned to respond to the situation and manage their world. However, being reactive allows the events of the day to manage YOU.

So where do you stand? Are you more inclined to be in control of the things happening around you or have you started just reacting?

People Can Mess Things Up

people mess things up

You may think you have developed the best plan in the world to attack the next chapter of your life (ok, maybe just the next few hours). Then, what do you know, the very first person who walks into the office seems to blow the whole plan out of the water. What do you do?

Don’t react! Force yourself to pause and process the matter according to your plan. This is how you manage things rather than let things manage you.

Is it easy? Of course not! That’s why we so often feel overwhelmed at the end of the day.

Even if you are successful at maintaining the focus on your plan, it likely will take lots of energy and effort. But people who have been able to adopt a discipline for doing this find it becomes easier to do. If your outward aura is true to this inner control, the people around you will start to get the picture. Their demands will become less intrusive, plus they will learn they cannot get “the reaction” out you they used to be able to do.

LIFE IS A SELF-HELP JOURNEY

Managers getting it right

Maybe self-help books are not as popular as they once were. The truth is, this journey we call life is full of self-help moments. Rather than waiting on others to pitch in or hoping that circumstances may change, you need to take control of your own destiny.

Personal and professional growth only happens when you choose to make it happen.

At each and every step of the way, keep asking yourself if you are managing your world or does your world manage you? Take the time to recalibrate. Get back on plan.

Question: When was the last time you were able to stand back and realize your world was managing you? How did you regain control?

Is Your Project a Self-Eating Watermelon?

self-eaten watermelon

What is a self-eating watermelon? Definition : A project that contains enough seeds of success right within its own boundaries.

How many of you work for or in a self-eating watermelon project or organization?

self-eaten watermelon

I doubt many would say yes. You see I hear a lot of excuses why a project fails.

Outside influences get a big part of the blame. Low budgets, poor facilities, bad technology, broken tools, weak ideas… the list goes on and on.

What about bad leadership, or no leadership? Any organization that suffers a leadership gap is destined to miss the self-eating watermelon kind of success.

Great leaders can overcome basic obstacles. OK the tools may be dull, the budget may have gotten cut back, the building is second rate. Many great world changing events have happened with far less in terms of physical resources to do the work.

An Old Story

Leadership made the difference. I’m old enough to have been a student of the great war, WWII. Leaders like Dwight Eisenhower or Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill looked at the mess the world was in and saw a vision. They dug deep into core principles both human and domestic to design the way out.

Leaders like these inspired thousands to stand up and fight. Troops fought with second rate gear sometimes. Warm clothes and rations were scarce. Yet the forces that were mustered heard the call and forged ahead, securing victory for a free world.

If you get a chance, go tour Churchill’s bunker underneath the streets of London. By today’s standards, you just cannot imagine suffering years of isolation running the war effort from there. But his team and the plans they made were a true self-eating watermelon project. The seeds of success were grown right there.

Those who helped the effort saw a clear picture of the need. Churchill had his detractors. He was a classic modern day politician with a large percentage of the country not voting for him, yet his leadership shined brightest when the country needed it the most.

He rallied the support when it was needed. His influence on the situation was undeniable.

The Newer Story

A seldom told tale comes from banking. In the 1980’s, the automated teller machine was blazing its trail into our lives. The hardware was operating before the software. While each bank could purchase their own machines for use by their customers, there was no access sharing between banks.

I worked for a large regional bank called Texas Commerce. We had 71 locations spread across Texas. We were one of the three largest banks of our kind at the time. You have to realize we did not yet have interstate banking laws, so each state had its own banks; leave the state without cash, and you might be stuck for a while.

I was sitting at the table when our Chairman, a banking legend named Ben Love, was presented a plan to operate these ATM machines. Again, understand this was the very early days of the idea. Ben heard all of the pros and cons, saw the numbers, but decided to pass on the opportunity. In his mind, there were far too many variables, yet unknown.

In the case of the self-eating watermelon, no one knew what the seeds of success needed to include. Ben took a pass, but specifically told the team to stay vigilant, watch the other guys try, then, when the time was right, we’d jump in.

It was almost two years later that we took our dive. And dive we did. Not only did we enter the market, but we crushed it, becoming the founding members of the PULSE Switch. You see the network required to connect all of these machines needed to be built. We needed a technological super highway to carry the transaction data from one machine to the next, regardless of which bank sponsored the machine. PULSE solved that.

As a founding member of PULSE, we also captured a large share of the transaction fees that went with each swipe of a card. It was a huge play for the bank and banking in general. Yes, I know ATM’s are a given these days. No one thinks about this card or that, which network it runs on, or who gets what, when. The old model blazed the trail to create a new normal.

Ben Love had other historical accolades too. He championed branch banking and interstate banking, exerting a strong influence in the Texas legislature to pass the laws needed to open the borders for eventual e-commerce. His ties to New York banking led to the eventual merger of our bank with what is now JP Morgan Chase.

Ben Love

The seeds of this monumental success were sown into the very fabric of who and what we were as a bank. That, my friends, is leadership. Now, let it be said, Ben Love had his detractors too, just like Churchill. Not everyone who ever worked for Ben left with a positive appreciation for Ben’s ways. But you cannot deny the influence he had at so many levels.

Leadership Is the Key

In summary, there are no self-eating watermelon projects or organizations that exists without strong, capable leadership. It is the presence of leadership that steers the course, musters the resources, and wins the day.

You can be a manager, flipping switches, making a few things happen. But leadership takes the venture much further than mere management can.

If your project needs a few self-eating seeds implanted, call me for some ideas on ways to grow your team into this self-actualizing champion of your industry. You can grow your leadership ability, let me show you how.

Footnote: I was introduced to the “self-eating watermelon” terminology by Kent Cummins of Magic Hotline. Kent is a renown speaker and author.

Leading Change: An Old Model Reveals New Ideas

Overcoming change

Business leaders know the challenge it can be to lead change. When there is a new announcement about something changing, you can often hear the groans that arise.

Overcoming change

Work teams of all kinds resist change. Understanding ways to overcome the resistance can be a leader’ s best answer in times of change.

As I’ve mentioned before, managing change can be very darn difficult. Within the body of change management that is so readily available, much has been written about overcoming resistance to change. I have found one particular explanation for ways to overcome the resistance, that makes things crystal clear.

In the 1960’s David Gleicher put forth a comprehensive explanation of the theory of change. Others after him altered his work slightly but gave credit to him as the creator of this view. Here’s what Gleicher said.

Three factors must be present for meaningful organizational change to take place. A formula for overcoming resistance to change looks like this:

D x V x F > R

These factors are:

D= Dissatisfaction with how things are now;

V= Vision of what is possible

F= The First, concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision;

By multiplying these three factors, if the product is greater than Resistance, then change is possible.

Because D, V, and F are multiplied, if any one of the factors is absent (zero) or low, then the product will be zero or low and therefore not capable of overcoming the resistance.

To ensure a successful change it is necessary to use influence and strategic thinking in order to create a vision and identify those crucial, early steps towards it. In addition, the organization must recognize and accept the dissatisfaction that exists by listening to the employee voice while sharing industry trends, leadership best practices and competitor analysis to identify the necessity for change.

Let’s Unpack the Factors

Dissatisfaction –  When dissatisfaction with the current state is present, change can be easier. We deal with these kinds of change every day. If the temperature is too cold, we turn on the heat. If it’s too hot, we turn on a fan or an air conditioner to cool us. In these simple examples, resistance to change is practically zero because the dissatisfaction is so high.

In a job setting the dissatisfaction is harder to identify and measure. If your team’s computers are getting old and outdated, they perform poorly. Sometimes they freeze. The need for change can be obvious. So you offer a chance to upgrade technology. Resistance might be low.

However, when you change a computer system seeking some other goal, the work team may resist that change. When the perception is things are working well, a change can see a greater resistance because dissatisfaction is low.

Vision –  The leader’s ability to paint the best vision picture can be one of the greatest strengths. People can and do rally around a good vision for the future; a look at what could be. You can be operating with very little dissatisfaction, but have a vision for something greater and still overcome resistance to the change.

Mergers and reorganizations come to mind. The leadership sees an opportunity for something much greater so an announcement is made about reorganizing or merging entities. The natural response from the staff is resistance. Yet when the vision is presented well, with great conviction and quantifiable gains for everyone, the resistance can be overcome.

Forgetting to add the proper vision when driving change can create the zero value in this DVF>R equation, thus making resistance too great to overcome.

First Steps – Being able to reduce resistance can actually be easier than we think. Taking solid, specific first steps toward the change can create the momentum you need to break through the resistance and effect change.

The first steps are often forgotten as critical to successful change. The big transformation project gets mapped out, but the first steps are merely buried in the details with little if any focus and intention.

Successfully managing change requires focused effort to get the first steps right. Again, having zero impact with first steps could negate the whole equation, keeping resistance high, keeping change from happening.

Conclusion

When you are faced with a leadership challenge for change, think about this simple formula. Review the three elements present in your own situation. Do what you can to enhance and control the factors so that your ability to eliminate resistance is effective.

Once the resistance goes way or at least gets minimized, you have a much greater chance of making change happen.

Think about your own experience managing change. Test this theory and review where the gaps occurred. I think you will find the model holds true. Focus on the three components described here and you will greatly increase your own effectiveness leading change.

What do you do to overcome any resistance to change? Share, leave a comment.

Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

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How to Avoid Having a Frozen Middle in Your Company

frozen middle image

Do you remember the last time you took something out of the freezer and stuck it in the microwave? You were hoping for a tasty treat. But when the buzzer went off, you grabbed your food and stuck your fork in only to find a frozen middle.

The edges were hot and bubbly, but the center was just as cold as when you got it out of the fridge.

In today’s ever-increasing complexity of business, companies of all sizes are developing frozen middles.

What exactly does that mean?

Senior executives spend their days plotting vision and trying to get the workforce to execute on that vision. Yet the larger the corporation, the greater is the chance to suffer from the frozen middle.

Here’s how it happens.

Senior leaders set a course to deliver a new product or service. Junior executives distill the demands from the top and begin trying to communicate the details of a complex plan.

If the company has reverted to more of a matrix style reporting structure, i.e. people have dual reporting responsibilities, subordinate workers begin to suffer from command and control fatigue.

Signals get crossed and focus is lost. Rather than do something wrong, the folks in the middle freeze. They stop ‘doing’ for fear of doing it wrong. They will work, but the level of productivity lags simply because there is an unintended fear of doing something out of line or off the mark.

Creativity, collaboration, and even inclusion suffer.

Gifted and talented workers simply freeze in place.

What can Leaders do to thaw or avoid the frozen middle?

First, pay attention to your communication. The bigger the company, the greater is the flow of information. New policies, new procedures, new systems, etc. All of these serve to complicate the message(s) circulating through your offices and workshops.

You must strive for crystal clear clarity at every turn. Are your messages coherent and complementary to one another, or have you sent mixed signals?

Are your instructions consistent with the vision, mission, and goals you have launched?

Next, are your subordinate managers able to state the mission, values, and goals? Watch for simple parroting of the message; that is, repeating it back to you like a robot. Instead, they should each be able to state the purpose and vision for their teams in their own words. Yes, it should align with the greater good, but it has to come from their center of understanding, not some plaque on the wall.

Manager Challenges

Encourage your direct reports to work on this clarification of the message with their individual teams. Coach them through the process to create the message for their teams.

In addition, build trust in your circle of influence so that trust can be shared beyond just your inner circle. Model a trusting behavior for others to see so they can begin trusting you.

Speak empathetically. Embrace change.

Be patient. As change comes, not everyone aligns at exactly the same pace. Many will lag your understanding and enthusiasm. As a leader, you get an early preview of the changes that are needed.

Team success

Just because you “got it” and became excited about the change, not everyone else will immediately get it too. It is likely you needed your own time to process a pending change. Remember that. Allow your team their time to process change.

Finding Tools and Solutions

There is simply no better way to avoid the frozen middle than finding ways to keep your teams on the same page.

I’ve been coaching and advocating the Big 5 method of performance management for decades. In every situation where Big 5 has been adopted, work teams experience higher productivity, reduced stress, and greater team morale.

Tools and solutions like Big 5 go a long way to help. Big 5 is a way to get every employee to align with stated priorities for the next week or month. Then a simple, and short, review with the team lead/manager/supervisor can provide coaching and a checkpoint for keeping things aligned.

Breaking a Cycle: Familiar Captivity Versus Unfamiliar Freedom

Have you ever realized that something you are doing is a recurring cycle of very unproductive behavior, thought or effort?

Perhaps it’s a job, a relationship, a habit, or worse, some addiction, behavior or belief that keeps you from being the person you want to be?

You know who you think you are, but certain routines or comfort zones surround you making escape impossible. The ability to rise up to the next level stays just outside your reach.

You feel captive to the situation, but you like it.

Writer and theologian C.S. Lewis once wrote:

“A familiar captivity is frequently more desirable than an unfamiliar freedom.

The Captivity

The obvious analogy to captivity is a prison. In 1994 the great movie Shawshank Redemption was released. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. The film is about a man named Anthony Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) who is wrongly convicted of murder and sent to Shawshank prison to wait out 2 life sentences.

Andy quickly learns that life inside the prison is a world of its own with codes and complexities that not only shape this world but also shape those who live in it long enough.

Dufresne got to know the other prisoners and their own resignation to the waiting. Survival in the community was based on accepting the fate that nothing would change.

Hope,” one veteran inmate told him when he first arrived, “Hope is a dangerous thing. It has no use on the inside.”

So those who lived on the inside just existed. They found their place in that world and expected nothing more. Their identities were based on their habits, how well they could manipulate the system and what you could offer to the other inmates.

Parole

Parole became a joke. However, for one prisoner, parole came up. After 50 years inside, he was being released.

When the old man found out about his parole, this gentle, meek elderly man grabbed his close friend and put a knife to his neck and threatened to kill him. The old man was so frightened of living free that he thought killing someone would let him stay inside.

After so much time on the inside, how could he learn to survive as a free man? Inside he had his own identity, he was an important man, a respected man – outside he was nothing. How could he survive?

Becoming Institutionalized About It

After that episode, Ellis “Red” Redding (played by Morgan Freeman) described this mindset as being “institutionalized.” Red explained, “I’m telling you, these walls are funny. First, you hate them, then you get used to them, enough time passes you get so you depend on them.”

The Big So-What

The Shawshank Principle shows us the familiarity of captivity versus an unfamiliar freedom. Once freedom was taken away from the convicted criminals, they found comfort inside the walls. The comfort became so profound, they could not imagine having freedom again.

Circumstances in our lives create for us familiar captivity. The routines we begin to follow day after day become a type of captivity. Your leadership style may be just a little too routine. To decide to change some part of the routine will seem like an awkward, strange idea.

Ask yourself whether you are allowing your current path to be your comfort zone. Has your view of the world become “institutionalized”?

Or can you do something different; something more significant? As you think through that challenge, realize your first reaction may be to be afraid of the unknown.

Though a new choice might be beautiful freedom of expression and accomplishment, you might be inclined to stay frozen where you are.

Make a pledge to try something new. Do the thing you’ve been avoiding.

As Andy Dufresne is quoted:

If you ain’t busy living, you better get busy dying.

Walk away from the familiarity of captivity and embrace the uncertainty of an unfamiliar freedom.

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Disclaimer: “The Shawshank Redemption” is a 1994 American drama film written and directed by Frank Darabont, based on the 1982 Stephen King novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.”

Stuck Right Now? Here’s How to Get 3 Levels Beyond

Are you feeling stuck? It’s like walking in quicksand. You can’t make any forward progress.

We’ve all been there before. This feeling is a common event in most people’s lives. As the chapters of life unfold, there are moments when everything seems to just get stuck and you start to lose the vision of the way ahead. Some may think of this as drifting through life.

The future vision is missing, lost, or forgotten. You just want to make it through another day. You, my friend, need to know there is more waiting for you. Here are three steps to get past feeling stuck.

The Shift

First, you need to make a shift. There needs to be a disruptive force or series of events that can shake things up. Mostly this is a shift that needs to happen in your mind; the way you are thinking needs to change.

I see so many people every day who are stuck in their mindset. Their head is filled with negative, limiting thoughts. “I can’t do that”, “I am too weak”, “I don’t have that skill”, “I don’t know that subject”.

You may also need to shift the people who are around you, especially if they serve to enforce those negative thoughts. If you speak a limiting thought and they agree with you, they are not being any help. Find some new friends.

Start growing away from old, bad thoughts. Read new books, watch some TED talk videos, open your mind to new ideas. Get a refresh!

By engaging a shift mindset, you can begin to pull out of the muck where you are stuck.

The Lift

As the shift builds momentum, you will get a feeling of lift. Just like the wind passing over the wings of a bird or an airplane, there is lift. The whole body rises into flight.

Pressure and stress will ease. Old burdens will fall away and you will feel a growing energy.

Lift creates a move to new direction. You sense a freedom of thought, action, and purpose. You are renewed.

The Gift

As you rise above the old state of mind, you achieve a newness; a renewed sense of purpose. You get a fresh look at the world ahead. Empowered by the new energy you will become a gift to those around you.

As a manager and leader, your fresh view of things can become contagious. Your smile and energy will impact others. You can help them begin their own shift out of ‘stuckness’.

If you need help embarking on a life change like this, I’d be happy to explain my coaching programs. I’ve helped hundreds of seasoned professionals get unstuck.

Leaders Build Stepping Stones

What do you think of when someone says something about a stepping stone? The origin comes from placement of stones across a stream so that a pedestrian can walk across the flow of the water without getting wet.

Courtesy 123rf.com

Often the stones are placed by hikers trying to make a crossing in a river. The stones can be randomly placed or symmetrical.

I like to picture these stones when I think of key people who have been major influencers in my life. Likely, you too have had mentors or significant personalities that have played a role as a stepping stone in your life.

The Back Story

When someone stands up or stands in to provide support, they become a stepping stone. For me, I grew up the only child of a single Mom. My Father passed away when I was only 2 years old. Mom was determined to provide me with significant male role models to aid in my development as a man.

As a result, my stepping stones evolved thanks to the contributions of at least 6 of these caring and giving men. The time they spent teaching me things like baseball, golf, fishing, tennis, woodworking, and camping, taught me much more than the basics. Yes, I learned how to hit a fastball, bait a hook, fly a plane, light a good fire, and varnish a mahogany cabinet, but more importantly, I learned about hard work, seeking wisdom, and living by faith.

The other interesting aspect of this mentoring experience is that these men were not rock stars. They were neither Titans of business nor famous celebrity motivators like a Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy or John Maxwell. They were regular guys who lived life day-by-day, attempting as best they could to do the right thing.

Ladies, I do not want to forget you. What I am saying here applies to women as well. I have known plenty of young ladies who likewise received counsel from a mentor. Everything I am suggesting about this principle applies to both genders.

If you have been blessed by someone, a stepping stone, I hope you now have a desire to mentor. You don’t have to achieve some big celebrity status or have a big footprint in the media. You can make a huge difference in some young person’s life.

Here are the basic parts of being a mentor (in no particular order).

1. Availability –  Just showing up is a good place to start. Whatever the strength or skill set, whatever the core values you possess, making yourself available is key to setting the stage and the environment for mentoring.

2. Trust –  Earning the trust of your mentee is so necessary in order to make the sharing work. It will not matter how wise or helpful your experience may be if the person does not trust you.

3. Reliability –  Once a trust expectation begins to develop, your reliability to engage and respond is critical. Nothing does a young heart more harm than an unmet promise. Promises like “I’ll be there at 3:00” then no-show.

4. Patience –  Young students will do dumb things. Roll with it. Yes, you can assert some form of discipline, but gauge your student and apply the firmness wisely.

5. Candor –  Being open to share who and what you are is important. That is the ultimate teaching tool. Mentoring is about giving the mentee someone to emulate. If they don’t know YOU, then the best is not coming out.

6. Honesty –  Don’t make stuff up. If your candidate asks something you don’t know, admit it. Guide the person in exploring together where and how to find the answer.

7. Giving –  Be able to give. This is not about money. It requires all of the attributes above. A giving, servant’s heart and open mind is what makes you a good mentor.

One last note. I believe mentoring is different from coaching. Coaches can be good mentors, but a mentor can be effective without the more stern and disciplined aspects of what a coach should be doing for you. Mentors have a special passion about their gift. The way they give to others and inspire those around them to grow, is the center of a great mentorship experience.

Accountable

The point is, there are very effective mentoring opportunities that do not require coaching skills. So do not hold back when a situation comes up where you could be a mentor to a young person. You, too, can be a stepping stone for someone’s greatness.

In closing, I will tell you it has been over 40 years since I last saw some of the men I mentioned above. Yet almost every day some small aspect of my life reminds me of something they taught me or showed me. Their work and their gifts became a part of my actual psyche and emotional intelligence. The stepping stones they laid in my life remain strong.

If you are wondering about leaving a legacy, become a mentor to those around you.

Hear the podcast associated with this article.

Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

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Tags: mentoring, management, leadership, mindset