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SFT: A Simple Reminder for Leadership Performance

Dr. David L. Cook is a sports performance coach and business consultant who has made the phrase “SFT” famous. Leadership performance can be reduced to these three little ideas.

You might know Dr. Cook’s name from a little book titled “Seven Days in Utopia”. The book was made into a movie starring Robert Duvall and Lucas Black. The story is a fictional journey of a young aspiring golf superstar (Black) who has a colossal meltdown on the world stage of golf, suffering a series of bad choices and shots that take him to a score of 15 on the final hole of a big tournament.

Utopia

Angry and frustrated at the game that seems to have betrayed him, he wrecks his car while driving thru the scrub brush of the Texas Hill Country northwest of San Antonio. Destiny introduces him to an old cowboy (Duvall) who himself was once an aspiring golfer with a lot of growing up to do. For the next seven days, Duvall takes Black under his wing to teach him a few things about golf and, more importantly, life.

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Seen Any Red Flags Lately?

red flag warnings

The new year is always full of new possibilities. Yet sometimes we drag old situations into the new year. One big area where I see people struggle has to do with identifying and managing “red flags.”

What is it about red flags? You know, those subtle warning signs that a new situation is going to have problems.

Whether a new relationship, a new business arrangement, or just a new possibility in our life, the first signs of a red flag should give us pause. Yet too often they don’t. Why is that?

The answer lies in the gap between the “known” and the “unknown”. As you move toward anything new, you will be leaving the known factors and circumstances to move into the unknown. This transition is also why people have difficulty facing change. Change causes this same movement from known to unknown.

Dealing with Comfort Zones

Comfort zones come from the “known” parts of our life. Experiences from the past establish our sense of the known elements in our life. Some experiences are good, some are bad, but all are known.

With the unknown, we establish our own set of expectations. Perceptions about “what could be” start to look very appealing. That’s why we decide to make a change.

Red flags always appear in the “known”. Some fact point is presented right now, today, and it is easy to declare it a red flag. Here’s the rub.

The new red flag, although it is now a “known” item, is weighed against the perceived value of the new deal (the “unknown”). When you choose to ignore a red flag, you have decided the benefit of the unknown is greater than what you know to be true; right here, right now.

 

Relationship 101

Relationships are the easiest examples of dealing with red flags. Entering into a new relationship there is always the phase of getting to know the other person. You make a date, you go out, you spend time talking about each other, sharing experiences and values.

As time goes on, behavioral habits are displayed. Is the other person on time, do they dress well, do they treat other people kindly? The list of possibilities is long. As each item is demonstrated or expressed, you do a mental check off of whether each trait is good or bad. Are they appealing or appalling? The bad ones are red flags.

Sure, no one is perfect, so we allow a certain few red flags to remain. Why, because the potential (remember this is still perceived value) for a better relationship outweighs the red flag.

Occasionally, we look at red flags and think “Oh, we can fix that after we settle down.” Bad idea! My experience says red flags only get worse. They were at odds with one of your values when they were introduced, they will only get worse as time goes on.

Here’s how to burn red flags:

1. Be true to your own values –  Stay centered in your core beliefs and values. Don’t allow yourself to be swayed into a new line of thinking or a new standard of behavior, unless that new direction is a choice you make.

2. Recognize today’s reality –  Make decisions based on as much fact as you can possibly collect. A known, demonstrated behavior that is not acceptable must be rejected. That new life partner or business associate will not change the bad behavior. It might even get worse.

3. Check your perceptions –  The excitement of a new possibility is wonderful. However, if the steps leading up to the new relationship are littered with red flags, take caution.

4. Be assertive –  If you have standards that are going to be compromised by the red flag traits in the other person, stand your ground. Speak the truth. Try to talk it out, be firm. If it costs you the relationship, so be it.

5. Be confident, don’t settle –  Most of all, be confident that you do not have to settle for red flags. Just because that person is available today, if they come with a bag full of red flags, walk away. Search for a better deal.

Managing the red flag scenario is one of the toughest life choices we make. Usually, there are so many reasons to carry on thus ignoring the red flag. However, the red flag is a universal symbol of caution. Why wouldn’t you treat it the same in your personal life and at work? Establish a method to identify and deal with red flags. Your final outcomes will be far more rewarding.

Ways to Explore the Power of Your Mind’s Attention and Your Heart’s Affection

Nothing can be more powerful than the exact moment you harness the power of your mind’s attention and your heart’s affection.

Projects, life changes, new directions, and many other parts of our life can become monumental successes when these two dynamics come into perfect alignment.

affection

“Have you realized that today is the tomorrow you talked about yesterday? It is your responsibility to change your life for the better.”
Jaachynma N.E. Agu, The Prince and the Pauper

Let’s break it down.

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Leadership Principles: My Elite 8

Principle based leadership is like setting a deep and strong foundation. The principles you choose to guide you will shape the character and substance of what you decide to do.

Whether you are leading a team at work, your family, or an organization in your community, I like these 8 principles. I call them my “Elite 8”.

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Leadership, It’s in the Bag

When trying to coach leadership, there is one word picture that does so much more than all the others. That picture is golf. Those of you might ‘hate golf’ or don’t know much about it, please stay with me.

The game of golf is a collection of challenges intentionally designed to test your skills. In a standard round of golf, there are 18 holes, each with their own unique set of characteristics. Some of the holes are longer than others. Some have water obstacles, others have sand. Some have both. Elevations change, grass changes, shapes and cuts give every hole a special personality.

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You tee off on each hole, hoping to reach the green in as few strokes as possible. Once you have reached the green, all that remains are a few shorter touches to sink the ball into the cup, but oh how hard those last strokes can be. The turns and twists of the surface of the green make some hard uphill runs while others are slippery downhill slopes. Here, even the length and density of the grass can influence your effectiveness at putting.

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Beating Procrastination at Its Own Game – and Ways to Thrive

People often ask me about ways to beat procrastination. I usually say “I’ll get back to you.” Just kidding.

Everyone procrastinates sometimes, but 20 percent of people chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions—which, unfortunately, are increasingly available. Procrastination in large part reflects our perennial struggle with self-control as well as our inability to accurately predict how we’ll feel tomorrow, or the next day.

procrastinate1

If you do a Google search, there are over 380,000 references to “overcoming procrastination”.

Procrastinators may say they perform better under pressure, but more often than not that’s their way of justifying putting things off. The bright side? It’s possible to overcome procrastination—with effort.

Procrastination is not a problem of time management or of planning. Procrastinators are not different in their ability to estimate time, although they are more optimistic than others. “Telling someone who procrastinates to buy a weekly planner is like telling someone with chronic depression to just cheer up,” insists Dr. Ferrari (1).

I too struggle with procrastination. From my own observations with decades of clients behind me, plus my own ever-present struggle with it, here are the key reasons for procrastination.

  1. Desire to achieve perfection –  When a normally high energy, high achiever procrastinates, it’s usually due to the desire to achieve perfection. Perfection though is unachievable, especially in most business settings.
  2. Lack of direction –  You can’t leave for a trip if you don’t know where you’re going. Without a good sense of where you want to go with a project or a task, you likely wont want to start.
  3. Self-talk – Procrastinators tell lies to themselves. Such as, “I’ll feel more like doing this tomorrow.” Or “I work best under pressure.” But in fact they do not get the urge the next day or work best under pressure. In addition, they protect their sense of self by saying “this isn’t important.” Another big lie procrastinators indulge is that time pressure makes them more creative. Unfortunately they do not turn out to be more creative; they only feel that way. They squander their resources.
  4. It’s unpleasant –  Not everything we need to do each day is fun and exciting. Things can be downright unappealing, so we put them off.

Here are the most popular ways to overcome procrastination (2).

STEP 1: Recognize you ARE A PROCRASTINATOR.

Here’s a fun little test for you to take. CLICK HERE

Here are some useful indicators that will help you know when you’re procrastinating:

  • Filling your day with low priority tasks from your To Do List.
  • Reading e-mails several times without starting work on them or deciding what you’re going to do with them.
  • Sitting down to start a high-priority task, and almost immediately going off to make a cup of coffee.
  • Leaving an item on your To Do list for a long time, even though you know it’s important.
  • Regularly saying “Yes” to unimportant tasks that others ask you to do, and filling your time with these instead of getting on with the important tasks already on your list.
  • Waiting for the “right mood” or the “right time” to tackle the important task at hand.

Step 2: Work Out WHY You’re Procrastinating

Even if you’re organized, you can feel overwhelmed by the task. You may doubt that you have the skills or resources you think you need, so you seek comfort in doing tasks you know you’re capable of completing. Unfortunately, the big task isn’t going to go away – truly important tasks rarely do. You may also fear success as much as failure. For example, you may think that success will lead to you being swamped with more requests to do this type of task, or that you’ll be pushed to take on things that you feel are beyond you.

Step 3: Adopt Anti-Procrastination Strategies

Procrastination is a habit – a deeply ingrained pattern of behavior. That means that you won’t just break it overnight. Habits only stop being habits when you have persistently stopped practicing them, so use as many approaches as possible to maximize your chances of beating them. Some tips will work better for some people than for others, and for some tasks than others. And, sometimes, you may simply need to try a fresh approach to beat the “procrastination peril”!

These general tips will help motivate you to get moving:

  • Make up your own rewards. For example, promise yourself a piece of tasty flapjack at lunchtime if you’ve completed a certain task. And make sure you notice how good it feels to finish things!
  • Ask someone else to check up on you. Peer pressure works! This is the principle behind slimming and other self-help groups, and it is widely recognized as a highly effective approach.
  • Identify the unpleasant consequences of NOT doing the task.
  • Work out the cost of your time  to your employer. As your employers are paying you to do the things that they think are important, you’re not delivering value for money if you’re not doing those things. Shame yourself into getting going!

If you’re procrastinating because you’re disorganized, here’s how to get organized!

Use Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle to help prioritize your To-Do List so that you cannot try to kid yourself that it would be acceptable to put off doing something on the grounds that it is unimportant, or that you have many urgent things which ought to be done first when, in reality, you’re procrastinating.

eisenhower-box

If you’re putting off starting a project because you find it overwhelming, you need to take a different approach. Here are some tips:

  • Break the project into a set of smaller, more manageable tasks. You may find it helpful to create an action plan.
  • Start with some quick, small tasks if you can, even if these aren’t the logical first actions. You’ll feel that you’re achieving things, and so perhaps the whole project won’t be so overwhelming after all.

If you’re doing it because you find the task unpleasant:

  • Many procrastinators overestimate the unpleasantness of a task. So give it a try! You may find that it’s not as bad as you thought!
  • Hold the unpleasant consequences of not doing the work at the front of your mind.
  • Reward yourself for doing the task.

Here’s a bonus. Have you seen the story about rocks, pebbles and sand? Watch this video

(1) Quotes courtesy of Psychology Today and Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, and Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

(2) Other references courtesy of Mindtools.com

Lessons in Leadership: Soaring with the Winds of Life

windsock

 

In learning how to fly an airplane, one of the first lessons has to do with understanding winds. Winds come in basically three types;

  • Head winds – those hit you right in the face
  • Tail winds – those from behind
  • Cross winds – those at angles from the side

I believe the challenges we face in life and in business model these three types of wind as well. If we consider all the forms of challenge we face, we can boil it down into these three categories. However, it might be interesting to compare the pilot’s concern with each of these winds as we think about our daily responses to life’s winds…..

Head Wind

First, the head winds. Too often we might be prone to think of these negatively. As wind hits us in the face, it slows us down, forces us to press harder against the wind. Bob Seger wrote a great ballad titled “Against the Wind…stronger now still just running…against the wind”.

When a pilot encounters head wind during flight it can be a challenge. Fuel consumption is increased as air speed decreases. The time it takes to reach a destination increases. Stress and fatigue can set in. But did you know it is preferable to take off and land “against the wind”? Why? Because the increased force of that head wind causes “lift” on the wings which is the force that makes planes fly.

A good steady head wind actually makes take-offs and landings easier, more comfortable and effective. So the next time you sense a head wind in life, ask yourself whether it has been provided to allow more lift for a better take off to a new place in life or whether it is there to afford a safer, smoother landing from where you have just come.

Tail Wind

Next let’s talk about tail wind. This is just the opposite from a head wind. We tend to think of tail wind as favorable. During flight that might be true. It can serve to push us forward, reduce effort and speed the time towards the destination.

But did you know it is the most difficult force with which to reckon during take off and landing? At those times, it actually impairs control, reduces efficiency and creates danger.

Maybe in life we need to be cautious of the perceived tail winds. Rather than gliding along with them, we need to watching for hindrances to gaining new achievement or resolving old challenges.

Cross Wind

The final force is cross wind. All things considered, crosswind is the most challenging of all flying situations. That is true in life and business too.

Crosswind means what it implies… a force crossing you at an angle to the direction you intend to fly. During flight, a cross wind will blow you “off course”. A constant watch must be given to direction and compass heading while flying in crosswinds. There is no cruising during crosswind conditions. It is a constant battle.

doug flying
Me piloting a cross country to Shreveport LA

Take off and landing is even more severe. Very special techniques are required to manage a crosswind situation. This is why you see planes doing a crab landing, angling sideways right before touchdown. In some situations the crosswind can be so severe that its force exceeds the designed strength of the air frame on the airplane, which makes the good pilot seek an alternative landing site, one where the winds are more favorable.

Life has crosswind too. It is the skill and grace with which we handle life’s crosswinds that determines our ultimate success. Failure to recognize and manage a crosswind can cause certain disaster. Either we ignore the presence of that crosswind or we acknowledge it but underestimate the consequences. Forging ahead means grave results.

So next time you feel a certain extraordinary force influencing your life, consider the pilot. Is the wind you feel one of these? If so, which one and how will you choose to handle it?

If you need help discerning the winds in your path right now or want to find better ways to navigate those winds, schedule a time for a free consultation.

Burn the Boats – The Toughest Leadership Command

burn the ships

We all like Plan “B” options that afford us an escape when things don’t work out. In 1519, Captain Hernán Cortés landed in Veracruz to begin his great conquest. Upon arriving, he gave the order to his men to burn the ships. How’s that for bold leadership?

What Cortés did was force himself and his men to either succeed or die. A retreat was not an option.

In order to achieve the highest level of success we each desire, there are times when we need to “burn the boats.”

The obvious question becomes “what are my ships or boats”? For starters, your ship may be anything that you are afraid to let go of.

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A Mentor’s Greatest Lament

It’s easy to find a lot of talk about mentoring; being a mentor, using a mentor, and growing from mentorship. One of my most popular posts was about being a stepping stone. But what will you do about that?

Mentors come in many varieties. Anyone who’s been through some form of higher learning has probably been influenced by a teacher or professor. You may remember a magical mentor who inspired you to think differently or be different. To this day, I owe much of my passion for writing to my senior English teacher from high school, Mrs. Geneva Curry.

A Story

Dr. William Hendricks, a well-respected professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was once asked what his greatest fear may be. His response shocked the audience. Again, keep in mind, he was one of the most highly regarded faculty members there.

His answer was “To present and teach my best material, but no one learns.” Let that sink in a minute.

Here’s a well-respected professor who had people clamoring to attend his lectures. His fear was teaching and no one learns.

What did he mean by that? He meant having an audience that was somehow closed to learning.

When I first heard this, I was struck by the significance of being a student or mentee and not being receptive to the teaching that is being offered.

Why would anyone do that? Well, it’s simple. There are those among us who go into a learning situation believing they already have all the answers. They are convinced there is nothing new to learn.

Whether it comes from pride or futility, the idea that you might sit with a mentor and ignore the teaching is insanity!

servant leader

The Smartest Guy in the Room

Have you ever known anyone like that? You know, someone who insists they know it all. They act like and truly believe they are the smartest guy in the room.

These folks just want to sit in the class or in the program because the completion certificate somehow elevates them to the next level. The mindset that you can pass a course without being impacted by it is just plain crazy. What a waste of everyone’s time and talent.

The best leaders I have ever known knew what it was to be a follower first. Once you master the following, then you are qualified to become a leader. This is a key concept that fails many would-be managers.

My freshman year in the Texas A&M University  Corps of Cadets taught me that. The entire purpose of the freshman or ‘fish’ experience in the Corps was to engrain the idea that to be a leader, you must first know how to be a follower.

During that year I was introduced to many examples of ‘leadership’ handed out by the upperclassmen. As you can imagine, some were great. Others not so much. But even from the bad examples, I learned what not to do.

Power of Position

There are those in management who get wrapped up in the power of the position. By definition, every management box on an org chart has a delegated authority about it. Guys who think they know it all can be fooled by this.

The lure of the power of the position trips them up. Rather than seeking more knowledge and better practices to follow, they immerse themselves in the role without ever learning what it may mean to be a leader.

Following the Call

I encourage you to find mentorship. Once the opportunity is open, dive in wholeheartedly. Absorb everything you can from the one who offers to mentor and coach you.

Don’t expect old habits to get you to higher achievement.

In the early days of NASA, the standard for astronaut selections usually involved some high level of pilot experience; fighter pilot, test pilot, etc. While that was a good baseline from which to start, there were new things that had to be taught.

Even astronauts at NASA must learn new and creative new technologies, practices, and principles to survive.

The same is true for leaders of today. The world is moving quickly. Some call it “VUCA” which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Leaders trying to master such a blend of challenges simply must keep learning.

Through mentoring, you can find the resources you need to grow as a leader. Then and only then can you earn the title of manager and leader.

If you’d like to talk about ways you can be coached and mentored, click the button below. I’m offering a complimentary breakthrough session by zoom.

Here’s a recent comment by one of my clients.

I’m in the thick of leadership coaching with Doug and his insight and guidance are invaluable. Every time we talk, I leave with a new understanding, learning, or strategy to implement. Do this for yourself! ~Heather Plank

What is Trust Anyway?

You and I share many different things. As leaders, we share common needs, goals, and attributes. Depending on who you talk to, you and I score at different levels depending on the topic we choose to ask about. However, there is one key area frequently cited as a critical factor in determining whether a leader is effective or not. That factor is TRUST.

Business leaders don’t consciously go about their day specifically trying to build trust. This would be like having ‘building trust’ on your to-do list. Let’s see, go to the bank, check; wash the car, check; build trust, wait, what? No, that’s silly.

They will let their decisions and their actions impact the level of trust bestowed on them by others. Age-old wisdom says trust is earned. Children are taught at an early age. Leaders know it too.

A Manager’s Challenge

Anyone who has ever assumed management duties understands how critical trust can be in persuading a team to perform. The collective efforts of the team can be hurt if individuals on that team have doubts about the boss.

There is usually some kind of default mindset at work between employees and the employer. Workers often start out not trusting the boss. Sadly, too many bosses start out not trusting their teams either. It truly is a two-way street.

Experts found that trust, social connectivity, and a general sense of well-being are all intertwined. There are scientific studies revealing that two sections of the brain involved in sensing trust.

Based on perceptions of trust, the participants (in the study) reported positive interactions with the “close friend” to be more rewarding than interactions with a stranger—and were more likely to interact with this player. This illustrates our innate human desire to connect with others and create close-knit bonds even if these ties are based on blind trust or lead to [other bad outcomes].

Brain imaging of the participants showed that two specific brain regions were actively engaged when someone thought they were trusting a close friend. Increased activity of the ventral striatum and medial prefrontal cortex were correlated with positive social value signals when participants made decisions based on a belief they were playing with a good friend.

But science aside, what makes trust so hard to build? Think about all of your own experiences with friends, co-workers, bosses, and leaders. You likely watched three levels of interaction that factored into how deeply you felt you could trust the other person.

Technical Ability

In a work setting, the team leader must demonstrate a certain level of technical ability to begin earning trust from the team. New, first-time managers struggle with this because they might have been promoted in recognition of their skills in one area, but they lack comprehensive knowledge of the whole team’s scope of responsibility.

Lacking that technical knowledge, they are deemed incapable of performing as team lead, so trust is denied.

New bosses moved in from outside the department suffer this same kind of gap. Until they can prove they know their stuff, the team will be reluctant to give the trust that might be needed for respecting the ‘new guy’.

I once was a department head of a large administrative group supporting a $5 billion asset portfolio at a large regional bank. I had several teams reporting to me, responsible for 5 different lines of business. One day, while walking through the department, one of the administrators stopped me and asked a fairly technical question. I paused and began coaching him on the topic, explaining the process and the calculations he needed for the problem he presented. He seemed shocked. I asked why? He said, “I didn’t think the Big Dog would know this stuff.” To which I grinned and replied, “How’d you think I got to be the Big Dog?”

Cultural

The next level is what I will call cultural trust. After technical trust is established there is still a void at the cultural or corporate level. The key question here is whether you demonstrate consistent, reliable actions and behaviors.

No one can trust someone or something that acts inconsistently. Roger Ferguson, founder of ISI HR Consulting and creator of “Big Five Performance” talks about this corporate trust as whether a leader is known to be trustworthy, delivers as promised, and is generally known to be a person of character.

Being consistent in the way you act and interact creates a level of trust that grows with each passing day. As soon as you make a serious deviation from the pattern you start, trust takes a step backward. This is why it is so critical for leaders to be mindful of the direction they want to go, centered on core principles, and committed to consistent behavior as a leader.

Personal

This is the most intimate of trust levels. This is the deep, one-on-one trust. This kind of trust with individual employees has people thinking “I don’t care what others say, I know what I believe about this boss, and I am very good with it.” Further “I will follow them wherever they want me to go.”

Why would someone be willing to say that? Because the other two levels have been satisfied and now opportunities to deal personally with the person have proven to be reliable and solid. The pattern is there, the details are there, and, even more importantly, the experience is there.

Complexity

This is why trust cannot be won overnight. It has to be earned. All three levels have to be engaged. You cannot make it to the gold ribbon level of personal trust without first achieving the other two levels.

Think about personal relationships. These same three levels are at work. Anyone who starts dating someone runs the same sequence of steps trying to test for trust. When you are the person wanting to earn someone’s trust, you have to be faithful to build these stages, carefully and thoughtfully.

More relationships crater over breakdowns in trust at one of these three levels. Repeated disappointment is the reason for the eventual failure of any relationship.

We just don’t want to be around people we cannot trust. Certainly not for any meaningful reason.

Leadership Lessons

For team leaders and executives at all levels, I teach a program called Team Trust. In it, we explore ways that teams and their leaders can use a proven, reliable, and repeatable process to build trust, eliminate unneeded distractions, and improve performance.

There are core disciplines that can be deployed to improve team performance by building trust at all levels of the organization.

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