Success: Which way is up? (And is it up?)

How can you help others to be successful? (one of the key aspects of leadership). And what does that mean? Conventional versus unconventional (thank you, Nick!). Detours, side-alleys, failures and all. Lots of great discussions in the past weeks all around success (posts see here and here and lots more verbally). The leader as the mountain guide.

It got me thinking (uh-oh). Maybe what’s constraining here is the metaphors we use. Success = up (and up there is better than down here). The ascent requiring a path, linear (if not always exactly straight), with cross-roads (aka decisions) that can lead you towards or further away (with a need to possibly reroute, satnav-all-in-a-twist). Stumbling blocks to overcome, wagons to fall off and get back on, valleys to cross, crosses to bear… You can keep milking this, you’ve heard them all in probably every leadership training on the planet.

What are we missing? Are we just mapping the conventional (while hoping for the best-case-unconventional outcome)? This is bound to make things a lot harder for anything and anyone that doesn’t fit in there.

Of course, our thoughts run through language and that comes with these kind of constraints (and that’s why it is great to speak more than one language, to not forget it might all well be different).

What sorts of conversations would we need to have? What new metaphors would be helpful here? What better stories can we tell?

What great examples do you have? Please share!

Values: Show me the money

First of all, nothing wrong with listing money as a value (you might, of course, call it “affluence” or “prosperity” or something slightly more refined-sounding, that’s OK). And your old friends might bristle, and your colleagues might cheer, and that’s OK too.

Money is an interesting one, I am always excited when that comes up in a coaching conversation. Why is that:

  • Money in our society is often a shortcut to represent success (but is it really?)
  • Money can be a bit of a taboo, which means if people trust you enough to talk about it, you get to talk about stuff that really matters
  • Money is very rarely a thing in and of itself as a value. It usually represents something deeper, and what that is is very individual (again, makes for really good substantial conversations about things people actually care about).

What does money represent:

For person A, it might be security. Comfort. Space. No middle seat on the plane, and nice hotels in good parts of town where you don’t have to sit on the bed to open the door.

For person B, it might be love and connection with other humans (there, I’ve said it). Being able to visit people you care about on a short notice no matter how far, being able to help a relative, a sister, a friend in a much better way. Making other’s dreams come true.

For person C, it might be quality and craftsmanship. The bespoke suit, the shoes. Hand-stitched. The touch. Archaic-seeming traditions of craftsmanship handed down over centuries. The respect and appreciation this commands.

For person D, it might be freedom. Saying no. Doing your own thing in your way. Starting that venture. Making art. Travel. Learning Italian in Italy. Learning Salsa in Cuba. Surf shop sunsets.

So, if money ranks high on your list of values:
1) Embrace it loud and clear
2) ask yourself, what it means for you and your life. What does it give you, what side of you does it allow to flourish. To maximize that, think about all the options you have to make these aspects bigger. Money might be a good start, but there is likely more you can do to add some more “zing”.

What does money represent for you?


Success and the dragons within

“What are your biggest successes?” Blank. Some people, seasoned professionals in all their glory, have trouble listing successes and communicating them (takes one to know one…). One thing that used to throw me with this question is how relative this all is (bear with me). You have a goal, you reach/surpass it, boom, success. So far, so good. But what if there are no medals, no pedestals, no slayed dragons or anything of that sort? Is that still a success? If the outcome looks more like “still being around”, “still having a job”, “coming out the other end after a rough patch”. Sounds familiar?

Maybe your plan in the 2nd half of 2008 was crushing it in your job and getting that promotion. But then the crisis hit, and your tally at the end of the year was to not get fired (with a paycut). And somehow that just never felt like a success, as you celebrated it with a can of beer and a microwave curry as you rebudgeted your Christmas presents. Except it probably was a success, given the circumstances.

We live in a VUCA environment (volatile, uncertain, changing, ambiguous – you might be well tired of that acronym). Things shift, often faster than your plans can keep up. Just to be clear: None of these should serve as excuses for not pulling your weight or blaming everything on circumstances. If you’re honest with yourself, you probably know where you stand on this (if you don’t, ping me). These “making it through rough patches” were successes because the environment around the goal had shifted beyond recognition. This then made it look like a near-failure (or at least not like a roaring success of your initial definition). The problem was, your definition of success didn’t keep up.

I probably used to be too hard on myself (OK, scratch that “probably”). Goals and successes don’t exist in a vacuum, so make the look at the bigger picture and any readjustments needed a regular part of your practice. With that adapted view, I realized I am significantly more successful than I thought and this practice was much more suitable to the ever-shifting circumstances and environment and to my entrepreneurial journey as I’m beginning to understand it.  

That took a massive load off. Sometimes the hardest dragons to slay are those we carry within ourselves. And that too is success.

 What do you think?


Meet “success”

Key driver for many, often meaning different things to different people. And, within their personal definition, everybody wants it. It can come from the outside or from the inside and is very powerful if it combines the two. Success is one of my top values, for me, is about reaching or surpassing a goal. For this to work, there are 5 key components

  1. A goal: What needs to happen? (SMART etc.) and why (don’t ever forget the why, if you don’t have a why in it, you either won’t get there or won’t feel like celebrating. Both is a waste of a lot of good energy. The 3 P (people, planet, profit) are a good place to start, you want all 3 covered if it is a (for-profit) business goal.
  2. A path: How do I get there? Can I break this into steps? Estimate how long steps might take and block time out in your calendar. Create accountabilities with other people for these time blocks to happen. What do I do, what do I need from somebody else? What else needs to happen? Any risks that need managing? Here you can throw the full weight of all time management and productivity hacks you use into the ring (dont’ for get to share them with us!)
  3. A yardstick: Are we there yet? Moving goalposts don’t help anyone. Identify outcomes by a specific date and how you know you got them. Rope others in to have some accountability. Then focus your energy accordingly and check in regularly. Get help as needed. Manage trade-offs and conflicting priorities.
  4. A reflection: How did it go? What did we learn? What worked well and is worth keeping for next time, what needs tweaking? Who needs to be in on this next time (and who might not need to be in…)
  5. A celebration: (oh yes!) Who needs to be invited, recognized and who needs to hear about this? What learning can be shared to make others’ lives easier? Dinner and drinks are not a bad start, even better if you can celebrate in a way that links to your goal and the path directly. (*the picture is a personal example, the story is a longer one for a different medium)

You might find that externally set goals sometimes need tweaking or further information to fully fit with that, and that you will have to break them down differently for yourself to make this motivating. If you can, rope your line manager or the person the goal is coming from into these conversations, also, rope in people you work with (peers, teams and other supporters). These are great ways to build trust, rapport and engagement and to get help as needed.

How do you define success? What are components that are important to you? How do you build them into your thought process and implementation to ensure they get sufficient coverage?

Meet the “wildcard”

I recently went to a series of professional networking events, sporting my new bright turquoise hair colo(u)r (with some initial trepidation). The situation being an embodiment of 2 of my top 5 values: “Success” and what I call the “Wildcard”. Initially “wildcard” was meant as a placeholder for adding your own values in an exercise I did, for me, it became an expression of something bigger, something in its own right.

The Wildcard is an umbrella concept for some very key aspects of who I am and what I do. The out-of-the-box stuff, creativity, pushing boundaries, breaking patterns. The role of the court jester, saying it how it is while just about avoiding any impending “off with the head” scenarios. Key ingredient and driver for innovation. “Wildcard” is not seeking power for its own sake, just enjoys using it to increase the wiggle room for all, to shift mindsets and to bring on change where needed, playful and without an excuse for an easier, more conventional way out.

The last part of course being some of the downsides, every strongly played aspect has them. The never-settling. The not-being-quiet-when-it-is-healthier-to-shut-up. The perpetual “oh but what if” that can drive people absolutely bonkers. The sweet seduction of what might be next, compared to what is and what was. That is why it is good to have a balance, and that is where other aspects have to come in.

What drives you to innovate, to push the boundaries? What kind of environment do you need to allow yourself to show up that way? Please share!


Commitment and action (2)

Too many commitments weighing you down? Focus is the older sister of commitment, the one with the overview to sometimes pry the younger one off her target when she has gone on autopilot. Focus determines where commitment is worth keeping, dissolving – or worth recommitting (and properly this time). That bridge in Paris with all these love locks had to recently be cleared of all of them to preserve its structural integrity. That is a massive bridge. Each lock is tiny, but there were gazillions of them and it just got too much.

This involves saying no, this involves trade-offs and this involves conversations with other people. Think about the commitments you entered. The ones you think you entered, and possibly the ones others think you entered (hint: If you feel people keep badgering you about a lot of things on an ongoing basis, there might be a misalignment or you might just be bad on delivery but that’s another topic).

Then, think about the big long-term things you want to reach. Which commitments serve you in reaching this? Which ones don’t? This might require some conversations with other people. Sharing goals and values can be a useful first step to set the baseline for this.

How do you notice when you have overcommitted? Where do key things fall through the cracks in the overall frenzy? What works for you to best untangle this (without burning bridges)? Please share!

Commitment and action (1)

How do make your plans and goals reality? Commitment to action. Don’t flinch, I’m serious. Commitment is the more practical younger sister of focus. It’s about doing specific things (regularly) and NOT doing a lot of other things. The sustained ongoing attention that will not waver (at least not for long, and not in a way that breaks the commitment or compromises your values).

So, how do you commit? First, you have to take a stand in front of yourself. Look yourself in the eyes as you do it. Then you make plans that make this commitment real, e.g. make space in your calendar for new things that need happening. That is likely going to require managing some trade-offs, and saying no to other things. This is also the time to take it public. Commitment is stronger when it is shared by the people involved, when it is made public and when it involves a ritual of some sort.

What do you do when you commit? How do people around you recognize you are committed? Would they recognize what you are committed to? Enrol them for help!