Everyone Needs to be Successful

Everyone Needs to be Successful

When I speak of success I’m not talking about just the material trappings of success. Too often we attempt to live outside-in rather than inside-out, meaning that we think if we have “things”, and the world sees we have “things” then we’ll be a success.

No, I’m talking about real success. Helping others succeed first and in the process succeeding yourself by fulfilling your purpose. Taking the opportunities presented to pour your gifts and talents into the service of others. Being part of a team that cares about you and you care for them. Together, making progress every day. 

That’s real success.

The Challenge

With this in mind, I’d like to share a story. It’s one of my favorites. I had been asked to meet with the executive leader of an 8 person team. Her team was in charge of 100 managers who, in turn, had responsibility for 3,000 team members. The state of her business was not doing well. Compared to her peers, her division was performing at the lowest levels. That was the result. The real challenge was her executive team. There were two factions of 3, one faction of 2 and, two people on the team who “hated” each other. When I say factions, I mean factions. There was fighting all the time. Which meant deadlock. Needless to say, they were nowhere near on the same page and as a result, nothing was getting done and no progress was being made. We finished our discussion with a commitment for me to have a phone conference with each member and follow up with a face to face meeting at their offices.  

My flight got in early so I decided to head to the meeting. I was about 90 minutes early so I just waiting patiently in the reception area outside the boardroom. The closed-door did nothing to stop me from hearing what was going on. It wasn’t pretty. The meeting was loud and argumentative with a number of curse words thrown in just to put a point on the exclamation. About 15 minutes before I was to join the meeting, the executive leader came out and asked me how long I had been there. I shared “about an hour and 15 minutes”. “So, you probably heard all that.” Yes, I did. With a look of resignation on her face, she said, “Well, let’s see if there’s anything you can do.” With that, I went in and greeted each person individually.  

The tension in the air was thick. This group was that, nothing more than a group. They really didn’t like each other. I knew instantly a more traditional approach wasn’t going to work. This team was broken and to fix it we were going to have to go for broke.

The Question  

Sitting next to me was Tony. Tony is a big guy. One of the few guys on the planet that physically intimidates me. Tony is at least 6’5” or 6’6” and built big. I started with him.  

“Tony, why do you want to be successful?” Tony proceeded to share a very tepid response I don’t even remember. It was something like, “I want to be successful to make a difference in the world and in my community.” Coming from someone else it may have been a decent response (I doubt it) but from Tony it was nothing. It didn’t mean anything. I asked again, this time with a little more force, “Why do you want to be successful?.” When I got to the 6th ask I was screaming at the top of my voice, “TONY, WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE SUCCESSFUL?”

To this day I am so thankful to Tony. He broke. He let down his guard. He got real with me and every one of his teammates. This is what he said:

“I have to be successful because my father said I’d never amount to anything.” At that moment time stood still as “real” came into the room. You could hear a pin drop. Some of us began to tear up at the raw emotion that was on display. Tony had gotten real with all his teammates. It was like a sledgehammer taking down a wall in one mighty swing. The real Tony overcame the person Tony wanted everyone else to see and in that instant laid the foundation for a great team to be built. After the gravity of what happened sunk in, we all let out a sigh of relief. I then addressed the team: “Out of respect for his vulnerability in what Tony has shared, I’d ask each of you to go around the room and share why you want to be successful.”

A New Beginning

In turn, each person, with the exception of one, got as raw and real as Tony did. By the end, there was emotional relief as tears came and all the animosity of the past was replaced with a new appreciation and respect for each person and why they needed to be successful. Their world had totally flipped from each person needing to protect their facades to everybody working together to help each other succeed first. This simple but powerful shift in focus made all the difference in the world.

I won’t go into all the details that made up our journey together but the results were pretty incredible. What started in the boardroom that day cascaded through the rest of the organization. This lead to a number of incredible changes in their business. For example: in just 6 months, this team, top to bottom, went from “worst” to “first” in their company!

Everybody thinks they want to succeed when they really need to succeed. But that success only comes when we start getting real with each other, accepting and respecting who we are, whom we can become and helping each other succeed first.

One More Thing

Finally, in the words of Paul Harvey, here’s the rest of the story. Remember those two folks I mentioned who “hated” each other? We had a quick discussion as we exited together. With love in my heart for both of them, I told them in no uncertain terms that there was no place for “hate” on this team. They didn’t necessarily have to like each other but they most certainly had to have respect for one another. I asked them to commit to meeting before our next time together and “get it all out of their system”. I suggested a quiet corner at a local restaurant where they could stay until it was done. My last remark as we departed, “Don’t leave until it’s all done”.

Upon my return, the three of us gathered before the meeting. With a look of excitement on their faces, they were eager to tell me that they had met. “We met for almost four hours!” At that time, they had gotten it all out of their system. They actually found they were quite similar in how they thought…it was just their social styles, how they communicated, that got in the way. They went on to make a real contribution to their team and led the way in modeling for others.

When last we spoke they had become and still were best friends.

Aspirational Expectations

Recently I was reminded about this concept while talking to a friend of mine.  We were discussing a particularly difficult set of circumstances and how radioactive they had become and that nobody wanted to deal with them or take responsibility for working through them to a successful conclusion. 

This led to the owner doing crisis control by barking orders and micro-managing all the related issues.  No one was operating at their best. Let’s be direct, in business our days are filled with challenges. In many ways, that’s why we get paid.  To solve the problems that others can’t or won’t. But the real opportunity here is to speak belief and encouragement into one another, especially during difficult times.

When we’re at our best!

This is leadership at it’s best and an opportunity for others to take the lead appropriately from wherever they may be sitting.  Three things are clear:

  1. People want to do a good job.  No one wants to fail.
  2. The team we have is the team that we’re supposed to have.  If it weren’t, others would be here. Together we must rise to the challenge.
  3. We must speak to our belief in working through this successfully by drawing on the talent, skills, and potential of the team we have.

“People want to do a good job.  No one wants to fail.”

The problem is we sometimes get into those situations where we find ourselves knee-deep in the swamp where no one can see the way through and all we focus on is why it won’t work.

This then is the perfect time for aspirational expectations.  It sounds something like this:

“Wow, this is a doozy!  But we have good people that want to do a good job so we’ll figure it out.”

This does three things:

  1. It speaks directly to the gravity of the situation.
  2. It pulls us together as a team where the sum is greater than the parts.
  3. It believes in others before they believe in themselves and sets the expectation for real success.

Bringing out the best in others

In the end, we want to bring out the best in people.  Focusing all of our energy on the problems we see, trying to find someone to blame and calculating the slim odds of success pushes people to make decisions out of fear.  That in no way helps. Be the person that believes in the team’s best to come out. You’ll be amazed at how your team rises to the challenge and finds the solution and you’ll be the one they go to get the boost they need to make it happen!

Our “Why” and Employee Engagement

A question came up recently about what the real difference is between employee engagement and employee satisfaction. In brief, satisfaction has to do with the “externals” i.e. pay, benefits, working conditions, job security. Engagement has to do with the “internals” i.e. purpose, “voice”, belonging, mastery. The numbers are sobering. Just over 50% of employees are satisfied and yet just over 30% are engaged. Could you imagine if we were 50% engaged? 75%? 90%? What an incredible opportunity! Every business on the planet has a mission to be fulfilled and capable, talented people to fulfill that mission. We must invest more time in talking about the “why” of what we do, not just what we do! Every employee wants to be a part of building something special, they want to be engaged. If they haven’t or don’t it’s because they haven’t found their “why” or, in some cases, don’t even know they have one! Let’s commit to helping each other find our “why”! And finding our “why” always starts by remembering we are here to serve others first. Let’s all find our “why”, get engaged in our work and, through our businesses, “be the change we want to see in the world!” hashtag#employeeengagementhashtag#businesshashtag#masteryhashtag#missions

Where Engagement Begins

To me, to be engaged at work means to care deeply about the outcome. To go “above and beyond”, to push yourself, to overcome the challenges and resolve the conundrums. To be engaged means seeing the bigger picture, and not just the “work”, but more importantly the purpose behind the work. To be engaged is to be a part of “building something special”. So where does real engagement begin? In the mind of each employee. They have to believe three things about themselves: They have been created for a greater purpose or mission. They have been given gifts and talents within which to fulfill that purpose. There is work prepared in advance for them to do. Put simply, each person has a purpose, they can fill that purpose and there is work out there, their position, that they need to do. The problem is, in many cases, when we look for someone to join our company, we look at who has the background, education, and experience to do the job. That’s not bad, it’s just not enough. The real question isn’t “can we fill this job?” Or “can I get this job?” The real question is “are we supposed to be working together?” Are they supposed to join us in fulfilling our mission and can we help them in fulfilling their mission? In an employer/employee relationship, it comes down to three things: Competence: Can they do the work and can we do the work together? Character: Can they be in it to serve others first as we serve others first? Chemistry: Do they “get” us and do we “get” them? It doesn’t work if they can’t do the work. It also doesn’t work if they’re selfish or we’re selfish. And it really doesn’t work if they don’t understand or, in some cases, don’t like what we do. Engagement is relatively simple but it isn’t easy. We need to speak directly to their competence, character, and chemistry and finish by asking whether or not we’re supposed to work together! Based on the numbers, almost 70% of employees out there would benefit greatly by being where they belong. Can you imagine how productive we could be! When we find that person who has the competence, the character, and the chemistry and is supposed to join our team, we can’t help but to “build something special together”! hashtag#employeeengagement hashtag#buildsomethingspecial

The Big Picture

I was taught, early in my career, that group dynamics is a powerful force always at work in our companies. Stated simply it says that in any given group: 20% will lead 60% will follow and 20% will resist The problem is if leaders aren’t leading, by default, the resistors are. And, many times, this can feel like 80% of the company is moving in the wrong direction. Maintaining the status quo, focusing on problems, finding reasons to not move forward. The question becomes: how do we get moving in the right direction? Conventional wisdom would have us focus on the resistors and get them to buy-in. That doesn’t work. Why? Because resistors are far better at deflecting than we are at holding them accountable. Like many things in leadership, we must use a counter-intuitive approach. The 1st thing to do is bring your leaders close and ask them to pursue a greater vision that serves all and take on more responsibility. Next, we ask the followers to get better right where they are. This will begin to move the organization in the right direction and helps bring the resistors to a decision point: should I get on this bus or should I get off? This is where the team really starts to work together building something special! hashtag#leadershiphashtag#directionhashtag#buildingsomethingspecial

The Two Primary Motivations

“If I help you succeed, I succeed. If we help others succeed, we succeed.” Communication is made up of 3 parts: 55% body language, 38% tone and inflection of voice, 7% are the words we actually speak. There are 2 primary motivations: Love and Fear. Love makes us selfless and fear makes us selfish. These are the three keys to leading and building something special. We must be in it to help others succeed first. We were not put on this planet to serve ourselves. We are here to serve others. Client, company, and team. 93% of our communication is non-verbal. What drives our non-verbals is our true motivation. We can try to mask it by trying to say or do the “right” thing but if our motivation is to serve ourselves, it won’t work. So what are our primary motivations? I’ve boiled it down to two: Love and Fear. Fear represents the worst of ourselves, it’s a lie and it makes us selfish. Love represents the best of ourselves, it’s the truth and it makes us selfless. It’s time to be selfless.


So, What Holds Us Back?

To think that we need to feel a certain way to do the right thing! Tim Keller, in his book, Counterfeit Gods, talked about the 4 idols: Power Approval Comfort Control These are what holds us back. If we want to be successful, we have to help others succeed first. This is the Ultimate Success Principle and it cannot be violated. That means we have to do the right things for others for the right reason! Where this gets messed up is: When we want to feel Powerful but we don’t. When we want to feel Approved but we don’t. When we want to feel Comfortable but we don’t. When we want to feel that we’re in Control but we don’t. Whatever “idol” we’re seeking to serve, we look for “externals” or evidence outside of ourselves to tell us that we can “feel” powerful, approved, comfortable, or in control. When that happens, we’re making it all about ourselves, we’re violating the Ultimate Success Principle. This is what holds us, our people and, ultimately, our organizations back. We’ve been created for a purpose, given gifts and talents to fulfill that purpose and work prepared in advance to do. Let’s step out in faith, feel what we feel, and do the right thing anyway. Then we can experience what it really means to be successful! hashtag#buildingsomethingspecial

The Secret of Great Cultures!

An Outward Focus –  “When the focus of everyone on the team is to assure the success of everyone else on the team.”  That’s the secret.

How Do You Know

I’m asked all the time, “How you can tell if someone is operating with an Outward Focus?”  I say look at their “fruit”. What kind of “fruit” are they producing?” Good fruit = Outward Focus.  Bad fruit = Inward Focus.

“Good Fruit”

What’s “good fruit”?  They’re a pleasure to be around.  They bring good energy to every interaction and leave others better off for having been with them.  They bring solutions to problems and take ownership. They keep their commitments by following through and treat everyone with respect.  They never speak ill of others and want to do their part to help others succeed. They go above and beyond and are willing to be inconvenienced for the greater good.  They have your back and will pick up the “ball” for you. They bring out their best so that others can be their best. They represent what it really means to be successful.  To live life in such a way as to assure the success, even in a small way, of every life you touch. They’re succeeding so they want everyone else to succeed.

“Bad Fruit”

What’s “bad fruit’?  They’re not so much fun to be around.  They take energy from every interaction and leave others drained for having been with them.  They only bring problems and expect someone else to provide and implement the solution. They don’t keep their commitments, don’t follow through and expect respect but don’t give respect.  They always speak ill of others (I hate gossip!) and don’t lift a finger to help. They do as little as they can and keep their priorities at all costs, before anyone or anything else. They’ll stab you in the back and make sure you drop the ball.  They are at their worst and they’re going to make sure everyone knows it. They represent what it really means to be a failure. To live life in such a way as to cause chaos and destruction in every life they touch. They’re suffering so they want everyone else to suffer.

You Can’t Hide It

I realize I’m writing with a very clear distinction between “good fruit” and “bad fruit” here.  That’s the insidiousness of it. Trying to do the right things for others while driven by an inward focus i.e. a motivation to serve self, doesn’t work.  It may appear to contribute but it really doesn’t. We as leaders have seen this time and time again. The person appears to do the right thing. They say the right thing.  They even have the “right” look! But every time their name comes up something’s not right. There’s another problem or another issue or another mess someone else has to clean up.  No matter how much we try to rationalize or justify our or someone else’s behavior if you do the right thing for self-serving reasons IT JUST DOESN’T WORK!

An Analogy

I liken the motivation behind behavior as the “soil” into which everything is planted.  No matter what you plant: new initiatives, grand visions, core values, new benefits, exciting environments, etc.  If you plant it into the “bad” soil of an inward focus it won’t work. We need good soil. We all need to embrace an Outward Focus.  Imagine any organizational effort planted into the good soil of an Outward Focus. The potential is mind-blowing. Imagine if everyone on the team was committed to the success of their fellow teammates!  The speed, the magnitude, the agility of an organization driven by an Outward Focus would be incredible. And that’s what our world really needs today.

Our People

I believe every single person on the planet would love to find their “place” in the world.  I also believe that they would love to work in an environment where they embrace an Outward Focus and develop the quiet confidence to handle the challenges they face.  To know that work is the one place they can count on to risk their best because others won’t let them fail. To know that when they pour into others it comes back tenfold.  To live a life of meaning and purpose, turning challenges into opportunities and being a part of building something special. I believe that’s what everyone, every single person, wants.

Our Leadership

So why do people embrace an inward focus?  Lots of reasons: that’s how they were taught, they don’t know a better way, in the past, leaders have rewarded that motivation.  All of this, however, as far as I’m concerned, is a mask for one thing: fear. They’re afraid and they believe they have to protect themselves.  I get it. It seems only right and it’s absolutely wrong. We are to “love our neighbors”. How can you do that if your primary motivation is to serve yourself?  There has to be a better way…and there is! We leaders have to lead the way!

This is what we leaders are accountable for.  To believe in others before they believe in themselves.  It’s simple. It’s not easy. What it means is believing in the best someone can be and holding them accountable to that.  It means separating your belief in them from their behavior. Good and bad behavior each have their rewards and consequences but that can never impact our belief in them.  If we hired them we’re at least 51% responsible for their success. What we’re telling them is that we believe in them and, as we do that for each member of our team, it breaks down the walls of doubt and fear.  It shows our team a whole new way to think. A whole new way to believe. A whole new way to succeed. An inward focus brings out our worst. An Outward Focus brings out our best. And that is what we are here to do:  To bring out our collective best and model what it really means to succeed!

The Work Around The Work

I believe that if you are able to work, we all rise because of that work. Work is a tremendous opportunity to put ourselves in the position of being a value to others. And that’s why we’re here: to serve others first. It’s also a dedicated formal vehicle where how we do our work is as valuable as the work we do. What do I mean? Well, let’s say your work is making hamburgers at a restaurant. The work is making the hamburger. What’s the work around the work? It could be a lot of things. How well you make the hamburger. How clean you keep your work area. How well you treat the customer, your teammates, and your boss. The great attitude you can bring to the job. All of these elements represent the work around the work.

How do we set our hearts and minds on doing the work and the work around the work? It comes down to what we perceive we’re a part of. If we’re just making hamburgers that’s one thing. If we’re helping feed a family before an important occasion or helping a business person grab a quick meal or helping someone celebrate a special day then that is something completely different. The work is the work and that’s important. But the work around the work? That’s where can do something really special!


It’s All In Our Heads – The Grass Being Greener as a Concept

Have you ever been convinced about something so completely only to find out later, after more information is added or a greater context is given, that you were utterly mistaken?  It reminds of the subway commuter story in New York:

“Regulars” on this particular route had their routines clearly defined.  Some would rest.  Others would relax with their favorite beverage.  Still, others would read their books or the day’s paper.  A few stops in, a young father boarded the subway with his four small children.  They all settled into their seats as the train pulled away.  This, however, did not last long.  The kids began to fuss and fight as kids often do.  The tension in the regulars began to rise.  Soon the kids were running up and down the car with the regulars looking on with disdain upon this unruly bunch.  Things hit a climax however when the kids began pulling books, newspapers and other items out of the regulars’ hands as they ran.  This was simply too much.  One “regular” who gripped his paper ever so tightly, turned to face this father whose disrespectful children were disrupting an entire car of hard-working, tired commuters.  “Sir, I would ask you to please control your children!”  The man looked up and spoke a weak apology.  “I’m sorry.  Kids, come here.”  As he gathered his brood, he went further with this.  “I do apologize.  We’ve just left the hospital where their mother died and we don’t what to do.”  With that, the “regular’s” heart broke and he was filled with overwhelming compassion for this young father and his children.  He was now the one apologizing and gathered the children around him and began to tell them stories and fairy tales for the remainder of their journey.

A new bit of information or a new perspective can change our thinking in an instant.  It is with this backdrop that I write.

Too many people take their next job or position with the hope or belief that things will be better.  More money, greater benefits, a more flexible schedule.  All good things.  You take the job and now you look for evidence to support your decision to join.  In the “honeymoon” period, you find a lot of good.  For the most part, people are nice and for a few weeks or months, things go well.  But then a few things crop up.  There’s one particular person you just don’t get along with.  And then you’re criticized for your work on a particular project.  And then someone takes credit for your work.  The doubts and fears begin to fly.  You’re uncomfortable and you start to question your decision-making.  “Did I make a mistake?”  “Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing?”  “Why am I putting up with this stuff?

Without greater context or insight, we will ask these questions and probably come to the same conclusions…it’s time to move on.

So let’s add some greater context or insight.  What if you’re supposed to be here?  What if this is exactly the right position for you to be in?  Just because you’re uncomfortable doesn’t make it a bad thing.  I think folks tend to take a “destination” approach to life rather than a “journey”.  What I mean is they want to arrive.  They want to be comfortable and confident and have peace that everything is going to work all right.  But that’s not how it works.  And not meeting those expectations is filled with anger, cowardice, boredom, and worry.

Your path and everything on it is meant to help you become who you’re capable of becoming.  It has a purpose.  It has meaning.  And if you can see it for what it is, you will develop the faith, courage, and peace that comes from forging your particular path.

When you joined our team, we were very intentional about it.  We talked a lot about our collective competence, chemistry, and character.  That’s what we saw in you.  We asked you to join our team and you were thoughtful on your side to make sure this was right for you, too.  We made a commitment to work together to help each other succeed and accomplish something very cool.  The decision then is not whether or not we’re supposed to be together.  We’re together, now how do we make it all count?  How do we take our strengths and build on them and our challenges and make them work for us?

As Tom Hanks said in “A League of Their Own,” “it’s supposed to be hard, that’s what makes it great!”.  You want it to be challenging, inspiring, difficult and different.  You want it to bring out the best in you and tap your true potential!

Let’s look at the four key motivators that Dan Pink and Dr. Chap Clark have worked with:

Identity What is my purpose?  What is my mission?  Why am I here?

You’re supposed to be here.  And working together, over time, we’ll help define your purpose.  Everyone here is meant to make a difference and make a real contribution.  There is no one else in the world who can bring what you bring.  Take comfort in the fact that you are fulfilling and defining your purpose every day.

Voice What are my gifts and talents and how do I use them in fulfilling my mission?

Too often we downplay our gifts and talents because they are natural to us.  Don’t do that.  You have worked hard to get here.  Now is the time to trust in your gifts and talents and be willing to draw on them in ever greater challenges and accomplishments.

Belonging Do I belong to a group or team that cares about me?

We are committed to living the Ultimate Success Principle.  That assuring the success of others, assures our success.  The thing that keeps that from happening the most is when people get afraid.  Fear makes us selfish.  Purpose/Love makes us selfless.  Let’s allow ourselves to become vulnerable in order to pursue our purpose.

MasteryCan I learn, grow and progress along my path?

Absolutely!  That’s why we don’t want this to be easy.  Every person who has paid their price has earned their accomplishments.  And because that price has been paid it can never be taken away from them!

There’s a lot of talk about today being uncomfortable.  And how when you’re uncomfortable that something outside of you has to be changed.  Don’t ever give away that incredible power!  When it comes to becoming who you are, discomfort is an indicator. It tells you that you’re being challenged.  You’re being asked to have faith.  You’re being asked to be courageous.  It means you’re seeing your circumstances correctly and you’re being asked to tap your potential. You have the right and the opportunity to change your circumstances any time you want or need by merely seeing things differently and changing how you think.  Let being uncomfortable be a measure of how great your life really is.

A great decision is a decision that is hard and difficult to make, but at the same time brings us peace when we think about making it.

Let’s all commit to running to something together rather than running away from something.