In a telling story of our priorities, James Carville and Paul Begala share the story about the lion and the mouse.
As the story goes, the lion is more than capable of hunting the mouse. He possesses the required strength, agility, and intelligence. In fact, it requires very little effort on the part of the lion. The problem is that the energy received back from eating the mouse is not worth the lion’s effort.
This is why the lion hunts the zebra, antelope, and gazelle. Though it requires significantly more strength, agility, and cunning intelligence to do so, the energy the lion receives back is well worth the investment.
The story of the lion and the mouse reminds us to stay focused on chasing big goals.
The BIG Goals
One of the questions I ask myself every day is, “What can I do today that makes the biggest difference?”
When I’m feeling overwhelmed, that focuses my attention on the single biggest task that needs to be done.
Whenever I’m tired, this question reminds me that the best thing I can do might just be to take a nap or practice some extraself-care.
In those moments where I’m conflicted about how to invest my time, asking about difference-making forces me to look at my calendar. Typically what I find is that I’ve been too work-focused and not enough family focus.
When my anxiety creeps up, I can remind myself that doing one thing today to make progress on a goal of significance and meaning helps to lower it.
Then, I invest my energy into the needed area. That frees me up to then say, “What’s next.”
The story of the lion and the mouse reminds me to invest my energy in things that really make a difference. My focus and attention go to things that only I can do for myself and my business.
Business and Life in Balance
What about you? Have you asked those questions in your life?
As a business owner, do you work intently on areas that only you can invest in?
With your spouse and your kids, do you focus on being fully present and turning off your “work brain” or do you only give them the nutritional equivalent of a mouse?
As a leader or community member, do you invest in your projects with the same intensity and vigor you do in your sales and marketing?
One of the first things we do in coaching is to give your calendar a time analysis. We make sure that you spend your time hunting antelopes, not mice.
Far too often, what I see with leaders is that they spend time on the unimportant. The temptation is to become distracted by the urgent instead of the significant.
To counteract this, we work through a priority matrix to make sure you get the most return on your time, your energy, and your passion.
Right now, make sure you’re invested in the right areas. Ask yourself the above questions and spend time on the right priorities. Invest in areas that give you the greatest return on your investment. Ask questions. Quit bad habits. Keep growing. Seek help.
Recently, my wife and I were enjoying some coffee in the morning when we noticed headlights pull into our driveway. This isn’t too unusual or a call for alarm as we live three blocks from her parent’s house. They will sometimes stop by in the morning to see the kids before school.
However, three minutes after noticing the lights, they hadn’t come to the door. Then, we heard the sharp screel of an angle grinder, followed immediately by our car alarm going off.
As I ran outside, there were three individuals attempting to steal our catalytic converter and turn it in for recycling money. I found out from the cops that it’s a popular crime, and one hard to track. Most of the time, car alarms don’t go off. We were able to escape any major injury or damage to the car as we called the cops and they sped off.
However, one phrase has been a recurring phrase for us in the house following the event is: “Deal with it.”
Deal With It.
While they didn’t get anything of value, it was a huge invasion of privacy. Worse than that, there were two individuals I could plainly see, one providing lookout in the car and the other cutting away beneath our vehicle. What I couldn’t see, was the third individual lurking around the corner who charged me when I stepped out my front door to see what was going on. Narrowly escaping, I pushed my wife and kids back inside to the safety of our home and called the cops once we were alerted to the danger.
That night, I noticed that I had a lot of anxiety. Worried they would come back and attempt to finish their theft, or worse, left me unable to sleep. The next several days were all stressful as we tried to process not just the attempted theft, but the invasion of privacy and safety as well.
As we process the event and deal with the consequences and trauma of the event, I realize how many times in life we don’t “deal with it” when problems arise.
Work situations are ripe with circumstances and experiences that haven’t been dealt with.
A coworker makes an inappropriate joke or demeaning remark and is never called out for it. Instead, he assumes everyone agrees with him since nothing was said.
A manager ridicules an employee unfairly and abusively. The “leadership style is defended because “that’s just the way he is.”
A brewing team conflict is allowed to simmer because of the false belief that product launch and marketing execution is more important than team health.
A series of pet-peeves builds mounting frustration towards a full-blown argument where harsh words are used.
The pressure of increased sales at work diminishes the quality of life at home, leading to personal withdrawal and isolation.
The busyness of life limits personal connection time and family bonding, leading to a fractured family unit and unspoken angst.
You get the point. You’ve also likely been there. Perhaps you even are there now. But high performers know that you can only be as strong as your weakest area of life. If you’re struggling to deal with any aspect of conflict, drama, or trauma, your success will falter and your breakthroughs will be limited.
Instead, based on the experience of the recent attempted robbery, here are three ways to help you process conflict in your life so you can deal with it appropriately.
1.) Give your emotions space.
The first step towards healing for Elise and I was to give our emotions space. We first had to acknowledge what we were feeling: sadness, anger, fear, frustration, anxiety, panic, and worry were quick to come out.
Strong leaders know they need to raise their emotional intelligence. Through consistent and deliberate practice, they engage their emotions and learn to master and express them appropriately.
2.) Share in deep conversation
You can’t deal with problems if you don’t talk about them. Once we acknowledged our emotions, we shared a conversation based around healing. What did it mean for us to deal with this situation effectively? How could we overcome those negative emotions and find hope? What did the other person need? How could we support them?
The good news is that we are all okay. The better news is that we can work for a better tomorrow. This experience provided us with the opportunity to look at our house in a new light and discover what made it a good target. Poor outside lighting contributed to the criminals picking our house. So too, did several other factors. We were able to see those, remedy them, and create a safer environment for our family.
In life and work, we can do the same. Interpersonal conflict doesn’t have to be the norm. In fact, it shouldn’t be. In his book Thrive By Design, Don Rheem tells us that we are wired to perform better in teams. Those around us should make us better. If they aren’t, we have issues to address. By addressing them, we make the team better. When we make the team better, we get better. When you get better, you can attain peak performance. By reaching peak performance, you can skyrocket your success.
It is inevitable that conflict, disagreement, and discord will arise in life. However, we don’t have to live in it constantly. Instead, we can rise above it by giving our emotions space, engaging in deep conversation, and working towards a better future.
Today, we’re covering part three of the speech: Rise To The Occasion.
The contrast of several Northern leaders needs our attention. The North, at the outset of the Civil War, was lacking in high ranking military men. Most of them had gone south at the start of the war. The few that remained, like George McClellan rose quickly. Others, like Generals Custer and Grant, would rise to the occasion.
Setting The Stage
McClellan was a brilliant tactician. His study of worldwide fighting styles, military strategies, and historical aspects of war made him highly desirable. He graduated second in his class from West Point. Dubbed the Young Napoleon, McClellan’s future was bright. Everyone expected great things from McClellan. He cared deeply for his soldiers and they loved him for it. From their perspective, they were well fed, well trained, and rarely fought. It was a pretty good arrangement.
However, between McClellan and President Lincoln, things were rarely ever smooth. McClellan became famous for requesting more supplies and exaggerating enemy numbers. One account tells of a breakdown in Confederate lines and supplies after a battlefield loss. Research seems to indicate that had McClellan pursued them and chased them down, the war would have been over in less than two years. Richmond would have been captured. Top generals would have been defeated. The North would’ve won without further bloodshed.
Instead, McClellan estimated enemy numbers exaggerated by 20% and blamed the possibility of bad weather as reasons for a delayed attack. As a result, he called off the chase. Within two days, the South regrouped, shuffled their troops, and counterattacked. They drove the north back. For more than two additional years the Civil War would be fought because of this one failure in his leadership.
Rise to the Occasion
Contrast the brilliance, genius, and ultimate ineptitude of someone like George McClellan with someone like Grant. Grant rose to the occasion given to him. Grant’s war policy was to attack consistently and ferociously. He was adept and editing commands on the fly. He was both well prepared and adaptable. Because he knew the ultimate goal, he could change his methods as the battlefield dictated.
George Armstrong Custer, from outward appearances, had nothing going for him. He barely graduated from West Point coming in dead last in his class. Custer gained an unfavorable reputation because so few trusted him. He was often pulling pranks, spending time in detention, getting into trouble, and had an overly brash demeanor.
However, throughout the Civil War, he distinguished himself as a man of courageous action. By the end of the Civil War, he had been promoted to Major General and was in command of the entire cavalry. In an age where leaders worked from the rear and made orders for other men, he gained admiration by fighting from the front. It’s been noted that he was often the first to go flying into combat with his men trailing behind him. At the conclusion of the war, his unit was responsible for capturing more POWs and infantry flags than any other unit. He was even respected enough that he received the table that unconditional surrender terms were drafted.
Where We Find Ourselves
Three men at the same point in history take dramatically different paths in life. One, seemingly given every advantage, squanders it all. He leaves frustrated, disgraced, disillusioned, and desperate. The other two inspire, engage, and rise to the occasion. McClellan, from the top of his class, witnesses everything crumble before him. Grant and Custer rise from the bottom. Custer, quite literally from the bottom of his class to one of the highest positions available and becomes the stuff of lore and legend.
There is something inside of our DNA that loves these transformational stories. Zeroes to heroes inspire us. We long for stories of David defeating Goliath. Worst to first and victory in the midst of defeat give us hope.
Undoubtedly, there are many parallels in our businesses. Perhaps you even know of a time or two in your own life or that of your company (or even an employee) where you can see now how things could have and should have worked out differently.
Individuals or companies with all the advantages that still somehow managed to fail. Mega tech companies caught with bad numbers and crumble an empire. Someone identified as a high performer busted for ethical violations or a failure to perform. An industry darling in one year is an outcast in another.
But there’s also the flip side.
A surprise hire going on to transform a business or industry.
A perpetual under-achiever finds a fire in their soul and rises to extraordinary levels of leadership.
And while nothing in life is a guarantee, what I have found throughout my years in coaching, is that there are certain tendencies and ways to “hedge our bets.”
The Power of Coaching
Coaching advances the high performers at an astounding rate, helping them to avoid burnout. It also has the capacity to equip the last place hire to deeper levels of transformation. Coaching gives a place for both the first-place all-star and the last place “skin of your teeth, you just barely made it” performer.
My start in coaching looked much the same. I began working with clients who self-identified as someone who knew they were capable of great things but couldn’t get out of their own way (much like we might have said early on about Custer).
The ICF first defined coaching as, “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
When we equip our ourselves and our staff to reach their full potential we inspire them to rise to the occasion.
There are tales of a young Lincoln staying awake at night, sitting in his parent’s parlor, listening to adult’s converse. He would stay up past his bedtime listening intently to every word. At the end of the evening, he would go to his bedroom and replay the conversation in his head. Through his own admission, he would pace back and forth until he understood every word and perspective that was shared. Only then was he able to relax enough to go to sleep.
Dedicated To Mastery
This commitment to mastery shaped the success that Lincoln would experience throughout life. It gave him his great oratory skills. During the Gettysburg address, he captivated the crowd and it is largely regarded as one of the greatest speeches of all time.
Edward Everett, after the Gettysburg battle, remarked,
“I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
Everett’s assessment is no exaggeration. He was a fellow speaker that day. He spoke right before Lincoln, for two hours, and yet I’m guessing you’ve never heard his speech. Instead, it was Lincoln’s two-minute address that became famous. His commitment to mastery gave him the oratory skills needed when the occasion arose.
Similarly, at the beginning of the war, Lincoln had zero understanding of military strategy and his chief officers let him know it. Lincoln, always dedicated to mastery, however, stayed up late studying every night. Reading books, pouring over history, evolving his own understanding, it wasn’t long before he had developed a plan and wanted to implement it. General McClellan laughed at it and dismissed it. Eventually, McClellan was replaced by Grant and put into effect. It was in fact, the strategy that won the war for the north. By the end of the war, Lincoln was widely regarded as a genius military strategist. His commitment to the mastery of any given subject or problem distinguished him from his peers.
Our Own Commitment
What does our own commitment look like? Can we say that we are dedicated to mastery? Not proficiency. Avoid average. Not “slightly better” than the competition. Mastery. Excellence. The desire to be the best. Are we unwaveringly committed to that? Do we pace our bedrooms and night, committed to mastering the problems and opportunities before us?
In our marriages?
Towards our customers?
Pick any area of life and become committed to mastery. Then pick a new area. Repeat. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself successful.
This is an excerpt from a recent talk I gave to business leaders and has been adapted for the blog. For any coaching inquiries related to developing your leadership capacity, please email me.
Because of COVID-19, the changing landscape of human resources means that both employers and employees are entering a new workforce frontier. For some, working from home is a new experience and therefore requires a new way of thinking.
Still, others are questions of accountability, appropriate conduct, and billable hours.
For all of us, we’re realizing just how much we can miss the mark of success if we aren’t dialed in and laser-focused.
I had an excellent, and wide-ranging interview with Dr. Juanita Webb for the Building With Purpose Conference. Check out this clip:
Building With Purpose
This excerpt is a part of the FREE online conference I’m hosting called Building With Purpose. This course will help you pivot during this time of social distancing and working from home.
For many of us, it’s a new experience. These experts will help you gain clarity and momentum and experience success.
For many of us, the changing landscape of human resources can be a source of fear. However, like all things in life, we lean into the fear and learn to conquer it. That’s how we grow. For those of us facing those changes right now, here are three words of encouragement:
1.) The Good Outweighs The Bad.
Despite what you might see on the news, the good that people are doing far outweighs the bad. Like the famous Mr. Rogers quote, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” Yes, there are jerk-landlords and underdeveloped bosses. There are also amazing people doing amazing acts of service in this time of need. I have one friend who says her goal as an HR professional is to put the ‘human’ back in ‘human resources.’ Now more than ever, I think we are starting to see that.
2.) Opportunities Abound.
Working from home is new for may people. Personally, it has led to a complete transformation of my life. I love working from home. I see my family more, I engage in more meaningful projects, and I have seen my productivity increase. In seven years of working from home, I haven’t regretted a single day of it. While there is certainly going to be an adjustment period, look for the opportunities opening up in front of you, your family, your career, and your side-hustle.
3.) When in Doubt, Ask Questions.
One of the great things Dr. Webb reminds us of is that many employers haven’t had to think about working from home before. Most companies, are making it up as they go. They are building the aircraft and trying to fly it at the same time, so to speak. This means that these are great times to ask questions and take advantage of the new situation. What do reimbursements look like? Will the company provide additional material, training, or support for free? Can the compensation change? What about a more flexible work schedule? Asking questions, both for clarity and for creativity can open us up to a more enjoyable experience and a better working environment. It might even allow you to keep the best parts of working from home after quarantine ends.