Trust And Credibility Beats Vision And Strategy

Vision. Strategy. Roadmap. These are the words you hear often in corporate environment. They are supposed to help everyone, employees, customers, and other various stakeholders to understand why we are here. They are important, since without a clear direction and purpose nothing really great can be build.

In Strategy Is Overrated, Execution Is What Leads To Success I argued that even though strategy and vision are important what really matters is execution. Today I will look at these from another perspective. Have you ever wondered why even within out company with the same vision and strategy some teams vastly over-perform other team? Why some leaders are able to rally the team to execute on the strategy while others fail to do so?

Having a great vision

When you search the internet you will see many mission statements, bold visions of companies, growth strategies and worthy causes. But who really decides whether a certain vision, strategy or cause is worth following? It is you. And how do you make your decisions? Well, you may not like it but you decide based on the information you have about the cause and emotions it and people around it trigger in you. Just imagine this mission statement: “The company was founded to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.”

It is an incredibly bold statement and if I told you that I’m CEO of that company would you join me in this endeavor and help me to achieve that vision? Chances are that you would not. Why should you? I have no credibility with you, I haven’t showed you that I’m able to achieve that goal, I didn’t build enough trust with you and so you will not join me.

What if I told you that the name of the company in question is SpaceX and the leader to follow is Elon Musk? And to quote from SpaceX official website it is the only private company ever to return a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit, which it first accomplished in December 2010. The company made history again in May 2012 when its Dragon spacecraft attached to the International Space Station, exchanged cargo payloads, and returned safely to Earth — a technically challenging feat previously accomplished only by governments. And what if I told you that Elon Musk is also CEO of Tesla Motors building some cool cars? You would probably say, yep, I would follow that guy, because he has already shown he can do it. He has built enough credibility with you even though you never met him.

Trust and credibility must come first

John C. Maxwell coined the term The Law of the Buy-in, claiming that people buy into the leader and only then buy into the vision and strategy. And as we saw in the example above it makes a complete sense. But how do you build that trust and credibility when you don’t have massive rockets and electric cars to show off? You get back to basics and focus on your core values and the way you interact with the world around you. Just answer these questions and be brutally honest with yourself (or maybe ask some people who know you well to do it for you). And for every question the answer is not just yes or no, but try hard to come up with several examples to illustrate.

  • Do you know what your core values are? – This is a rather critical piece in the whole puzzle. How can you expect others to follow you and trust you if even you don’t know what you stand for? So the step number one is to identify what are your core values. What is really important to you? Who are you? How do you want to act? How do you want to be perceived? What you stand for? If you have no idea you can browse through The Ultimate Question Of Life, The Universe And Everything to get some tips on how to find out.
  • Do people around you know what you stand for? – I talked about this in Life is not fair! So what. The key is to be transparent and consistent. If you repeatedly show certain behavior people will associate it with you and will understand what you stand for and what is important to you. The worst thing you can do as a manager is to be erratic and unpredictable. No one can trust to or follow such a leader since it is just unclear where to follow and why.
  • Are you willing to fight for what you believe is right? – What is the point of having clear values and principles when you ignore them on the first sign of trouble? If you truly believe in something then you show it by being willing to put your skin in the game. From my own experience it is surprisingly easy to stick with your principles if people around you actually know what they are. I’m generally very open minded individual trying to find common ground in whatever situation but the moment someone stomps on my principles I get very black and white in my responses. In the rare situations when this happened my team or even superiors proactively disclosed their actions to me before I found out in other ways as they knew what my reaction will be. Related to this is also a willingness to fight for your team as I wrote in The Real Leadership Shows When You Are Not The Boss.
  • Are you willing to admit when you are wrong? – It may be a bit counterintuitive. Why would anyone follow a leader who is wrong? Well, no one will follow you if you are wrong all the time, but chances are that is not the case. Unwillingness, to admit mistake even though everyone around you see that mistake was made is the easiest way to lose credibility with the team. At the other hand to be bold enough to get in front of the team and be very open about the mistake you made, what you learned from it, and how you fix it can boost the trust the team will have in you. At the end of the day we are all just humans and we make mistakes. Read through Real Leaders Own Their Mistakes and The Case Of Loyalty for more on the topic.
  • Are your words and actions aligned? – This one is obvious. You need to walk your talk, lead by example, and (fill in your favorite leadership cliché). It is great to be a great orator but ultimately the real trust and credibility is only build by being the first one to charge and show not by talking but by doing.
  • Do you trust others? – Trust starts with you. If you don’t trust your team you can hardly expect the team to trust you. For some people being trusting comes naturally, some are more cautious, some just don’t trust anyone at all. The fact is, if you are a manager and a leader trusting others is part of your job and you need to learn that if you want to be successful. You can read more on the topic in The Ugly Truth Behind Having Secrets.

These are some of the basic questions that can guide you on your journey to find how credible and trustworthy you really are. They can also give you a feel on what areas you need to work on. The good news is that pretty much anything can be improved. The bad news is that when we talk about trustworthiness and core values we talk about something very personal, deeply ingrained and often impossible to change without lots of conscious effort and external help.

So what is the takeaway? If you are in any management or leadership positions don’t expect that all you have to do is to put on paper a vision statement and couple of pages of strategy and that people will buy into it and will follow. The very first thing you need to do is to build the trust of the team. Only when they believe you as a human being and when you show by your actions that you can be trusted, only then your vision and strategy will be credible for the organization and you will be able to rally the team around you to execute the vision.

 

What is your take on issue of trust and credibility? Do you believe that a rock solid vision and strategy communicated by a leader with trust issues will still work and bring the team together to execute on it?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

What To Do When Everyone Around You Is Quitting

Companies go through ups and downs. Business environment fluctuates, people come and go. Every now and then you get to a situation that feels like everyone on your team is leaving or worse is just mentally checked out. What now? How do you stay motivated in such environment, and more importantly what can you realistically do to turn things around?

Crisis breeds opportunity

First of all, any crisis is a breeding ground for opportunities. In fact, one could argue that the best things always grow out of necessity. Necessity is the mother of invention because when you struggle for resources you get more creative. As I wrote in How Lack Of Resources Forces Innovation you learn to do with whatever you’ve got. When you don’t have a choice, you learn to step up. When people around you are leaving that opens all sorts of opportunities. The direct ones, like your boss leaving thus someone needs to replace him. Or the indirect ones, when your more experience colleague leaves so you have to step in and mentor new members of the team, make technical decisions, get more visibility, or learn to communicate better. With less people on the team it often also means you learn to work under pressure, you build more resistance, your work is suddenly much more critical, and you learn to prioritize.

Focus on positives

When you look at the list above, and I’m sure you can extend it significantly, you realize that regardless of how the situation looks from the outside there are also the positives. At least for you personally. It is only up to you how you handle the challenge, and how you decide to think and feel about it. By focusing on the positive aspects you can build an incredibly powerful internal drive, marshal your energy and at the end come out as a winner.

It is always important to focus on things you can influence. Ignore whether the guy sitting next to you leaves or not. It is his life and his choice. There is no need you should feel bad about it. It also doesn’t mean that you should make the same choice. In fact, it doesn’t even mean that he made the right choice. Maybe yes, maybe no. However, that is irrelevant. You should focus on what you can impact. The one thing you can influence is your own future. Just be dispassionate about it. Leave the emotions at the door and look at things without bias. What are your professional and life goals? How are these being satisfied? If the math checks out and you see that in reality nothing is wrong, then it is just about how you feel about the situation. And once again, how we feel about a certain thing is completely under our control. Two people can look at the same thing and feel very differently about it. The reality is the same, but the interpretation of the reality is very different. Just decide to feel good about the reality and you will be fine. You can read more about positivity in Positive Approach To Life.

Appreciate successes

I understand that feeling all happy in a group of people who frown all the time is not particularly easy. So what can you do about it? A great start is to focus on what is going right and celebrate successes and small wins. There is always something that goes fine, so it is just a question to attract everyone’s attention to it. By providing positive encouragement, appreciating what people have, talking about small wins you can gradually turn everyone’s attention towards what is positive in the project, the company, the world. Human brain has an incredible capacity for self-deception and when it focuses on something, it sees it everywhere. If your attention is constantly on positive things then the brain will focus on it and find positives in all areas of your life. For a bit more on the topic check out Human Brain, The Biggest Liar Of All Times and a great “yellow car example” in You Are A Leader, Not A Messenger. Act Like It!

On-board newbies

If the emotional drain from the people around you who just refuse to see anything positive on the situation is too big then you may consider finding someone who has not decided to constantly ruin his life and the lives of people around him – a newbie. Chances are that even in a team that goes through rough times there will be someone who is new, or relatively new, and thus not infected by the negativistic people yet. Focusing on this person, taking him under your mentorship, spending as much time with him as possible and keep presenting him with your view of the world will help you both. He or she will benefit from your knowledge, guidance and protection. You, at the other hand will benefit by being around someone positive who wants to be here, who wants to learn and succeed. Plus, you are getting the opportunities of mentoring experience mentioned above.

Chances are that there are also other people on your team or the teams around who have also chosen to stay positive. Being around people like this is a great way to keep your sanity and will help you to stay positive and get things done.

Never flee from something only because others do

And how do you know that the time has come for you to be somewhere else? I would reiterate what I mentioned above. You should consider things on merit not on emotions. And you should never flee from what you don’t like, but rather march towards what you want.

 

Have you ever been to a situation that everyone around you was leaving? What was your strategy on maintaining your sanity and motivation and were you able to use the situation to your advantage?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

Are You So Good? Or Are You Here So Long?

I’m a student of human nature. I like to listen and watch how people react under various circumstances and I’m always trying to figure out why they act this way in a hope that with that understanding I will be able to have a better interactions in the future. One question that recently popped up in my mind is how much your tenure with a company impacts the way you get things done. And more importantly, are the tenured people who always seems to be able to get things done really so good or do they just know how to work the system?

How do you get things done?

Do you rely more on your skills, or the knowledge of the system? Chances are that you follow the standard trajectory. As a newbie you have no history with the company and no knowledge of the systems and people so you are forced to rely on your skills and past experiences. Even if you have done the same task before there is no guarantee that repeating the past experience will work in your new job. You need to be very open to learning the systems and people in your new gig.

As you are more and more tenured your strategy of getting things done will change. You will be able to rely more on the system and your knowledge of ins and outs of the company, you will have forged relationships with various stakeholders who will be able to help you out with your current task. You will rely less and less on your own skills and will utilize the system. And just to be clear, I’m talking about your managerial or leadership role.

The result? You are getting things done faster and better than the newbie could even if the other guy who just joined may have better skills. So far so good. Unfortunately, there is a flip side. By relying on the system you are giving away the need to sharpen your skills and learn new ways of doing things, you stop changing and growing.

How much effort and creativity do you really put in?

So how much effort do you truly put into your task? As you are tenured it takes less and less effort to get things done. You know the ropes, you know where to push, and who to talk to. You know where the bottle necks are so you go around them, or if not possible, you won’t get frustrated by seeing them again. At some point you will realize that the work you are doing is rather without challenges and all it takes to get things done is to repeat the same formula you used several times before and just give it the time it needs.

If you give up on finding creative ways how to tackle the problem at hand you know that you don’t rely on your skills as much as on your knowledge of the system. Once again, nothing wrong with that. Things will be done as they always were, you and your work will be predictable and the business will prosper. For now. Again, there is a flipside. Nothing new and exciting was ever build by doing things the way they were always done so ultimately the business is not reaching its full potential. And neither are you. If you don’t try new way to solve problems you will not learn anything new, you will never change and no change means no growth. Both for you and for the business.

Are you able to teach others how to get things done?

A great way to recognize what stage you are at is to consider how you teach others. Are you able to mentor and coach your team into truly building new skills? As opposed to just saying things like “well, you need to know who to talk to.” This one seems to be really critical. People who rely more on system than on their own skills may have troubles mentoring others. Or rather than mentoring for “how to become a better person” they mentor for “how to play the system”. This may not be immediately recognized by neither the mentor nor the mentee. And in fact, at first glance there is nothing wrong with either approach.

The first type of mentoring and guiding is focus on enhancing mentee’s skills and ability to get things done regardless of circumstances of the project or company. In this case the focus is on transferable skills like good communication, ability to negotiate win-win situations, ability to get things done regardless of reporting structure, ability to grow people, mentor and coach them or understanding the value of resources.

The other approach is purely focused on how to get things done in your current project or your current company. Because the mentor in this case focuses so much on how to get things now, in this project, under these circumstances the immediate effect might be even better than in the first case.

However, when the circumstances change the person mentored on “how to become better” will be able to adjust since the skills he or she learned are transferable. The person who was taught “how to play the system” will get lost when the system changes. The first person was taught principles. The second person was taught tasks and workarounds. The first person strives in change. The second person panics, blames everyone around, resists, complains, and generally just doesn’t know what to do.

Do you learn something new every day?

So ask yourself. Do you learn something new every day and do you exercise your mind to come up with innovative ideas? If the answer is “no” then you probably rely too much on your knowledge of the system and you are not growing. What is worse, if you are in a leadership position you may not even provide the right type of guidance to your team. And let’s be clear here, it is only your fault. Not the company, not your boss, not the environment, it is you who can decide whether to learn and grow or not. You just need to be creative.

So how to change the status quo and start growing again? Common sense dictates that you need to try something new. Talk to a new person you never talked to before, reach out to another department and offer help, volunteer for mentoring newbies or to take on a task outside of your job responsibilities. Make it a point to introduce small innovations in the way you work. It doesn’t need to be anything dramatic. If things are working generally fine you just want to keep testing the waters, try something new, if it doesn’t work revert back and try something else. By doing these small changes and minor improvements you ensure your own growth, your ability to cope with change, and even find ways how to continuously improve the “way we do things around here”.

 

How do you get things done? Are you really so good as you think? Or do you just know how the system in your current company works but if you get plugged into a new company, a new system, you will be totally hopeless and unable to adjust?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

You Can’t Bribe People To Care

Over the years managing people, mentoring and coaching them I was many times confronted with a question “should I leave my current company or stay?” In my coaching capacity this always presented a bit of a challenge since when the client asks you to coach his team so they reach their full potential and you get to a point that someone on that team realizes that they are in a wrong place, it gets tricky. In my management role I would always listen and show you why to stay, however I would also do my best for you to realize where your sweet spot is.

You can’t make people to care

If you or someone on your team decides they just don’t care anymore it is usually too late to easily change their mind. I’m not saying it is impossible, but it is difficult. You can temporarily keep the person on the team by showing them what’s coming and that there still is something interesting to live for but you will struggle to make them really care. For that you would need to use the whole arsenal of weapons available to you as I will describe in a minute. You can also check out Your Heart Is Not In It Anymore.

You can’t pay people to care

Maybe not surprisingly, money are not part of the equation. Again, you can bribe people to stay with you a bit longer but you can’t bribe them into truly caring about you, the project and the company. In fact, more often than not, if someone stays only for the money chances are that they leave for more money once the opportunity shows up. What is worse, they may actually stay only because of money. In that case chances are they won’t be particularly engaged, they will worry more about their position and the bonus than about getting the job done.

You can build environment

So if you can’t make people to care and you can’t pay them to care, what can you do? Quite a bit actually. You can start with building working environment that will be difficult to leave. You can build a culture based on professional yet friendly interactions, a culture where people are encouraged to freely share information, ideas and concerns. You can train people on how to give and receive feedback so instead of gossiping about each other they will deal with problems and communication issues heads on. You can show trust to your team so they will trust you in return and you can show them that you care about their wellbeing as well as about the success of the company. For more ideas about building the right culture see The Myth Of Motivation and Now, How May I Help You?

Observe that when talking about environment I talk mostly about culture and interactions between people. It is not that much about actual physical environment. Obviously a physical space can be helpful (or damaging) to the type of culture you are trying to create. For example a culture based on cooperation and constant brainstorming of ideas will be much more difficult to establish when everyone is locked in his own room as compared to a team that shares the same space. This being said, once you provide the basic facilities that are nice and comfortable to be in your job is done. You really don’t need to provide all the perks you hear or read about from the likes of Google. In fact, one could argue that if misused (not used strategically) more perks and bigger fancier facilities may at the end work against you. You can find more about facilities related topics in Company Culture And The Role Of A Facility Manager.

You can provide vision

You’ve got the space, the culture, and now you need a reason why everyone is actually here. You need to provide a vision, a target that will align everyone’s effort. You need a basic set of rules how the team works together to achieve that vision, and you need to be able to show each and every team member how their work fits the big picture. People need to understand why they should wake up every morning and come to the office. If the sole reason is to make money then as mentioned above they don’t care about you or what you are trying to do.

The important thing here is that you can do this regardless how big team you have or where in the organizational structure the team sits. If you are a CEO, great you can do it for the whole company. If you are a team lead of ten people you can do the same even if the vision doesn’t come down from the top. You can always identify what the mission of your team is and make it appealing to them. Ideally it will be aligned with the bigger mission of the company but if that is a bit unclear you can do your best to guess and align your team with the “assumed” mission of the company, or the needs of the customers as you understand them.

You can help everyone to realize where they belong

If you show the team what you are trying to achieve and why, it will shift the conversation from “what will I get” to “how can I help”. If you have someone on the team who even knowing the vision, understanding how he or she can help, sitting in a great team that is working to get there, still cannot buy in then they probably shouldn’t be part of that team.

You need to ensure that you and your team have a mechanism how to hire and on-board great people who will fit into the culture and adopt its mission. You also need to ensure that you have a way how people who don’t fit get removed from the team. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean formal performance appraisal process. In fact, depending on the culture you are building it may be the last thing you want to do. In well-functioning team people usually realize that they don’t belong and self-select out before even the team or their boss sees that things are not working.

You, as a leader, can help people realize what their sweet spot is. The fact that someone is not performing particularly well in one position or one team doesn’t say anything about how good or bad he is. It just says that he is not suitable for that particular role. Helping people realize where they belong is one of the best and most gratifying things a leader can do since it leads to increased productivity of the team and increased happiness of individuals in question. You can read more about finding the right sweet spot for people in You’ve Got The Right Guy… In The Wrong Job.

So next time you are tempted to bribe people into staying you should consider whether they will stay because they care about you and your project or because they care about themselves. If they care only about themselves they will never be happy on your team regardless how many you through at them. In fact, they will most likely never be happy anywhere…

 

How do you motivate your team? Do you have some tips how to get people to care about your business?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

Failing Fast Doesn’t Mean Giving Up

Failing fast is one of the most frequently used words in the modern knowledge based economy full of start-ups looking for the big hit. You read about how every entrepreneur needs to be able to pivot on the spot and come up with another idea if the first one doesn’t work. But how fast should you fail? Sometimes it even feels like failing is a badge of honor, but is failing really the only way to success? How should you understand it and transfer the lessons learned from failing fast into daily lives? And what happened to good old perseverance? Isn’t failing too fast, or giving up too early, limiting your chances of success?

Obviously there is a no easy formula to tell you when to give up and when to plough ahead. But there are questions you can ask yourself to make the right call. Let’s look at the whole decision making process.

Recognize failure in making

The key is to even recognize that something is not working. Sometimes it is easily measurable (for example revenue growth) but sometimes it is more subtle. The best way to recognize that things are not working out is to have a baseline plan you can compare to. Without a plan you cannot really say whether things are going well or not. The plan was to have one million in revenue at this time and we don’t even have a half of it. Failure in making.

Understand why

We know we have a problem and now the real question of “why”. Is it because our strategy is flawed, or the original plan was unrealistic, or the environment has changed, or other outside factors temporarily slowed us down, or we just didn’t execute well?

Most likely there is no obvious answer, otherwise life would be too easy. The best you can do is to eliminate various factors one by one leaving the “let’s give up and do something different” as the last option.

Tweak and persevere

If giving up is not the option then what is? Incremental tweaks (changes) and consistent focus on gathering feedback to see whether something works or not. This can be of course a tricky proposition for some situations. In other cases it can work nicely. For example, the industry standard when building websites, or do marketing is the so-called A/B testing. This allows you to change one variable (try a new idea) without changing the other aspects thus having feedback that really reflects just this one change and is not impacted too much by the overall environment.

This may not be a strategy applicable to your case but the thought behind is the same. If you change something and are looking for feedback make sure you are really measuring the impact of the change.

It is not only about your business, it is also about your career. Way too many people just give up too easily, have low patience, and leave their jobs before they had an opportunity to really succeed. At the same time just doing what you have always done hoping for a different outcome will be equally disastrous. The best strategy is to break down your job into different aspects and then tackle these one by one attempting small changes, recognizing small wins, improving your attitude and view of the world and eventually being really good at what you do while truly enjoying it. Read more in Ignore Your Dream… Do What You Are Good At.

This applies not just to your professional existence but to the rest of your life too. Imagine you are not happy with your life. What do you do? Chances are that not everything in your life is bad and if you attack one aspect of your life at a time you will eventually end up in a better place. Rather than saying “my life suck,” and give up. Or do something dramatic like leaving your life behind and moving to another country hoping for the best. Trust me, I’ve been there, it doesn’t work. Much better to change your life, one thing at a time, focus on the new and positive and before you know your whole life will be different. Mostly because your view of the world changed, but that is for another time.

Give second chances but timeframe them

Just be careful of the “one more chocolate and then I stop trap”. If you really believe strongly that the original approach is fine and it is just a matter of time before things turn around then so be it. I would argue that this decision should be based on real data and some external circumstances that irrefutably show that the reason for you not doing well today is gone. In that case let’s give it another shot but make it crystal clear to yourself and everyone involved what your expectation is. You need to be very specific and timeframe it: “We double down on what we do today and our expectation is that by the end of the year we will have 20% increase in sales.” When the end of the year comes and you haven’t reach your numbers there are no more excuses and you have to change! Under no circumstances should you say ”I see the trend, let’s give it another three months.” If you do that you get yourself trapped in a vicious cycle of excuses and postponing of what had to be done in the first place.

 

What does failing fast mean for you? Is it a strategy you would use? Or do you believe it is a disaster in making?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Not My Fault! It’s The Traffic…

You hear it over and over again. In fact, you might be using the tactic yourself without even realizing it. Blaming others or the environment for your inability to get things done, keep your promises and duties.

Let’s blame someone else

Have you ever worked with a colleague who would be constantly showing up ten minutes late for meetings with an excuse like “sorry I’m late, but there was a traffic jam”? As if this would explain everything and make it right. Well, yes, there was a traffic jam, so what? If there is one every day then it is just not relevant. If you would continue that line of reasoning you could come up with: “Sorry I’m late, but there was a traffic jam. Police should make sure there are no traffic jams. In fact, it is police fault that I’m late. Or even better others should be banned from using cars. That way I wouldn’t get stuck and came right on time.” Rather ridiculous, isn’t it? So why are we all saying it?

What are the things under your control?

One of the challenges you have to learn when managing others (and yourself) is the tendency of trying to look good and blame others for our mistakes. If you want to move things forward and want the person in question to grow and build strong sense of ownership you need to make sure this is not happening. Always bring the attention and focus of the person to things that are under his control.

Let’s say you come to your teammate with something you want him to solve and his response is “No problem. We will need IT to prepare the proposal and finance team will have to approve it.” These couple of words are full of red flags. At this point you just need to stop him and say “Yes, I see your point and I know that other people will have to be involved. What are the things that YOU will do? What is it you have under your control?” Even if there is a part that needs to be done by someone else there are always things you have under your control and that is where your focus needs to be.

The best way to increase satisfaction with your life is to learn to distinguish what are the things you can influence. Those you should focus on and constantly improve. This works also the other way around. Learn what in your life is out of your control, what you cannot influence and stop worrying about it. If you cannot change something then it is just a distraction that makes you less productive, unhappy and dissatisfied with your life.

There is no try

As the Grand Jedi Master Yoda, the oldest and most powerful known Jedi Master in the Star Wars universe said “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Once you realize what you do have under control, and decide to do something about it, you need to make yourself believe that you will succeed. And since we shape our reality by the words we use you need to learn to set yourself for success. “I will try better next time,” is your archenemy. “This will never happen again,” gives you much more power to actually change your behavior as it means you have no doubt and are fully committed to succeed.

It’s not the traffic, it’s you…

And to get back to our example from the beginning and look at alternative scenario where you don’t try to blame the universe for being late but you take ownership of your life. Understand the natural consequences of this repeated behavior of tardiness (in the form of others having to wait for you or you not being informed about or part of important decisions). And ultimately ask yourself the obvious question: “What is under my control that I will do so this doesn’t happen again?”

 

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

What Is Preventing Your Future Success?

Life is complicated. Everything is connected with everything. Cause and effect. There are so many variables in life that any attempts to come up with a simple mathematical formula so far failed. Heck, we are not even able to accurately predict weather or how much satisfaction we will have from an event in the future. So what leads us believe that we have things under control and that we can predictably repeat successes we had in the past? Many of us who reached some level of success often feel that we are entitled to it and that we are somehow better than everyone else and thus anything we do will always end up being successful. And then we are surprised and feel hurt when something doesn’t go as we planned. But why? Mostly because we misunderstand what made us successful in the past. In fact, as I wrote in Human Brain, The Biggest Liar Of All Times our brain has a unique capacity to deceive us.

Misunderstanding of past successes

Depending on your current frame of mind you tend to either overestimate or underestimate your role in the past successes. Let’s say you love running and just won a race. Why did you win? I already hear you saying things like “I trained really hard, 5 hours a day, and gave it everything I had.” And now imagine you lost. What would you say? “It just wasn’t my day. I didn’t feel on top of my game and even during the preparation I trained just 5 hours a day.” You have done exactly the same before the race you won and the race you lost. Maybe it wasn’t just you. Maybe the environment was different, and the competitors were different. Maybe it wasn’t really you that made the difference but the people around you.

As Phil Rosenzweig writes in Left Brain, Right Stuff people have an imperfect understanding of how much control they can exert. When control is low they tend to overestimate their impact, but when it’s high they tend to underestimate.

Correlation, causality and single explanations

In another of his books The Halo Effect Phil Rosenzweig talks about nine business delusions that cloud our judgement. Relevant to our discussion are those of correlation, causality and single explanation.

Why were you successful in the first place? Over the years in business world I have heard many times that “we are successful because of the way we work.” But often I have wondered is it really “because” or “in spite”? In the complex environment it is often very difficult to distinguish what is the cause and what the effect, it is very difficult to understand whether a something was helping or hurting our chances. Especially, if you fall into a trap of single explanation. We tend to blame one guy when things go wrong or one hero when there is a success. We tend to forget all the other things that had influenced the outcome. Keeping in mind that “everything is connected to everything” should help you to keep an eye on these biases.

Overconfidence

One of the most dangerous reasons why you may easily fail in the future is overconfidence. Rosenzweig splits it into three categories. Overprecision as a tendency to be too certain that our judgment is the right one. “I’m the expert. I know what I’m doing. This and only this is the right way to do things to end up in success.”

The other category is Overestimation as a tendency to believe that we can perform at much higher level than we are capable of. “Of course I can do it even though I’ve never done anything comparable. With my track record of success anything I touch changes into gold and can end only well.”

And the last type of overconfidence is called overplacement as a belief that we can perform much better than others. “I’m much better manager than majority of others. I’m, if not the best, then definitely above average software engineer and should be treated as such. Or I’m much better driver than the others.” This one is nicely demonstrated for example in a study performed by Ola Svenson asking students to compare their driving skills to other people. 93% of the U.S. sample and 69% of the Swedish sample put themselves in the top 50%. This is a mathematical impossibility and shows how unrealistic views we have of ourselves.

Sense of entitlement

Because of the reasons mentioned above most of us believe we are better than others and thus we deserve more. We deserve better treatment, more money, better life, bigger house, more promotions and we are unhappy when we are not getting it.

I can give you just one advice. Get a dose of reality and switch your mindset to one that tells you that everyone is good at something, everyone has the right to be happy, well paid, and treated with respect. You might have some strengths that others miss, but you have also weaknesses, and all in all you are not much different from the other 7 billion human beings on this planet.

Abusing relationships with the powerful

And since we are talking about the business world there is one additional danger that can hinder your future success. I would call it “abusing relationship with the powerful” or in other words using the relationship with a powerful figure in the company to advance your agenda. It may take a form of you directly requesting the big guy to intervene on your behalf or a bit more subtle you frequently invoking his name to achieve your goals.

Either of these two will have great initial effect but rather negative long-term consequences. The moment you start relying on this technique you will stop trying hard enough on your own, you won’t develop the necessary skills, and you will most likely damage your relationship with others around you. They will reluctantly comply just to make sure they won’t make powerful enemy but ultimately they will look for ways to get back at you. You are the target since they cannot touch the big guy, can they?

And then the day comes when your powerful benefactor leaves, or you move to a different group or company. And suddenly you find out that you cannot get things done as in the past, you fail at your job, and you are confronted with the hard reality of not being as good as you thought.

So what does it all mean?

Humility is your friend. Never assume that you are better than others only because you had some sort of success. Chances are that success wasn’t your alone. You should also reset your expectations of the future. Always strive for the best but expect the worst and thus have a healthy well-balanced level of confidence. A level that inspires you to do your best but not too much to take success for granted or too little to never even try.

 

How do you ensure that your current success doesn’t lead to future failures? What advice do you have for others to make sure they don’t sabotage their own careers and happiness?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.