Thursday, June 18, 2009

Redefining Success: How to Prevent Popular Misconceptions about Success from Controlling Your Life

“There is no reality; only perception.” Shakespeare once wrote. If the sixteenth-century English bard was correct, then your perception creates your reality. The problem, then, when you are going through difficult times, is not that you are less successful, but that you perceive yourself as less successful. What if this were not the case? How would it affect the way you are experiencing your career and life right now?

Most of us tie our success to the results we bring in – how many contracts we sign, our income, the number of people who turn out to see us speak or teach, or return our calls, or buy our books or software or clothing designs. Over fifteen years of coaching thousands of Fortune 500 CEOs and senior executives has taught me that the relationship between a successful leader and the results he or she brings in is surprisingly counterintuitive.

The most successful leaders are concerned with results the way a swimmer is concerned with the finish line. If she keeps thinking about how far she still has to go and whether she will beat the competition, she will become easily overwhelmed and will under-perform. If she instead spends about two percent of her time lifting her head to make sure she is heading in the right direction, and the other 98 percent focused on the core processes that make her an excellent swimmer – how she moves her arms and legs, the techniques she has learned over a lifetime of training, the rhythm and energy she puts into every stride – she will reach the finish line before she is even aware of it.

When you spend most of your time thinking about the stock tickers on your screen, or whether the next deal will come through, or any of the other results you desire, you become the powerless child in the back seat constantly whining “How much further do we have to go?” You head down a never-ending road where your self-worth hinges on what you yield rather than who you are. You become like a mouse being chased by the cat of your own continually rising expectations.

As soon as you get the contract you’ve been aiming for, do you stop and say, “OK, now I can relax and feel good about myself. I got it!”? Maybe for a few hours, or possibly even a few days. But then the cat bares its frothy teeth once again, and you become preoccupied with the next result, which must be even greater for you to continue to feel worthy. Once again, you feel only as good as your last performance. Were this not the case – were a result to bring you lasting contentment – then you would be content right now, because you’ve already overcome many obstacles and achieved important results in your life!

The two greatest enemies of your progress are what you call ‘success’ and what you refer to as ‘failure’. The first breeds complacency, the second self-judgment. They also shroud the truth about success, which flouts conventional wisdom: Success doesn’t come from aiming at success. Success comes from doing what you’re passionate about to the best of your ability.

When you focus your attention on status, money, approval or a promotion, you surrender your power. Why? Because you allocate your mental space to these methods that others use to award you for how you act toward them, instead of how you act toward them. You concentrate your mind on what you receive from others rather than what you give. Even a single act of giving fully from your heart, mind and soul will enable you to realize this is the only true reward.

Besides (and more spiritual reasons aside) you have absolutely no control over what you receive from others. It’s entirely in their hands, and depends on many factors outside of your control such as their preferences, moods and the shifting winds of popular sentiment. As Lincoln once said when asked to review a book: “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”

Yet while you have no control over what you receive, you have 100 percent control over what you give. Once you make this mental shift, you will finally operate within your locus of power: you can always give more, or, even better, apply your learning from the past to expand, improve and better target how you give. Further, no matter what is going on in the external world, when you concentrate on how you can better give to your customers and loved ones there is always something important to do with your time.

Examples of companies accessing this power are all around us – especially when their customers have fewer resources in an economic downturn and, hence, greater needs. Instead of sitting around and lamenting their decreased revenues (what they receive), they balance their passion for selling their products or services with compassion for the evolving needs of their customers (and how they give to serve those needs). Hyundai, for example, recently created a policy that allows any customer who is laid off within one year of purchasing a new car to return it without penalty. Sears has revived its Layaway program so its hard-pressed customers can purchase its products in installments.

Shifting your focus to how you give to others doesn’t mean that wanting a good job, a beautiful house, approval from others or a position of influence is wrong. It’s not wanting results that causes the problem – it’s attaching to your wanting, and attaching to the results. By all means set ambitious goals. Draw a vivid mental picture of what you want to bring into your life. See it, smell it, feel it. Visualize yourself taking strong strides in its direction and reaching it. But then let go of your desired destination, put your head back in the water, and maintain a laser-like focus on continuously enhancing how you give to others to move toward it. Like the swimmer focusing on her technique and effort, you will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly you arrive.


Anthony Silard is the president of The Global Leadership Institute and the author of the Simon & Schuster book The Connection: Link Your Passion, Purpose, and Actions to Make a Difference in the World. To receive Smile, It's Monday each week in your inbox and a free copy of Anthony's new audio CD, "The Surprising Source of Your Passion", enter your email here (1-step only).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Staying Positive in Challenging Times

No matter who you are or what you do, the current economic situation most likely has your feelings fluctuating from anxious and fearful to unstable and depressed. There are very real causes for alarm. A seventy-year old money manager ejects clients from meetings for asking too many questions and siphons billions of their dollars from the economy. Poaching lenders offer rickety mortgages to people who lack the resources to sustain them. Huge public companies fudge their earnings reports to appease and allure stockholders. Worst of all, there is no government oversight to prevent these and other means of relieving people of their hard-earned cash.

This was the status quo, what we considered normal, as recently as six months ago. As long as the dollars rolled in, and we could go out to dinner whenever we wanted, and take the vacations we desired, and afford the best schools for our children, most of us turned a blind eye. Then the illness in our economy continued to fester until its tentacles slithered around each of our lives. It wasn’t until we each personally felt its grip that we awoke from our slumber.

After not qualifying in 2006 for his first tournament since becoming a professional golfer nine years earlier, Tiger Woods was asked what he was going to do. He replied: “Practice.” Like Tiger, each of us can also “fail wisely.” The word ‘failure’, in fact, is a failure as a concept. It makes you feel badly about yourself, when in fact it’s an opportunity for learning – which makes it a critical ingredient for success. Semantics are important here, because they affect the way we think. While the word ‘failure’ makes you feel like you’re on a dead-end street, the word ‘challenge’ puts a fire under your belly to seek an alternate route to your goals. It’s also ironic that the word ‘challenge’ literally contains the word ‘change’ within it.

We now have a fire under our collective belly. We must introduce new practices into our economy so we can be successful again. This is nothing new. There have always been crises, and they will always be a key ingredient in our life experience. To survive them, good civic-minded citizens always pick up the pieces and press on. This is what we did after 9-11, when we leveraged the learning from that horrific event to heighten public security. The impetus for FDR’s New Deal, which introduced a social safety net for low-income Americans, was the poignant suffering the lack of that net produced in The Great Depression. In both of these critical periods in our history, the crisis became the catalyst. It signaled the need to transform a problematic status quo into a new, more resilient and secure status quo.

There is a parallel to our personal lives: when you look back on just about any major crisis you’ve experienced – whether it was a messy breakup, or a protracted feeling of depression, or fear-induced anxiety that left you feeling paralyzed, or being fired from a job that you really cared about – that crisis helped you discover something under-developed within yourself that you needed to work on. No crisis, no catalyst, no significant life change.

“But how can I stay positive when I may not have a job in six months?” I have been asked frequently over the last few months by some of the CEOs and executives I coach. First of all, what’s the alternative? I don’t think you want to go there. Second, being positive tests your resolve. You only know how strong a dam is when there’s water trying to push it over. If you want to integrate any value you hold dear into your character – including being positive – then you must practice it in good times and bad, rain or shine, regardless of the current state of your job or the stock tickers floating across your screen.

Having a positive outlook underwrites your happiness. Both stem from appreciating what you have rather than focusing on what you don’t have. And there is always something to appreciate if you are only willing to step off the treadmill you’re on long enough to take a look around. Fewer customers may free up your time to diversify the products you offer and develop higher-touch strategies to build a more loyal customer base for the future. Less time on the job may mean more time to reconnect with your loved ones. Being abruptly thrown off what you considered your track to career success may give you the time to question whether you were running in the right lane in the first place.

Find something to be positive about each day while simultaneously learning from the adversity you are currently experiencing, and you will find a better path forward. If we all rise to this collective challenge, we will build an economy that is not only robust but founded on sound practices. Also, and just as important, we will enjoy life a whole lot more.


Anthony Silard is the president of The Global Leadership Institute and the author of the Simon & Schuster book The Connection: Link Your Passion, Purpose, and Actions to Make a Difference in the World. To receive Smile, It's Monday each week in your inbox and a free copy of Anthony's new audio CD, "The Surprising Source of Your Passion", enter your email here (1-step only).


Welcome to the Character-based Leadership blog. This blog will enable you to learn more about leadership and refine your own personal leadership style. We welcome topic submissions and having guest bloggers.