Still Standing

There you are, still standing (or, sitting, while you read this). After all you’ve been through, you’re still standing.

You’ve been working at this for a long time. Maybe years. You’ve had more challenges than you can remember; more setbacks, more disappointments, more resistance than you expected.

And yet, the dream didn’t die. To the contrary, your vision—your idea—has become sharper, burned hotter, and it’s now within reach. The reality of unexpected problems, unsuccessful strategies, unfunded promises, and unfaithful friends, have left you bruised, tired and close to quitting. But you haven’t quit.

You took a day, a week, a month and pondered the deeper things. You wondered why? You looked for someone else to take the lead. You fantasized about going back to a simpler life as a rancher or bus driver or bartender, but you didn’t give up. You couldn’t.

Why? Why haven’t you tossed in the towel? (A decision, by the way, reserved for the trainer, not the fighter.) Let me challenge you to take stock and answer that question. Why are you still standing? Live with that thought for a while. You may be surprised at what you discover.

Permit me to guide you for a moment as you explore.

First, you aren’t doing this for the money. Money is nice, but that’s not why you are still standing. If you were all about the ever-increasing paycheck, you would have stopped reading at the beginning of the second paragraph. You know full well that you can earn money in much easier ways than this. Getting money doesn’t quench your thirst. So, it’s not the money.

Second, you aren’t still at this for the fame. It’s nice to be recognized but you learned early on that being truly known, understood, and appreciated—even loved—by a few far outweighs the fleeting and fickle fun of fame.

Third, you’re not in this adventure (and still standing) because your are “good at it.” It’s obvious to us that your natural talents, sharp wit, keen intellect, and sparkling personality come easily, naturally, smoothly. No, you are not in this because you like the effortless path. You don’t deliberately choose the hard one either. But, when you look back, everything you’ve done has been hard, nearly impossible, at first—and, perhaps it remained so for a very long time. So no, you don’t do this because you are always in your sweet spot, doing what you already know and what comes naturally.

Why, then, are you still standing? Still engaged?

After some time, you may arrive at the terrifyingly simple realization that generations of transformational leaders have come to before you: You are compelled.

In a frustrated season you may have exclaimed, “Well, what else would I do!” But it’s deeper than that. You’re not trapped. You’re not out of options. You are compelled. Something inside you has always said, “It’s you.” It’s as though that inner voice has a smiling face, a gentle tone, that relentlessly nudges you: It’s you. It’s this. It’s now. Keep going.

And so you do. You get up, drink a cup of dark coffee, take a deep breath, lace up your emotional boots, and get back in the fight. You can’t quit.

Thank You. Because of your leadership, we are better off. Because you keep going, we avoid an unseen disaster, capture an unexpected opportunity, and rise out of poverty just a little more. Because you haven’t given up, our future is better than it would have been, our children healthier, our society less toxic, our souls less afraid. Thank you.

And, we will never know that these things happened because you, and your team, did not give up. We will never see your name in lights, never watch a blockbuster movie about you, never sing a hymn written by you. But you led us nonetheless.

I’m sipping some Old Forester 1910 Old Fine Whisky as I write this and think about you. In 1910 (waaaay before I was born, for the record), a fire nearly destroyed the Old Forester Company. A few barrels were saved and the bourbon poured into undamaged casks to continue the aging process. The result was amazing. The glass I’m enjoying right now is built on the same accidental wisdom of a few people who started their adventure in 1897. They just didn’t give up. They couldn’t. And, now I’m enjoying the fruit of their labor.

I know, bourbon is just a drink, and your work isn’t that trivial, (Sacrilege! Bourbon is far from trivial! Just saying…) but, you are compelled just like they were. Sipping this wonderful drink makes me think of you. It’s the same with you, isn’t it? You may be blackened by the smoke of adversity, sweaty with disappointment, tearful from loss, but you haven’t quit. You’re still leading. You’re still living, laughing, loving. And, you will be tomorrow, too.

So, why are you still standing? Because you have to. Here’s to you!

If you are reading these Leadership Letters as they arrive in your email, and can’t wait for the next blog post, or if you want (a lot) more check out my latest book, The 5 Disciplines of High Performance Teams here on Amazon

And, if you get tired of reading, you can follow some of my random observations, including this theme, on The Dr De Hicks Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts in iTunes or PodBean or Google Podcasts (and a bunch of other places, too.)

Pure Evil! (Or, Not)

“I have a hard question to ask you.” Judy was visibly upset. Her question was preceded by a deep sigh, a moment of fidgeting. “Why haven’t you shared last quarter’s financials with us yet?” Clearly she had been stewing over this problem for quite some time.

Before I could respond, she held her hand up and said, “It’s either because the company is collapsing under the burden of the times and we are all out of jobs and you are too afraid to tell us, or because we did really well and you don’t want to share the wealth.” She crossed her arms, pursed her lips, and squinted her eyes behind dark-rimmed glasses.

Neither were true of course, but the assumed motive behind the absence of information fueled her imagination. In her eyes, it was just plain wrong; maybe even motivated by evil.

I get it. It’s really easy to ascribe evil motives when people’s actions (or inactions) seem to hamper your effectiveness, hinder your progress, knock the wind out of your sails. It’s even more likely when someone changes the rules, plays dirty, tips the scale in their favor by apparently unscrupulous means. It’s natural to ascribe their actions to pure evil motives. Pure “Eeeeviiiil” to quote Dr. Evil of Austin Powers fame.

But maybe Robert Hanlon was right when he submitted his version of Occam’s Razor to a joke book back in the day. (You know Occam’s Razor: The simplest explanation is most likely the right one. It came from the complex problem-solving principle that “entities should note be multiplied without necessity.”) Hanlon may have been making a joke out of Occam’s Razor but his insight is really helpful.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

This is Hanlon’s Razor. While written tongue-in-cheek, it is incredibly helpful.

I know you were hurt. I know it frightened you and stressed you out. I know it cost time and maybe money. I know you want to paint horns on their portrait and post it on social media, but maybe they aren’t pure, dark, malicious evil. Maybe they are just stupid. I know it looks like a conspiracy, like “they” somehow cooperated to bring about your suffering, but it’s much more likely that they were just stupid.

Or, maybe they are suffering from something similar to stupidity; a less acute, less terminal condition than stupidity but with a similar impact. Maybe they are suffering from laziness, or selfishness, or inexperience, or fear, all of which can look just like stupidity (or evil). Maybe his foresight was blurred by weariness and he could not forecast the impact of his actions. Maybe he just seems stupid. Maybe he’s “situationally stupid.” Smart in other arenas but stupid in this one.

Thankfully, stupidity isn’t terminal. It can be cured with humble curiosity and experience and grace from those around us. It’s not like ignorance. That malady is deliberate, focused and protracted condition that actively ignores reality. Thankfully, stupidity can be overcome.

So, next time you are frustrated and default to ascribing malice as the offender’s motive, step back and ask yourself, “Was he just stupid (or one of the other lesser conditions)?” It will help a lot.

Something to think about.

Want more? Check out my latest book, The 5 Disciplines of High Performance Teams here on Amazon

And, if you get tired of reading, you can follow some of my random observations, including this theme, on The Dr De Hicks Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts in iTunes or PodBean or Google Podcasts (and a bunch of other places, too.)

Keep it Simple, Stupid

I remember my father saying this to me more than once. One dark fall morning, as I tried in vain to load an obstinate quarter horse into a trailer in advance of a hunting trip, I became overly frustrated with the strong-willed, uncooperative beast. Everything I tried just made her more nervous and me more irritated.

Dad said, “Stop. Stand still. You’re trying too hard and she can feel it. Keep it simple, stupid.” He smiled, no mockery in his tone, took the lead rope, rolled up the loose end and tossed it into the trailer ahead of the mare. He stepped back and tapped her gently on the hindquarters. She lowered her head and walked up the ramp right into the trailer.

I loaded the next horse, Casper (see a previous Leadership Letter), with ease.

My father’s advice has served me well. Although it’s taken me years (decades actually) to turn it into a discipline, I’m learning (even at my ripe old age) to notice when the simple approach is the best one.

Since we live and lead in complex environments and are faced with confusing scenarios arising from convoluted and confounding trends, we often assume that only complicated, multifaceted solutions will work. We think the weathered old knots we try to untangle require sophisticated fixes. But, this is usually not the case.

If you are facing an uncooperative beast of a scenario, layered with intense emotions, involving passionate people all tugging in different directions, remember my father’s advice. Keep it simple stupid (with all due respect).

Perhaps it’s time to apply these three KISSes:

Calm down. Notice when you are ramping up, thinking and moving and talking faster, tossing “solutions” at the problem without waiting to see if they work. Take a deep breath. Step back. Identify the actual problem. The mare wasn’t being obstinate. She was confused and afraid. Dad dealt with her fear by remaining calm himself. He dealt with her confusion by giving her only one thing to think about and react to at a time.

Work with the momentum rather than against it. Every problem has some sort of momentum to it. Notice it. Work with it rather than countering it head-on with your own force of will or personality or experience. Even when someone argues with you, notice the momentum of their frustration and work with it rather than puffing up and pushing directly against them.

Take small, simple steps. Do one thing at a time. Apply one solution at a time. And give it time to work. Look for the “loose brick” in the wall of bricks that you want to dismantle rather than plowing headlong into the center. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be.

Soon the problem will begin to budge, the brick will begin to move, the horse will relax and cooperate in her own self-interest. And, as the challenge abates and morphs into an opportunity, you won’t be so angry, frustrated, and tired that you miss the celebration.

The hunting trip was a success. We got a massive elk and I got a new relationship with the obstinate mare. Eventually even riding her became an exercise in working with, instead of against her. She didn’t flinch every time I came near. Ears forward, she would approach me, nuzzle my neck and wait while I saddled her up for the ride. She changed because I changed. Simple.

So, go out and buy ourself a bag of Hersey’s Kisses. Put them in a prominent spot where they can serve as a reminder to Keep it Simple, Solver. Something to think about.

If you are reading these Leadership Letters as they arrive in your email, and don’t want to wait for the next blog post, or if you want (a lot) more, check out my latest book, The 5 Disciplines of High Performance Teams here on Amazon

And, if you get tired of reading, you can follow some of my random observations, including this theme, on The Dr De Hicks Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts in iTunes or PodBean or Google Podcasts (and a bunch of other places, too.)

You’re Too Close!

My son Jonathan shouted at me the other day. I was looking over his shoulder while he tried to solve a problem in our motorcycle dealership.

That’s what he does. He solves complex problems. Some of them relate to motorcycles. Some of them have to do with people. Some of them are about people with motorcycles. He’s good at it. He’s also a great teacher so I find myself wanting to look over his shoulder while he works and peer into his mind while he thinks. It’s instructive, inspiring and usually entertaining.

“You’re too close!” he shouted. It startled me. I laughed and jumped back. Both reactions were what he wanted. It gave him room to work and think. We both giggled and the exclamation became our joke of the day.

The phrase stuck with me. I thought about the idea and when to use it in my own problem-solving pursuits. I wondered when stepping back, smiling and laughing might be the best thing to do. When is it the right time to get physical, mental, and emotional distance from a gnarly problem? And, what does it do for us?

Are you too close to a problem to solve it? Too close to see the opportunity? Too invested to make the next move? Too paralyzed with fear that it will be the wrong one?

How do I know? When I’m petting the fur off of a problem, and can’t think of much else, I’m too close. When I obsess about the challenge while eating cheese pizza, I’m too close. When the work turns into worry, invading even my daydreams, I’m too close. When I’m afraid and can’t move, I’m too close. When I listen to argue rather than to understand, I’m too close. When I focus on what I may lose rather than on what I could gain, I’m too close. When I care about comfort and security more than adventure and impact, I’m too close.

Perhaps you and I are alike. As you read that last paragraph, perhaps you thought of an intractable problem. You have been beating your head against the wall trying to figure out your next steps. Maybe it’s time to shout at yourself, “You’re too close!”

So, step back. Literally. Get away from the location of the problem (or, if the problem is a person or some people, take a break from them). Take a walk. Take a nap. Take a moment or a day. Step back. Not to worry or hurry; if the problem has been around for a while, it won’t magically go away while you step back for a hot minute. (That thought is both comforting and frustrating.) But, getting some distance brings surprising perspective.

Then, ask yourself what this problem gives you. I know, a strange question. But it will give you a lot, if you step back and think about it. The old Stoic wisdom is still true: The Obstacle isn’t in the way; it is the way. Because of this problem, you are forced to think anew, learn different skills, lean on different people, create new relationships, reinforce old ones. I’m serious about this. Actually write down the benefits arising because of this problem.

Next, put the challenge in a larger context. When we step back from anything, we see it as part of a bigger picture. We start to see patterns and trends. Take care to see the whole picture, not just the unpleasant parts. We cannot understand a problem (or an opportunity) until we understand the context in which it lives. Take your time with this step. Remember what you read 30 seconds ago: The challenge is not going anywhere just because you stepped back. I usually need the help of other people with this step, especially if I’m balled up in an emotional knot over it. I’ve learned to pick people who care more about me than they do about pissing me off. (Thank you Donnie and Jonathan and Katie…and Jeli, and Carol…and Lynn, and… I could go on.)

Finally, look for leverage. We can never merely think our way through a problem. It takes action. Look for something you can do (which usually begins with yourself) that, with a little effort yields outsized results. Get to work. Grab the “smooth handle” and do the work. Keep doing the work, even when at first the challenge doesn’t change. It may take time (it usually does) but soon, the challenge, and the sea in which it lives, will metamorphosize from an obstacle into an opportunity.

Stories! Man, do I have stories that illustrate this! Join me some day for a cigar and bourbon and I will regale you with several. I’m sure you have some too. All of them begin with the frustration arising from being too close to see.

Try it. Take a deep breath. Laugh. Take a day off. Expand your horizons. See IT in the larger context. Look for leverage. And, get back to work.

By the way, the Comedian/Philosopher Dave Chapelle deserves the credit for the phrase “You’re too close, man!” The 35 second spot in one of his early bits shows him listening to up close and personal feedback from Wyclef then shouting, “You’re too close, man!” while he chokes the guy. Hilarious. Try it. Or not. Your call.

The 5 Disciplines of Healthy Teams (Part 5 of 5)

By now your Team has practiced four of the 5 Disciplines of healthy and High Performing Teams. (See previous blog posts.) You’ve Shown Up by fulfilling your promises and keeping your head in the game, even when—especially when—it’s difficult. (The 1st Discipline). You’ve managed Your Impact on one another by unselfishly daring yourself and your Team Members to be great in everything they do. (The 2nd Discipline). Your entire Team dives in, choosing action over endless talk about action. You earn it. You are Authentic. (The 3rd Discipline).

Then, you got Results. You stuck with it, ruthlessly evaluating everything in light of attainment of the prize. And, you won! And it was a blast! Winning isn’t everything but it’s sure something! Every challenge, struggle, stress changes with hindsight following the win.

And, getting Results (the 4th Discipline) is awesome. The more often we get results, the more we expect to get Results. Even in setbacks, we expect to win. We love the pivot, love the next attempt, crave another try. It’s exhilarating!

That brings us to the 5th Discipline practiced by all High Performing Teams: They Have Fun! Wow, do they have fun! They laugh and tell stories of failures and flops. They recount surprises. They enjoy the wins along the way. It is obvious that they love what they do and who they get to do it with! To the onlooker, this is the most apparent of all the 5 Disciplines.

The 5th Discipline: Have Fun appears to be a natural outgrowth of action, but it is much more. It is a choice made before and during action. It is truly a Discipline. It springs from a core belief that the work itself is a privilege; that the obstacles are opportunities; that the grunt is a gift.

Making the grand and grimy work of achievement into a game all along the way to the win sets High Performing Teams apart from everyone else.

The long-studied science of play is fascinating and informs this Discipline. The Discipline of fun—of play, of turning work into a game—benefits everyone engaged in at least four ways:

First, those who play while they learn gain mastery much more quickly than those who toil in woeful misery. We’ve come to understand that our memory works best when laced with emotion. Positive emotion, like what is created when we have fun, activates regions of the brain responsible for creation and activation of long-term memory. Such memories are laced with vivid detail accurately capturing context and retaining it for years. By contrast, negative emotions (usually fear) capture and remember narrowly scoped detail and often lose the pre- and post-realities of context. (I know, there’s a lot to those last two sentences. Perhaps in a future blog post, I’ll expand on the idea.) Suffice it to say, if you’re having fun, you’ll learn more deeply, recall more readily and be able to use what you learned in a diverse set of situations. That, by the way, is what we call Judgement. People with good Judgement are invariably full of joy and humor as well.

Second, Teams that have fun while they work recover from failure much more quickly. The narrative of those who practice this 5th Discipline is always, “It will bounce! Get back in the game. Now!” They pivot so quickly, shaking off setbacks, that it’s a thing of beauty to watch.

Third, Teams that have fun while they work learn to trust one another more quickly, and more deeply. Trust, the ability to rely reflexively and depend on someone, is the thing that holds any human endeavor together. It’s the glue of life. It’s also the fuel. Because my Team relies on me, I work to be my best at all times. They deserve it even when I’m not feelin’ it.

Fourth, Teams that have fun celebrate small and large wins along the way. They pause, step back, and admire the thing of beauty they’ve created. Having fun both encourages and humbles. The high-fives, raised glasses and happy jokes inspire, direct, correct and empower.

Practicing this 5th Discipline bears fruit in many more ways. Shameless plug: grab my book (below) and you can go deeper with this idea.

Now that your team practices these 5 Disciplines, it will become a High Performing Team. You will create the future. You will build something that would be left buried in the soil of shoulda done that, or of coulda done that, or of “someone ought to…,” until the seed of opportunity dies. Your Team will not only change the future for some of us, it will also change you. Deeply.

I hope, with all my heart, that you will apply these 5 Disciplines with courage and tenacity. The people you serve deserve nothing less.

If you are reading these Leadership Letters as they arrive in your email, and can’t wait for the next blog post, or if you want (a lot) more detail about how to implement these 5 Disciplines in your Team, check out my latest book, The 5 Disciplines of High Performance Teams here on Amazon

And, if you get tired of reading, you can follow some of my random observations, including this theme, on The Dr De Hicks Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts in iTunes or PodBean or Google Podcasts (and a bunch of other places, too.)

The 5 Disciplines of Healthy Teams (Part 4 of 5)

Your team has practiced the 1st Discipline of High Performance Teams for a while and is getting traction. (See the previous 3 blog posts). You Show Up by a) fulfilling all of your commitments, and b) keeping your head in the game. You have come to understand the effect you have on one another and are starting to get good at the 2nd Discipline: Pay Attention to Your Impact on Each Other. You are starting to dare one another to be great. Good for you!

The 3rd Discipline, Be Authentic, is beginning to take hold, too. You crave action over talk. You listen well and are most curious when you are “in the arena” rather than merely talking about entering the fray. Direct experience has become the standard by which you function. You have little patience for Talkers but are drawn to Doers. The 3rd Discipline has unleashed you and your team. Together you just get s*#t done!

Now, it’s time to get the right things done, in the right way, at the right time. It’s time to get Results.

High Performance Teams are all about The 4th Discipline: They Get Results.

The ultimate test of the Team’s effectiveness lies in this simple truth: Did they get lasting Results? Teams exist to get Results where individuals cannot. Everything they do points to this fact. The other Disciplines are practiced so that the Team can achieve it’s purpose. While there are benefits attained from the practice of these first Disciplines, the reason they are practiced at all is ultimately so that they achieve lasting Results.

Short of such achievement, the Team is a failure; it is a humble, curious, enthusiastic, creative, dependable, compassionate, pathologically optimistic, and disciplined failure. (Read that again. Let it sink in.)

Practice of this 4th Discipline means at least these five things:

First, everyone is clear about the Result the Team has set out to achieve. They are clear about the grand—and the granular—details of their pursuit. They can see it, taste it, feel it before it exists. It invades their dreams and informs every decision.

Second, the Result matters to every Team Member. No one can be part of the Team who does not crave the Result.

Third, every decision, every response, every surprise, every pivot is evaluated against its ability to advance achievement of the Result. This evaluation is ruthless. No leaps in logic allowed. No emotional pleas for shining diversions. No impassioned excuses. No if-onlys. No time for the scenic route. A relentless focus on the Result purifies everything.

Fourth, this Discipline seeps into every corner of the enterprise. It eventually creates a result-oriented culture and workplace. Result-focused Teams spawn other Result-Oriented Teams. Where Results are not clear, someone soon asks, “What Result are we trying to achieve?” Movement stops, people lean forward in anticipation, until clarity is attained.

Fifth, even setbacks are evaluated in light of the desired Result. This Discipline prompts the Team to squeeze every ounce of value out of obstacles and failure so that the Result can be achieved more wisely. This Discipline turns frustrating failure into valuable tuition.

Winning Teams Keep on Winning.

For High Performance Teams, everything is about achieving the prize. As your Team gets Results, it unlocks a time-tested truth: Winning Teams Keep Winning. Teams that get results—that win, in their own way—keep winning.

[The World Champion Rugby Team: The All Blacks]

We’ve found several reasons for this “Winners Win” dynamic:

First, when we get Results, we are happier. It’s just more fun! Together we become more courageous to achieve the next win. Celebrations of the win quickly pivot to conversation about next opportunity.

Second, winning Teams stay engaged in their work longer. We don’t want to go home. We don’t want to quit. The magic that happens right after a win is palpable, and we don’t want it to end. We just hang around longer than losing Teams do.

Third, winning Teams get curious about what they can change to win again in a more significant way. The winners are more open to criticism than the losers. The winners are optimistic and wonder if slight changes can make the next moves more effective.

Fourth, winning Teams (and individual Team Members) have very different Inner Narrator scripts. Our self-talk is different from that of those who lose. We are less likely to punish ourselves for mistakes made along the way to achievement. Broadcast our inner thoughts, and you discover that we are kinder to ourselves than those who struggle and usually lose. And, we laugh. A lot.

Fifth, winning Teams create networks of other winning Teams. Doors are thrown open to us that are not opened for losing Teams. Winning Teams receive invitations; losing Teams do not.

Results matter. It may seem like a cruel joke, but it’s true: Winning Teams usually keep winning.

Make no mistake: Winning Teams create a cascade of small wins along the way to the big, visible wins. They deliberately work at progressively getting Results. They talk about Results all the time, keep score of them and celebrate progress, no matter how small. By contrast, losing Teams rarely keep score of anything but that one, big, final, lagging outcome. They see themselves as losing more than winning. The more they lose, the bigger the eventual win needs to be to compensate their many small losses along the way.

Winning Teams have achieved Results worth celebrating. In the next Leadership Letter, I will describe the 5th Discipline: Celebrate! This is a surprisingly important Discipline. It does not happen naturally, but it is essential.

If you are reading these Leadership Letters as they arrive in your email, and can’t wait for the next blog post to put it all together, or if you want (a lot) more detail about how to implement these 5 Disciplines in your Team, check out my latest book, The 5 Disciplines of High Performance Teams here on Amazon

And, if you get tired of reading, you can follow some of my random observations, including this theme, on The Dr De Hicks Podcast Available on Apple Podcasts in iTunes or PodBean or Google Podcasts (and a bunch of other places, too.)

The 5 Disciplines of Healthy Teams (Part 3 of 5)

Much of our world is built on a desire to appear differently than we are. While I am grateful for combs, clothes and cologne that gracefully cover reality, I crave authenticity where it matters. There’s something pure and potent about it. Whether experiencing the genuine article in a pour of bourbon, a pull on a Nicaraguan cigar, or (more importantly) a perspective of a friend, I am never smaller for the encounter.

Authenticity has become a buzz-word of late. In every newscast, new product pitch, and nutritional superfood, it is proclaimed by both the genuine and fake. The constant and increasing drumbeat of these claims only serves to highlight our healthy underlying appetite for authenticity. We need it.

We cannot accomplish anything worth celebrating with anyone worthwhile without it.

Great Teams know the value of authenticity. They practice the 3rd Discipline of High Performance Teams: They are Authentic.

Authenticity in High Performance Teams grows out of direct experience. It does not come from distant study or second-hand reports. Therefore, direct experience results in joyful, humble curiosity within great teams and yields huge wins.

To authentically love the outcome or mission, the team must directly experience and enjoy the work that goes into accomplishing the mission. All of that work, including the grand and the granular. If the team is about influencing public policy so that ex-offenders can pursue employment unfettered by archaic laws, then they must authentically appreciate talking with legislators in their state. They must genuinely thrive on engaging angry and disenfranchised ex-offenders who struggle valiantly to make a living.

If a team is set about creating the best online marketing presence, they must genuinely appreciate candid feedback about the quality of their work. If a team is about building a national micro-brew brand, they must actually like beer. Moreover, they must be able to find a real reward in scrubbing the fermenters after every batch. (I asked the tour-guide of a micro-brewery which beer she preferred. She said, “Oh, I don’t drink beer.” An interesting hire, to say the least. I suspect she won’t be long for that job.)

People are often remarkably adept at spotting gaps between the walk and the talk: A man at the gym gives fitness advice but is never seen working out; a physician with dirty fingernails; a management consultant who has never managed; a politician who doesn’t vote; a driver of a clean Jeep. All of these make us pause. We suspect inauthenticity and withhold our trust, even just a little. This makes for weak ties and poor performance in teams.

High Performance Teams, building on the 1st and 2nd Disciplines (Show Up and Pay Attention to My Impact) practice the 3rd Discipline: Be Authentic with zeal. They seek authenticity in everything they say and do. Their direct experience informs their direct conversations. Their decisions are based in reality rather than theory. They shun the indirectness and inauthenticity of rumor and gossip. When presented with the choice between Work and Books About Work, they always choose Work. They plan while they implement. They learn by doing. They know that sidelines and grandstands are for others. They exist to enter the fray, not to study it.

Practicing this 3rd Discipline means at least five things:

First, it means that we value doing over talking, trying over planning, risk over security. We think while we move.

Second, it means that we shun Talkers and are drawn to Doers.

Third, we hide nothing from our Team Members. We enter the arena daily and bring our weariness, fears, and weaknesses with us. We have no place for the pretense of position or politics.

Fourth, we practice humility. We are utterly confident in our mission, in the wisdom of others who have gone before us, in our Team. At the same time, we are voraciously curious. We have a boundless appetite to know how things really are. Our genuine, respectful curiosity prompts us to engage. We listen, ask questions of others about mental models that shape experiences, and can’t wait to dive in. Our bruises, scars, awards, and patches merely serve to fuel the need for more direct experience. We never fully arrive, never claim we’ve paid our dues, never rest on our laurels.

Fifth, we know the difference between reasons and excuses. And, we have no tolerance for excuses. I’m late because there was an eight car pile up on the freeway is a reason. I’m late because there was a lot of traffic is an excuse. I can’t engage because I have a migraine is a reason. I have a (hangover induced) headache is an excuse.

Action is the fertilizer and the fruit for the tree of Authenticity. Action in the face of Resistance (with gratitude to Steven Pressfield’s books , The War of Art, Do the Work, Turning Pro.) creates Authenticity. Resistance—an ever-present force aligned against our success—can only be overcome through action. Teams cannot merely ponder their way to success. This 3rd Discipline drives out Resistance and, along with it, inauthenticity, replacing it with the adventure of direct experience. This Discipline dramatically transforms conflicts, conversations, and celebrations. It’s the stuff of life!

Those Authentic Souls who choose adventure over books about adventure are the ones who, when banded together with other like-purposed people, change the world. This is not hyperbole. They get Results. Getting Results is the 4th Discipline practiced by every High Performance Team. More about that in the next blog post.

If you are reading these Letters as they arrive in your email, and can’t wait for 2 more blog posts to put it all together, or if you want more detail about how to implement these 5 Disciplines in your Team, check out my latest book, The 5 Disciplines of High Performance Teams here on Amazon

And, if you get tired of reading, you can follow some of my random observations, including this theme, on The Dr De Hicks Podcast Available on Apple Podcasts in iTunes or PodBean or Google Podcasts (and a bunch of other places, too.)

Something to think about.

The 5 Disciplines of Healthy Teams (Part 2 of 5)

Everyone who chooses to be part of a team wants their experience to be an awesome one. I know I do. It’s what we expect when we work together to do big things.

We call teams that achieve greatness High Performance Teams. Each of them we have studied practiced 5 Disciplines that created their success. These 5 Disciplines worked together to form a cohesive set of expected behaviors resulting in extraordinary outcomes.

Since the the 5 Disciplines are behavioral, even casual observers can see them in practice. Since they are disciplines, they are practiced all the time, regardless of mood.

In my previous Leadership Letter, you learned The 1st Discipline is the foundation for the others. You also learned that the Discipline of Showing Up means two things: It means we fulfill every promise, regardless of the cost, and it means that every Team Member is expected to keep their head in the game—they are expected to be focused and mentally present regardless of difficulty or distractions.

As the 1st Discipline of Showing Up gains traction and becomes the norm, our impact on others in the team grows. In High Performance Teams we learn that we have a robust effect on one another. Therefore, we are expected to use it to dare one another to be great. Our disciplined words and actions inspire one another to attain results together that are impossible to achieve alone. We dare one another to move from Amateur to Pro ranks.

All High Performance Teams practice the 2nd Discipline: Pay Attention to Your Impact on one another. Since each Team Member has earned a place of trust and respect through the practice of the 1st Discipline, we are now expected to have a relentlessly positive effect on others in the group.

Schwarzenegger knew that even bodybuilding is a team sport and relied on others to relentlessly dare him to be better.

In practice, this 2nd Discipline means we unselfishly manage personal impulses and emotions. We consider words and deeds, responses and reactions, in light of their effect on the Team. Everyone is expected to have a calculated and positive impact on others at all times, provoking one another to be better with every interaction. We become mirrors for each other, accurately reflecting impacts of behaviors within the Team. We never let an important thing go unsaid, but always do so in a way that strengthens resolve and fuels courage. Our attentiveness to the effect we have on others proves our commitment to the Team’s success.

Watching a Team practice this 2nd Discipline is an experience unto itself. To the outsider, direct communication, undergirded by unselfish commitment to a worthy goal, can seem blunt or harsh. But to the Team Members, it is inspiring, exhilarating. It is one of the transformational benefits that accrue like compound interest to High Performing Team Members’ bank account of life. My Team has consistently (often uncomfortably) dared me to be better than I thought I could be. And they were right.

If you and I are to practice this 2nd Discipline, we will discover at least three principles:

First, we learn that we always have an impact on our Team. Always. It never shuts off. That impact either encourages or discourages better performance. It is sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, but it is never neutral or passive.

Second, it means that our intentions must match our actions. We cannot “mean well” and disregard the dent in courage our self-absorbed behavior creates in the Team.

On a side note: All High Performance Teams are comprised of people whose neurology operates just like that of every other human on the planet: We feel first and think second. The non-verbal, emotional brain is hundreds of times faster than is our verbal, logical, and ordered brain. In a flash, my thoughtless and rude behavior distracts and discourages others. Conversely, when intentions, words and deeds are aimed at our purpose rather than my own comfort or security, they dare my Team to accomplish the impossible.

Third, it means that we must act unselfishly. Always. We always put the needs of the Team, in it’s pursuit of the higher goal, above our own needs. Selfishness, even on a small scale, leads to exclusion from the Team. It will not be tolerated by High Performance Teams.

We have also noticed that most groups eventually settle on the level of performance, work ethic, attitudes, and habits of the lowest performer of the group. This is known as the Common Denominator Effect and it’s likely that you have experienced it. Why should you break a sweat if your team member isn’t? Why should you show up early, if everyone waits to engage until Larry Latetowork eventually arrives? It’s natural to think that way.

But, this is not true of disciplined High Performance Teams. This observation may be the most significant one in our studies. They use this 2nd Discipline to reverse the Common Denominator Effect making the highest performer the benchmark. They do not use the lowest performer at any task or in any arena as an excuse to underperformance in others. Rather, they look at the highest performers and realize that there are no excuses for slacking. If Janet can show up early and smile through adversity, so can I. If Daniel can remain engaged when he is discouraged, so can I. If Andy can power through boredom, so can I.

After a short time practicing the 1st and 2nd Disciplines, Teams can shift into another phase of disciplined work. In the next Leadership Letter I will identify the 3rd Discipline: Be Authentic. When the first two Disciplines become the norm, the Team earns the right to practice deep authenticity with one another and, from that practice, everything changes. But, before you read the next blog post, think about the two or three most rewarding and enduring relationships you have. Notice that they are all authentic.

If you are reading these posts as they come out, and can’t wait for 3 more blog posts to put it all together, or if you want more detail about how to implement these 5 Disciplines in your Team, check out my latest book, The 5 Disciplines of High Performance Teams here on Amazon

And, if you get tired of reading, you can follow some of my random observations, including this theme, on The Dr De Hicks Podcast Available on Apple Podcasts in iTunes or PodBean or Google Podcasts (and a bunch of other places, too.)

Something to think about.

The 5 Disciplines of Healthy Teams (Part 1 of 5)

Are you a disciplined person? Do your friends, family and coworkers think of you that way? Do you think of yourself as the best version of you that you can be—the result of careful disciplines? It is worth thinking about. It’s more than a “be all you can be” slogan.

Last week, in a moment of quiet frustration, a member of one of my teams said, “Damn, I never want to be only 90% of what I can be!” It struck me that some people would be ecstatic if they only occasionally—and briefly—sprinted to that 90% level before slumping, exhausted, back into their easy chair. Some folks are quite content living at 35% of what they could be, sipping on other people’s success. I don’t intend for that to be as mean-spirited as it sounds. It’s just that, to a surprising degree, we are in control of whether we are “only 90%” of what we could be. We are in control of our contentment with only 35%, too, while wondering if our potential, especially in service of a great purpose, could be staggering.

Effective people’s lives are not the result of happy accidents. They are the sum of their habits and disciplines.

They know that nothing of enduring importance happens in their lives accidentally. It is, rather, mostly the result of carefully crafted habits and disciplines. They also know that nothing transformational arises from the individual alone. It is always the fruit of the work of a small group of like-minded, similarly disciplined people working together, relentlessly focused on a prize beyond themselves. Everyone who has accomplished great things has done so as member of a small group of disciplined people in pursuit of fully realized potential. These people all been part of a Team.

As much as I want to push the bounds of my potential personally, I have a greater need to be a part of a Team that does what seems impossible. Perhaps you do, too.

Are you are energized at the thought of creating, leading or being part of a small group of people that rocks the world?

If, as individuals, we are the sum of our habits and disciplines, then Teams are, too. Every Team we have studied works from an underlying structure of disciplines, invisible to outsiders, that create their visible successes—or failures.

What are those underlying disciplines every transformational High Performance Team practices that set them up for impact?

We have studied high performing Teams in dozens of professions for years and uncovered 5 Disciplines they all practice. These Disciplines are implemented in order, beginning with the first one as the foundation. When they are good at one, they move to the next, and so on, until they’ve mastered all 5 Disciplines.

The 1st Discipline of High Performance Teams: Show Up. This discipline means two things. It means that individual Team Members fulfill their promises. They show up when they say they will. They meet deadlines. They realize that the rest of the Team depends on them and that if they do not fulfill their promises, even (perhaps especially) the small ones, the Team suffers. Showing Up becomes their standard rather than a goal.

Standards are described with absolute terms like “always” or “100 percent of the time.” They say, “I will” rather than, “I’ll try.” Goals, by comparison, are described with incremental terms like, “almost” or “nearly” or “usually.” When we talk about goals, we say, “I’ll try to reach it.” By contrast, Teams treat the discipline of Showing Up as a standard. It means “I will fulfill my commitment to you.”

This 1st Discipline also means that I will Show Up mentally. I will always have my head in the game. I will listen, engage, put my phone down, fight distractions and be right here, right now, for as long as it takes. Once I’m here—fulfilling my promises—I am mentally and emotionally here, too. I am present. This is by far the most difficult of the 5 Disciplines to practice, but it is the bedrock upon which the other Disciplines are built. If I don’t Show Up, the others are impossible to practice.

High Performance Teams Members expect this of one another. They prod each other when one of their crew is “not here” mentally. They demand that they “get their head in the game,” regardless of the intensity of life’s distractions, because they know success is accelerated when this discipline is practiced. They do not waiver in this expectation.

Every High Performance Team learns that this 1st Discipline is the key that unlocks performance. It is the daily price of admission. When a new (or seasoned) Team Member fails at it, they soon forfeit their place in the group. It may seem harsh, but without a relentless practice of this 1st Discipline, no group has ever attained greatness.

Watch yourself, and your Teams this week. Notice the effect when promises are fulfilled and when you show up mentally. In contrast, notice the effect when you, or someone else, fails at this 1st Discipline. It will be enlightening.

Next week’s Leadership Letter will describe The 2nd Discipline: Paying Attention. Once The 1st Discipline becomes the norm, all High Performing Teams then move on to practicing the 2nd Discipline. Without the 1st, practicing the 2nd is impossible.

If you can’t wait for 4 more weeks to put it all together, or if you want more detail about how to implement these 5 Disciplines in your Team, check out my latest book, The 5 Disciplines of High Performance Teams here on Amazon.

And, if you get tired of reading, you can follow some of my random observations on The Dr De Hicks Podcast Available on Apple Podcasts in iTunes or PodBean or Google Podcasts (and a bunch of other places, too.)

Something to think about.

Gee, You’re Dumb!

Remember that obnoxious friend in 6th Grade? “Look up! Look down! Look at my thumb! Gee, you’re dumb!” I fell for it a few times prompting screeches of mockery. Bradly, my on-again-off-again friend, delighted in comparing all of us in the squad to one another. In his educated opinion, I was the most gullible. Apparently, the reflexive look at his stubby thumb trust in my face also meant I was the dumbest of all. I remember looking around and wondering if I was even dumber than Randy, the newest to the group. He ate glue.

Bradly’s implicit comparison of me to Randy Glueater, left me feeling a little smaller, a little dumber.

Perhaps as an adult you’ve been prodded into comparing yourself to others, too. You have scrolled through InstaGram, strolled through a conference, studied the success of others in your position, and found yourself comparing your progress to theirs. Your skills to theirs. Your effectiveness to theirs. Wondering why your results don’t match up. Quietly wondering if you don’t match up.

It’s natural to compare ourselves to others. In the 1950s psychologist Leon Festinger suggested that we have an innate drive to evaluate ourselves in comparison to other people. He described Upward Comparison as the habit of evaluating oneself in light of people who are much further along in their experience or skills than we are. He identified Downward Comparison as the habit of evaluating oneself against the performance of those who are beginners, relative to us. Neither of these comparisons, he suggested in his later work, resulted in meaningful, sustained change. Most of the time such comparisons were found to be subtly demotivating. They eventually create a garden of self doubt from which spring weeds of judgemental and moralistic criticism. (Read that again.)

Moreover, as multiple psychological studies have confirmed, those who compare themselves to others are worse off. As a group, they experience higher levels of discouragement, depression, anger, and even weight gain. One study even found spikes in cortisol and blood pressure, sustained for nearly two hours, following even a few minutes of social comparison of any sort.

While it may be “natural” to compare ourselves to others, it is not helpful. Take note over the next few days of how often you do it. Notice how you feel afterwards. Do you actually change any behaviors? If you do, how long do those changes last?

Comparing ourselves to others is a futile exercise and here are at least six reasons why:

One: We don’t have all the information. When making comparisons, we rarely know the whole picture. Often, we use snapshots carefully curated by the person we are observing. This utterly invalidates the evaluation. But, it sure doesn’t feel invalid, right?

Two: We don’t have the same values, as they have, especially when we are under pressure. Every waking moment, we balance competing values and needs. In a flash we choose between comfort and adventure, between risk and security, between openness and being liked, or between service and selfishness. The person with whom we compare ourselves may choose adventure when we choose comfort, or may choose service when we would rather sit and watch South Park. A thousand of those little choices, and PRESTO!, different results—comparison invalidated.

Three: We don’t have the same timelines. They started sooner, worked longer, stayed in the saddle when they were sore. And, their timelines are invisible to us.

Four: They don’t have the same goals. ‘Nuf said, right?

Five: We don’t have the same people around us. Our five closest partners in life are not their five closest partners. We have cheerleaders or “jeer-leaders” surrounding us. Our people are “YES, and” people, or they are “It’ll never work” people. (Insert Tigger or Eeyore’s voices.) Much has been written about this topic. No one starts alone. No one arrives alone. In the things that matter in life, you and I are very similar to those we love. Our level of drive, our humor, our interests, our physical fitness, our curiosity, our openness and respect for others, to name a few characteristics, are sharpened and fueled by those around us. From Teddy Roosevelt to Kevin Hart, this is a profound truth.

Six: We don’t know the details of what it took them to get where they are. Surface comparisons never come with a comprehensive “how-to” or “how I got here” guides. I can’t read a book by Seth Godin (or, all of his books) and know how he actually got where he is. Even after reading nearly everything Colin Powell has written, I still do not know what it took to achieve the impact he has attained.

What is more “natural” is not social comparison, but the mind’s need to compare at all times. Our brains are phenomenal at comparison. The grass is longer, the weather is nicer, the carpet is dirtier, the food is hotter, the pencil is duller, the comedian is funnier, than the last time we observed them. My hair is longer, my knees hurt more—and on, and on, and on. It’s just the way that lump of neurons under our dome works. It’s unending and marvelous, if directed.

So, if comparing is in our neurons, how can we use it to our advantage? Here are three comparisons that work well:

First: Compare yourself today to yourself yesterday (or last week). And, do so using objective rather than subjective measurements. That means we use numbers. Yesterday: 3; today: 4. Here’s a hint: How you feel is not objective. Our emotions are a thing, but they are not objective. In almost every instance our emotions, as powerful as they may be, are the lagging indicators, not the leading indicators, of reality.

Second: Compare using helpful and objective standards. Standards are specific, objective, and completely within our control. Achieving goals, on the other hand, is partially within our control. Standards are structured as “never” or “always.”

Third: Compare only in arenas that actually matter. I’ll assume you already know the few things in life that really matter. If not, you will be a dry leaf blowing in the wind, completely influenced by people and trends that have little to do with you.

So, my friend, diligently replace your reflexive comparisons to other people with disciplined comparisons that energize and motivate you rather than ones that leave you untethered and blown about, discouraged and irritable. This practice will become a habit that will set you free.

By the way, Randy Glueater went on to become the President of a respected University in California and is widely regarded as one of the most influential thinkers in higher education. Maybe I was dumber than Randy. Oh, well.

And, if you get tired of reading, you can follow some of my random observations on The Dr De Hicks Podcast available on Apple Podcasts in iTunes or PodBean or Google Podcasts (and a bunch of other places, too.)