The Most Dangerous Way to Measure Success

Only you know if you’re accomplishing who you set out to be. Stop looking around at silvery glimpses of other people’s lives and judging yourself. Trust me, you don’t know the whole story. We never can. Define success on your own terms and stick to it.

“A man should look for what is, and not for what he
thinks should be.”
~ Albert Einstein

Oh, there’s big inspiration in success and possibility, but be sure it resonates with your life strategy. It’s easy to measure a single dimension of success by trophies and other trappings. Great leaders and great human beings set their own benchmarks of success.

Laura’s Story

“I just love coming to the National Speakers Association convention, but I had to stop coming for a while.”

I was sure my new friend, Laura, (not her real name) was going to tell me about tight finances, a booked business calendar, or kid’s soccer schedules.

Instead Laura confided:

“Don’t get me wrong. The convention has always been amazing. The trouble is, I would be totally happy before I came. I loved my life. I had a strong business which I juggled well with the priority of raising my children. But then I would come to the convention and see how much everyone else was doing to build their speaking career, and I would get depressed thinking of all the things I should be doing.  For a while it was just easier to stay away.”

“How do you feel about your choices now?” I asked. Laura lit up:

“Fantastic, my kids are all good human beings doing well in the world. I was able to involve them in some of my travel as I built the business, and also to be around. I built a strong foundation for my career and now that the kids are older, I’m making more discretionary money which we’re using for big family vacations with our grown kids. They want to hang out with us. I feel really good about my choices. I have no regrets.”

We talked about motherhood and values, and raising children deliberately (and saving money for vacations). I couldn’t resist: “You might really enjoy my e-book on developing leadership in kids…it’s free.

“Want me to send you a copy?”

“No way! She replied.”

Now I was a bit puzzled, surely she would resonate.

Laura shared matter of factly:

“Every time I read a book like that I feel I SHOULD have written it, and it makes me sad.”

I imagine more than a few folks have told her she SHOULD write a book.The most dangerous “shoulds” were still lingering inside her.

The Power of Shoulds

Shoulds are powerful and dangerous. “Should haves” are an energy-sucking waste of time. Be sure your shoulds are your own. If they won’t shut up, turn your “should haves” into concrete plans.

How To Ensure Your Greatest Fears Come True

After a hectic but fun Saturday morning of speaking on a Lead Change panel and schlepping my son to baseball practice and art lessons, Sebastian and I decided to try out the newish Ethiopian restaurant for lunch.

“Every man, through fear, mugs his aspiration a dozen times a day.”
~ Brendan Francis

The place wasn’t crowded and the engaging owner did the cooking, waiting, and busing himself. The food was amazing. I asked how long he had been in business (a year), and admitted that I had never realized the place was there. We were politely interrupted by a woman asking to see the dessert menu.

“Oh no, we don’t carry desserts. I fear not enough people will want them. Once we really get things going, I’ll feel confident to expand the menu.”

As he came back to our table,Sebastian 8-years old, apparently now my Chief Marketing Officer, offered:

“You know, I think my mommy might really be able to help you with your business (I’m now searching for a menu to duck behind). She knows a lot about leadership and making money. You see she…”

The fantastic chef shared his story: “I’m a really good cook. My friends all told me I should open a restaurant. I’m taking a cautious approach. I know this location is not ideal (it’s really tucked away), but I didn’t want to invest much in location, until I knew for sure it would be a success. I want to attract a crowd, but it’s hard.”

He must have seen me glance around (I’ve never been accused of having a poker face).

“Yeah, I didn’t want to invest too much in decor to start either. Same philosophy. Better to play it safe, it might not work out. Once I have more customers, I’ll make the place more attractive. I have a vision.”

I had already picked up a take-out menu, because I couldn’t imagine convincing my husband this was a great place for romantic dining so I asked, “have you ever considered letting your customers bring their own wine at dinner?” (several really successful BYOBs are within a 5 mile radius) in similar rustic locations.

“Oh no. The insurance would be too much, you know and there’s the fear that a fight could break out.”

Okay, I don’t know about you, but the last fear on my mind when I plan for an evening of romantic ethnic dining (in a Suburban area) is a brawl. His fears were driving his business plan. A coat of paint, some sorbet in the freezer it wouldn’t take much. What was he really afraid of?

When Fear Takes Control

Fear based thinking happens in big business too:

  • “Let’s be like Zappos and truly empower our customer service reps to do what’s right for the customer. BUT if they need to give a credit over ten bucks they need to bring in a supervisor.”
  • “Forbes and Fast Company have great ideas about leadership. Joe has fantastic business results, and everyone wants to work for him, but, his approach is still unconventional for our culture. Not sure he’ll play that well in the board room, better promote the guy that leads like us.”
  • “Sure access to social media at work would help our employees promote our company, BUT what if they say something stupid?”
  • “I have a great idea, but what if my boss hates it? Better to lay low and do what she thinks is best.”

Don’t let fear stop your greatness. We need your creative cooking in our neck of the woods.

6 Ways To Encourage Persistence (Without Crushing Your Team)

“Persist through CRAP.Criticism, Rejection, Assholes, and Pressure.”

Persistence– the common denominator of success. Dissect the stories of highly successful people across any context: relentless commitment, radical hours, laser focus, tremendous sacrifice. I’m always inspired by the stories of those who’ve “made it.” Bottom line, highly successful people have an abnormal commitment to their vision (hear from Michael Phelps, Will Smith and others in this short video. Cliff’s notes: work your butt off and be relentlessly persistent.
You can’t expect your entire team to care that much or live like that. But, connecting your team to a powerful vision and encouraging desire to achieve it, is vital when developing your people.

Teach the power of persistence.

 6 Ways to Encourage Persistence

  1. Model Obsession – I’ve been called a “maniac” and “obsessed” more than once in my quest to develop great leaders and winning organizations.

    I get what Phelps and others say in the above video. There’s truth to Will Smith’s confession, “I’ve never seen myself as particularly talented. Where I excel is a ridiculously, sickening work ethic. The person that works the hardest wins.”

    Model persistence to your vision. Be a positive maniac for what you believe in. Your energy will inspire.

  2. Empathize to Energize – If they’re frustrated and disappointed chances are you are too. Many leaders pile on with additional pressure. I’ve NEVER seen that help.

    A better choice is to acknowledge your feelings, and work from there. “I know we both wanted this project to be successful, and it’s not going the way we want. I understand your frustration. I’m feeling it too. Let’s brainstorm the best solution from here.

  3. Leverage Success – When someone’s down it easy to remember all the other bad times. Help them to recall their prior successes.

    Mine past wins to inspire future solutions.

  4. Break Down Frustration – Frustrated feels overwhelming. There’s nothing more intimidating that a stack of against you odds. Help them break down the problem into attainable solutions. Celebrate the small wins.
  5. Outline Options – Stuck sucks. See beyond closed doors. Ask questions to identify options. Options empower and inspire perseverance.
  6. Encourage Relationships – Most frustration and failure involves relationship breakdowns. Encourage stakeholdering and communication. Help them identify potential supporters. If there’s a real jerk involved, work a squeeze play by surrounding him with supporters of your idea.

Shortcuts on the Long Road to Success

Are there really “shortcuts” to success?

That’s what I asked Mark Hopkins, author of Shortcut to Prosperity: 10 Entrepeneruial Habits and a Roadmap for an Exceptional Career.
His “shortcuts” seemed to me more like habits… that require a lot of work– worthwhile work. He shared,

“You’re right, figuring out what prosperity means to you and achieving it IS a lot of work. The shortcut is in understanding the common set of behaviors that prosperous people have figured out are critical to success. Every one of the people whose stories I write about feels lucky to have discovered (mostly through trial and error) what worked and they are all eager to illuminate the path for others. They know it’s not a zero sum game.”

The Prosperity Cycle

My favorite part of his book was his concept of the “prosperity cycle.” The cycle begins with either a “compelling personal hardship” or a “compelling personal vision” that motivates a decision to “do something.” From there the habits kick in, the winning begins, and confidence improves… which leads to more vision…
I asked him to elaborate. “You see two main starting points of the prosperity cycle, personal hardship and creating a compelling personal vision. Are both equally powerful triggers to “do something?”

The short answer is ‘yes’, hardship and a compelling personal vision can be equally powerful motivators. The longer answer is that, unfortunately, hardship is the more common motivator. Some of us have experienced more graphic hardship than others, but every one of us has had some very unfair life experiences. The only question we have to answer is “How am I going to respond to it?”. You can try to bury the memory of hardship or you can get mad as heck and decide to use it to fuel a change. In the book I share some stories of amazing achievement that was motivated by hardship.
The more infrequent, but in my opinion, more interesting motivator of change is when someone takes the time to think deeply about what they really want—what prosperity means to them—and paints a vivid picture of what that looks like. It’s hard to give up on something that you have taken the time to imagine achieving and that you really, really want. The magic of the prosperity cycle is that it usually starts small with a relatively simple change like doing what it takes to lose the ten pounds that you want to lose. But through successive cycles (wins) it can grow to encompass something much larger—like gaining the confidence to do what it takes to go in a new career direction or even to start your own company.

Mark’s Favorite

Mark shares, 10 “shortcuts,” so, looking for more shortcuts, I asked him which was “most vital and why?”

If someone said that they only had time to investigate one of the shortcuts, I would suggest they learn about Creative Tension (Shortcut 4). It is a powerful force first described by an MIT professor named Peter Senge. In short, it is the transformational power that you can tap into when you take the time to do an honest assessment of your Current Reality (your current life examined in its multiple dimensions) and compare it to the life of your dreams (your life as it would like it to be in everything from relationships to community to what you do for a living)

Tips for the Let’s Grow Leaders Community

I asked him for some final tips for the Let’s Grow Leaders Community.

The world of work is changing so fast. What does it take to be a “hot commodity” in today’s world? 

That’s easy—deep insight and knowledge. The pace of change in the world has only reinforced something that has always been true, that leaders, managers, and most importantly, consumers are drawn to the person who has the ability to produce a better solution to their problem. And the best solutions come from those with the deepest knowledge and insight. The way to become a hot commodity is to leverage your natural curiosity to effortlessly invest the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell says (and I heartily agree) it takes to get to the point that you have a differentiating level of knowledge. After that, it’s just a matter of finding the right place to do what you love.

I resonate with Mark and his perspective. He “skips to work” and teaches others to do so. As you know, I’m not selling this book… just sharing insights. In fact you can check it out on your own and download the first chapter of Shortcut to Prosperity here for free.

About Mark Hopkins

Mark Hopkins earned engineering degrees from Cornell and Stanford and then spent the next twenty-five years deciphering the factors that make some people prosperous, successful and happy. After building a leadership career with companies like Hewlett Packard and Emerson Electric, Hopkins founded Peak Industries, a medical device contract manufacturer, which he grew to $75 million and later sold to Delphi. He then founded Crescendo Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and Catalyst, a private foundation supporting Colorado-based nonprofits and micro-lending in the developing world. He is a member of the Chief Executives Organization, a partner in Social Venture Partners’ Boulder-chapter, and is on the board of governors for Opportunity International. He has led YPO Global Leadership Workshops around the world.

Cheer in the Next Gear: How to Make Your Support Count

Each time a cyclist peddled past our corner at the Ironman triathlon , the woman sitting next to me on the curb would clang her large cowbell. No words. No sign of emotion. This went on for hours. It was almost a Pavlovian response. See bike, ring bell. She was committed. She never missed an athlete. For whom was her bell tolling? Why was this helpful?

In contrast, my husband Marcus is my cheering hero. I have run several marathons by his side, and watched him as he cheers from the inside of the race; looking to encourage anyone running behind, ahead or beside him. His cheers go something like this:

“Hey cheese head!” (quick caveat here, this greeting works best when the guy you are approaching is wearing a large styrofoam 3 cornered cheese hat). How’s it going? I’ve been watching you run and you really seem like you’re feeling strong. Have you run marathons before? What time are you going for? Oh yeah, you’re right on pace. YOU’VE GOT THIS!

He cheers the same way off the asphalt.

As leaders, how we cheer for our teams matters. When cheering is too general or lacks sincerity it can do more harm than good. It’s discounted at best, and can diminish a leader’s credibility.

How to CHEER with Impact

Whether your are cheering with a microphone in a large team context, or are encouraging someone by their side, there are specific ways to ensure your cheering is helpful.

Confidence

Communicate your sincere confidence in the person or team’s ability to achieve the desired goal

Honor

Share why you know they can win. Honor specific accomplishments or characteristics that communicate your confidence and build theirs

Energy

Tap into what is energizing them about this goal, breathe your energy into that place

Emotion

Draw on your own experiences to create an emotional connection

Rejoicing

Celebrate what they’ve accomplished so far and rejoice in their wins

Post-Mortem of Success: Questions that Drive Sustained Results

Most great project managers know that it’s important to do a post-mortem after any major undertaking. In my experience, a post-mortem is much more likely to occur when something went terribly wrong. I have heard (and said) in the heat of frustration, “we just need to get through this now, but afterwards we need a very careful post-mortem.”

In this funny and insightful post, Lee Cash, shares the challenges with a traditional post-mortem and how to overcome some of them, The postmortem: what it is and how to survive one.

Postmortem: noun:

  1. An examination and dissection of a dead body to determine cause of death or the changes produced by disease
  2. Discussion of an event after it has occurred
  3. A blame fest where, if you’re not careful, you get attributed with everything that’s wrong in the world

In essence, post-mortems are an attempt to review a recent calamity that has befallen the business with the noble intention of isolating the offending causes and making sure they never happen again. The practice nearly always takes the format of a face-to-face meeting (if possible) and involves all of the key players who had a role in the “hiccup”, and hence why you’re all now sitting in a room waiting for the fireworks to happen.

The post-mortem seems less urgent after an over-whelming success. Most of us just celebrate, and then merrily race off to fight our next crises, or build our next remedial action plan.

Why Do a Post-Mortem of Success?

I recently had a celebratory conversation with a leader who was experiencing some fantastic results after months of challenges and struggling metrics. This was turnaround at it’s finest. I was delighted with the progress and wanted to recognize him. We did all that and then, I asked, “what is working and why?”
That’s where we got stumped.
He had theories, I had theories the truth is, so many action plans and efforts had been applied to the problem, we were unsure of which were contributing to the solution.
A bit scary was it the entire cocktail?
How do we isolate the variables?
How would we sustain the progress if we didn’t understand what had worked?
How could the lessons be applied to other areas of the business if we didn’t understand them?

How to Approach a Success Post-Mortem

We decided a deliberate approach was in order. Yup, I ended that celebratory meeting by giving the guy more work. Why, because I believe in the long-run it will save everyone time.

He’s spending time…

  • considering and discussing. what were the expected outcomes of the various interventions?
  • observing: what behaviors have actually changed?
  • measuring: doing deeper dives into the analytics to look for patterns of improvement
  • listening: to folks about what feels better now and why?

Taking the time to understand what is working may be even more vital than learning from our failures.