Posts Tagged ‘Verne Harnish’

In meetings, John D. Rockerfeller would sit and not say anything.  Many times he would appear to be asleep.  However when he did speak, it was always a question.  It was a question that would break the status quo of the discussion and bring out new viewpoints on a challenge.  Michael Dell doesn’t speak much in meetings, but when he does it is almost always a question.

As a business school professor I teach by asking questions.  Verne Harnish says “we are good at finding answers to questions, leaders find the right questions”.

Nobody knows as much as Everybody

Business regularly promote the best performer to be team leader.  The top salesman becomes sales manager.  The top programmer becomes team lead.  The top engineer becomes operations manager.

The previous strength of the individual becomes their greatest weakness as a leader.

They know they were the best, so they have the best answers.  When they feel a little threatened in the new role, they stop asking questions.   They diminish the impact of those around them.

Nobody knows as much as everybody.  Even if I were to be technically the smartest person in the room, the combined capacity of others will be more powerful.  We ask questions when we are humble.  Liz Wiseman, author of “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter”, says we ask good questions when we are not thinking “I am the smartest person in this room”.  Liz calls this leader a “multiplier”.

John Baldoni offers 4 ways to improve your questions in the Harvard Business Review.  Learn to Ask Better Questions:

  1. be curious,
  2. be open-ended,
  3. be engaged and
  4. dig deeper.

Uncertainty and Frustration stop you from Leading Others

Last week, I was with a good friend and our 3 kids at the beach.  We left the beach at sunset and cycled home.  When we reached home, I discovered that we were locked out of the house.  I had left another key in the inside of the lock, and was now unable to open the door from outside.  It was getting dark and our 3 kids (between the ages of 3 and 5) were hungry and asking repeatedly “why are we outside?”

I felt stupid.  I stopped communicating.  I was getting frustrated by the kids asking “why are we outside?”  I was angry at myself.

I didn’t speak much to my friend and our kids.  First, I searched see if any windows or doors were open.  After 10 minutes walking around the house, no joy.  Fort Knox.

I asked my friend “do you have your mobile?”  I made some calls to get the number of the security company.  I finally spoke to someone who said they would send a car, it would probably take 40 minutes.  I said “ok”.

It was only now that I took a deep breath and explained the situation to my friend and our 3 kids.  I could see that my daughter had really wanted to help and she felt bad that I had ignored her.  My well-meaning actions had alienated the others.  Luckily my friend had created a little game to play with the kids while we waited.  He got the towels from the bag to wrap the kids and keep them warm.  I was no longer the leader in this group.  My friend was the emotional centre of the group.  I was an individual specialist who had emotionally abandoned the group in a moment of need. I lost control because of my frustration at myself.

I stop asking questions when I am angry at myself, feel overwhelmed or uncertain.

The Territory of Leadership is Uncertainty

Managers deal in improving the status quo.  Management is about doing the same things a little better.  Leaders deal in uncertainty.  Leadership is about giving others the confidence to move forward, helping them believe their own answers.

A friend of mine, Jacques, is the father of a tennis player.  If she loses, he asks “when did you know you were going to lose?  Why did you not stop right then?”  A leader must be able to regain belief.  When a team is winning, the captain can be a manager.  When the team is losing and doubt is in the minds of the players, the captain must become a leader.  He must take control of emotions.  First his own.  Then he must project his certainty out to the group.  Leadership is emotional work.  Leadership is about making sense of emotions and helping everyone reach a mental state that allows for performance.

A great leader believes in people and asks questions that help them perform.

John DeMartini talks about a transformational moment in his life.  He was 17, living in a tent and surfing the beaches of Hawaii with no purpose or plan.  A 93 year old man was talking with a group on the beach.  John listened.  At the end John approached the man.  The man asked him about his life and what he wanted to do.  John found himself answering that he would be a teacher.  The man listened and when he finished, looked him in the eyes and said “This is going to happen.  You are going to be a great teacher.  What will you do next?”  The man said these words with such conviction and belief that John knew it would happen.  John’s goal in life is to do the same for a 17 year old when he himself is 93 years old.  Leadership is about helping people believe in themselves.  It is helping someone reach enough certainty to take action.

The Best Questions…

  • The best Leadership Question:  “What is the next right thing to do?”
  • The best Teaching Question: “What do you think?  What other options do you see?”
  • The best Coaching Question: “You have achieved what you set out to accomplish.  Imagine yourself there.  What does it feel like?”
  • The best Friendship Question: “How are you?”
  • The best Parenting Question: “What was the best moment of your day?”
  • The best Sales Question: “(I understand that price is important.)  What other criteria are important in making this decision?”  (The implicit question: “What are you comparing this to?”)

What question will you ask?

The Origin of Leaders

The next post in this series will turn back inwards and look at why you would choose the path of leadership and stick to it for life.  What is a fulfilling life?  How can you live so that you reach the last day and say “I don’t want to go, but if I had it over again I would live much the same way.”

Habits play an important role in the origin of leaders. Successful leaders understand this.

How do we succeed in making changes in our lives?  How do we convert an event into a pattern—or ongoing habit–into our character or ongoing daily activities?

For example, when I first moved to Spain, I had only ever drunk one cup of coffee in my 29 years of life.  In my first month in Barcelona, I began to go to the coffee bar with my friends in the morning, as is the daily tradition here.  Over the course of the month I had a few coffees.  Some days yes, some days no.

The second month I started to enjoy this little habit and so probably had a coffee each morning. Over the next 8 years, however, I reached the point where I “need” 3 coffees during the 7am to 2pm period!  (I have probably drunk a swimming pool’s worth of coffee!)

What’s the point? I would never have drunk so much of coffee had it not been one of my daily habits. Drinking coffee is perhaps not an example of a positive, productive habit – but the story shows how habits enter a life.  I started writing seriously about 2 years ago.  I write 500 words a day.  Sometimes I write more, but my conscious daily habit is to ensure that I write 500 words each day.

We are what we habitually do

You are not a smoker if you smoke 1 cigarette.  You are not a smoker if you smoke 2 cigarettes.  You become a smoker at some point where it becomes a daily thing!

Likewise, you’re not a writer if you write today.  You are not a writer if you write a couple of times a year.  You only become a writer when it becomes a daily thing.

We overestimate what we can achieve in a day and underestimate what we can achieve in a year.  This is a widespread human challenge.  Most people, including myself, will set a list of to-dos for today that is impossible to achieve.  I overestimate what I can realistically get done today.  I underestimate the interruptions, the distractions and my ability to maintain focus on the tasks.  However, we underestimate our potential to create over the course of a year – if I do a little bit each day.  In my coffee example, if somebody showed me a big vat with all the coffee I drank last year and said – “can you drink all this?”  I would balk at the sheer volume.  However, done step by step, over many days, as a habit – enormous things are achievable.

What are habits?

Habits are actions you regularly do.  Smoking starts as an event, turns into a pattern, and becomes a habit.  Aristotle says “we are what we habitually do”.  Who I am and become is directly related to my daily habits!.

Habits are routines of behavior that are repeated regularly.  As the routine is repeated more and more regularly it takes less and less effort or self-discipline to begin and complete the routine.  Some say that it takes 30 days of sustained routine for it to become habitual.  If you write for 10 minutes for the next 30 days before you begin your day’s work, it will be an effort and require discipline for the first few days, but if you have the strength to keep it up it will become almost automatic around the 30 day point.

Start the day slowly

Ken Blanchard starts each day the same way.  After waking, before getting up and meeting the day, and certainly before checking emails, he sits on the edge of his bed.  He places his hands with palms down on top of his thighs and he listens to the thoughts running through his mind, the ideas, the people, the doubts; he listens to his body, how it feels, where it hurts.  After 5 minutes or so when he feels he has heard what his mind has to say, he turns his hands over so the palms facing up.  He thinks “what do I want to be grateful for at the end of today?”.  He starts each day this way – he calls it “starting the day slowly”. This start means that he spends the day on what is important.

Habituating Learning

All senior executives of Goldman Sachs are on 2 teleconferences every day.  At 6am and at 6pm they all dial in and have short conversation.  The 6am call looks at what patterns are happening today and gets each leader reflecting on the day ahead.  The 6pm call answers one question “What did we learn today?”.  This routine ensures maximum learning every day through a habitual reflection on what worked and what didn’t work during the day.  How do you ensure that you learn from each day?  Do you pause to reflect on what worked and what did not?

Routine sets you free.

I had a coffee with Verne Harnish just before Christmas at IESE business school.  Verne is author of The Rockerfeller Habits and founder of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation.  We talked about habits.  Verne says “routine sets you free”.  Deciding on what works and ensuring that it is a daily habit is something that makes the successful leaders stand out.  Michael Dell has a routine, regular habits, for reviewing his business performance.  Steve Jobs has a routine.  Bill Gates has a routine.  Warren Buffett has a routine.  Do you have a routine?  What differentiates the great work days in your life from the others?  How can you ensure that every day has the habits of the best days?

Verne coaches hundreds of businesses.  One important habit that he pushes in a big way is to ensure that all employees spend time in a daily huddle.  This daily huddle is used by hundreds of businesses.  It is a short 10-15 minute meeting where each person only says 2 things – what they are working on that day and (optionally) an obstacle that is in their way.  This 10-15 minute meeting allows a connection of the people within the company, and ensures that employees are proactive in planning their days.

Summary

We are creatures of habit.  We will repeat what we have done yesterday.  We are creatures of precedent. Share the habits you’re building into your life!

12/17/10 Update – Himanshu sent a CR workbook to BNA detailing the revised estimates for all CSOW items

I feel a fraud writing on self-discipline. I started this post over 6 weeks ago. Yet, here I am—just days before deadline–finally coming back to push through the hard work of completing it and making it readable.

I am definitely not a guru or master of self-discipline. More times than not, I am a master of procrastination. I am brilliant at finding important interruptions to fill my time when I have a big project sitting there.

But, I’m forced to address these issues because of the fundamental truth: A small step completed is a million times better than a big plan thought about. Seth Godin says that “Professionals ship”. Ship means they finish what they start. There are many, many people who are like bullfrogs in a china shop – they make lots of noise, but no actual action (or breakage) happens.

So, I’m dedicating this Topic to exploring ways we can all ship more often?  A little over a year ago I wrote my most-read-ever post – 17 Habits for a fulfilling life – and Self-Discipline was habit #1.

What would my parents say?

My parents would laugh to see me, Conor, writing on self-discipline! Alter all, they observed my high-school years where they watched me avoid studying, avoid starting essays, leaving homework to the last possible minute (and often somewhat later).

Likewise, my housemates from my time at university would be falling off their chairs laughing if you were to point them to this post.

Why I’m taking a fresh look at self-discipline

I began writing seriously about 2 years ago. This has led me to have a deep interest in why I am highly productive in some periods and totally useless during other periods. Through these musings, my hope is that some day those useless periods will be smashed to smithereens and I will become a “proper writer”.

I am not going to write a post today that says that you must become totally disciplined in order to be successful. There are some tricks, there is some psychology, there is a lot of pushing through and keeping working when things don’t look so easy.

What would Nike say?

I have spent a lot of time during the past few months interviewing high performance athletes. My goal was to understand their motivations, how they train, how they prepare mentally, and how they face anxiety.

In many cases these successful athletes have an ability to focus on the one next step and, in the words of Nike, Just do it!

Josef Ajram, Spain’s top endurance athlete, tells himself “I will run another 15 minutes. Come on. Anyone can run another 15 minutes.”

In Josef Ajram’s words, he has completed the Marathon de Sables – 243km across the Sahara desert in 6 days – by only ever allowing himself to think about the next 15 minutes!

The Pomodor Technique

Today, when I write, I use an execution tool called The Pomodoro Technique.

This was created by Italian student Francesco Cirillo during the time that he was writing his university thesis. He was having a hard time getting started.

One day, he went to his mother’s kitchen where he found a cooking timer in the shape of a tomato – pomodoro in italian. He took the pomodoro timer back to his desk and thought “right, I am going to set this to 20 minutes and I will keep writing until the timer finishes”.

He began to use this execution tool on a daily basis and quickly got on top of the thesis he had to write. He has documented the full method and provides tools at the Pomodoro technique home page.

So, set a timer and focus on just taking one small step.

Why do we procrastinate?

Why do we sabotage ourselves even when we know what we should do to move towards our goal? I read a great post by Leo Baubata of Zen Habits a couple of months ago where he talked of 4 reasons why we procrastinate:

  1. It provides Instant Gratification – It feels better right now
  2. It avoids Fear – If I do it wrong what will they say? What will they think of me? If I don’t act then I avoid the risk of making a mistake.
  3. It has no immediate negative consequencesJim Rohn says “We all have the choice of one of two great pains in the world – the pain of regret or the pain of discipline”. The pain of discipline is here and now. The pain of regret comes later… but is by far the worse pain.
  4. I overestimate my future self – I have some inner belief that I will be smarter, better, faster in the future. This is a strong belief. The work that is hard today must somehow be easier for the better future me? But, what if’s not? I am deceiving myself.

Good and Bad Procrastination.

There is good and bad procrastination. Putting off going to the supermarket so that I can finish this article because I am on a roll would be good procrastination; checking my email because I am hitting a wall in my writing of this article would be bad procrastination.

Many highly productive people manage to succeed by procrastinating on important work when avoiding unimportant tasks. My desk here is quite a mess. I should tidy it, but writing this article is my way of procrastinating away from cleaning up.

Building Your Support Community

Which co-workers and friends want to see you succeed? Who are the people in your life who like to see you make progress on the things that are important to you? If you want to get big things done, you must spend time with others who are on this journey and support your journey.

Self-discipline grows with use

Self-discipline, like muscle, grows with use. Keep one promise, the next one will be is easier. Run tonight, tomorrow easier. Write now, tomorrow easier.

The other side of the coin, however, is that without use, discipline shrinks! No run today, harder tomorrow. No writing today, harder tomorrow.

How can you develop your self-discipline?

Here are some simple “first steps” you might want to try after reading this article:

  • Try the Pomodoro technique. Do 10 minutes on something important right now.
  • Take time each morning to reflect on what is important
  • Avoid “the watercooler gang” – the groups in our offices and schools who are happily unproductive and enjoy helping others take their place in the group. Make a list of 2-3 people who support you when you talk of your progress in something important in your life.
  • Never underestimate the role of practice and persistence and hard work in success. The “3 steps to untold riches programs” don’t work. The “flat tummy in 1 week while watching TV plan” doesn’t work. There are no shortcuts. Don’t waste time looking.
  • Inspiration tends to come when you have trudged through 40 minutes of painful effort and have not allowed yourself to check email, make a coffee, eat chocolate, check IM… You have to push through to get to inspiration.

Summary (or how to change the world…  one step at a time)

The only people who can change the world are those that want to. Many don’t want to. Some want to, but don’t accept the discipline of hard work. Anything you want will never be as hard as you imagine it will be! So, get started and push on through. Do it “just because.” Even if it is a failure as a product, it will teach you. You will come out stronger.

In my next post we will look at how to take Imagination, Ambition, Learning and Self-Discipline and make the journey easier with each day. A friend of mine, Verne Harnish says: “Routine sets you free.” I welcome your comments, retweets and general link-love!