Archive for March, 2011

Finding Zen

March 31, 2011

Zen resides within

It’s a typical day in the world. It’s a lot like yesterday. Or tomorrow. It’s a lot like our life. There’s always something going on, but in the end we wind up pretty much where we started.

Then again, it’s not typical at all. It’s unique. A new day with people, places and experiences that’ll never be exactly the same again.  Even in our ordered and predictable routines, every experience is unique. Mundane or new and interesting; it’s all how you look at it.

Sometimes, for seemingly no reason, you see it. You see the moment for what it is. Perhaps you see something for the first time that you’ve been looking at for years. You stop and see the wonder. How could I have missed that?  Not yesterday, not tomorrow. Just now. That’s Zen. The moment you didn’t expect. The moment when you see that life isn’t ordinary at all.  

Many people think Zen is something mystical, the domain of monks living in mountains with vows of poverty and silent reflection. You can have a Ferrari, or anything else for that matter, and still experience Zen. The basic idea is very simple: we experience the world through a filter of expectations and preconceptions accumulated over the course of our lives – as a result we fail to see the world as it really is.

With practice and clarity, called mindfulness, we can overcome the veil of illusion and see through to our own true nature. We can learn to see the world as it is and understand our place in it. Our lives are not so different. We all have concerns, stress, good times and bad. We all get lost at times. And we can find ourselves when we try. Sometimes we just have to get out of our own way.

So to find Zen we simply head off on a journey of everyday discovery. Set your ego aside. Open your soul and see where it goes. Stop looking for Zen. No robes required. It’s been inside you all this time.



March 22, 2011

Power up for life

Recently I found myself in a spirited debate about personal empowerment. People speak of empowering themselves, employees and society yet when asked what it means most have difficulty providing a clear answer.

The discussion was around empowering women and minorities against ‘the system’ but I felt there was a broader context here for personal achievement. I also questioned whether empowerment was something that we are given or something that we create for ourselves.

I decided to explore this further and found many references in the self-help literature to achieving empowerment but very little on what that actually means. We could assume it refers to ‘having power’ but what does that really mean and what do we do with it when we have it?

There has to be a benefit in all this or why bother being empowered in the first place? Is it simply self confidence, a subjective emotion that, while positive, doesn’t actually create anything tangible? I’m not convinced. ‘Empowerment’ sounds like it means business.

If empowerment is going to be anything more than fairy floss then it had better have some substance beyond a superficial feel good label. Having given it some thought I have come up with a definition that I believe pulls it all together:

Personal empowerment is increasing our capacity to confidently make choices relevant to our situation and to transform those choices into desired actions; actions that have influence and create results.

This definition draws together confidence, self esteem, having a clear path and not being influenced by the opinions or actions of others. It is about taking control when we want to make a positive impact.

Through it we can achieve a sense of responsibility and hold ourselves accountable. It should make us better people by our own definition. And happier people too.

In this sense, ‘empowerment’ and ‘personal power’ are interchangeable, perhaps with the latter being stronger as it has a sense of being taken – I assert my personal power – where empowerment can be passive if it is given or allowed by another.  

Tony Robbins has been talking about personal power as a key determinant of success for many years. He defines personal power as the ability to take action. This is how he suggests you use it:

1. Decide what you will no longer stand for and what you’re committed to. Clarity is power.

2. Take massive action. You have to be willing to do the things you don’t want to do. You have to build a momentum that consistent action produces.

3. Notice what’s working and what’s not working. And when it’s not working, change your approach. And keep changing until you finally achieve what it is you’re committed to.

Popular culture often misrepresents the concept of personal empowerment by placing emphasis on attaining a subjective emotion in which we feel empowered. However, empowerment requires action that influences our lives with results.

For example, reading a self-help book might make us feel empowered to improve our financial position, but unless we are able to initiate a plan of action and unless that action leads to improvements in our circumstances, we are no more empowered than we were when we started. A feel-good moment of positivity is no substitute for action.

In my opinion, one of best initial steps is to identify goals that promise a higher likelihood of success and work to achieve those (belief – confidence – action – result – repeat). Success builds confidence and allows us to aim and reach higher. Climbing a ladder is easier a rung at a time than trying to jump to the top. It may take longer but the journey is easier.

Once we are empowered to act and have the strength to do so then we can reclaim our reality and, along with it, our self esteem and our life. One rung at a time.

Success in retrospect and why setting massive goals can be counterproductive

March 17, 2011

Big goals or steps to success?

Zap! I will jump-start my life into the next dimension where I will enjoy happiness, wealth, prosperity and fulfilment. Zap! I will show you the timeless secrets of success known only to a few. Zap! Secrets guaranteed to bring you wealth and happiness. Zap!

Have you noticed how much of the self-help literature is the same? There’s a lot about studying success and applying the lessons to your life, yet you can read 20 books and still not find happiness. Why not?

There is no magic formula. Every person is different in the same way that every circumstance and result differs from the last. For every person that achieves their goals there’s plenty taking massive action but not achieving their dream. You can give life everything but still miss the mark. What then?  

The self-help literature takes specific cases and generalises rules from them; set goals, be passionate, take action, never give up and you will succeed. It’s success by retrospect. We find someone in business, sport or the arts that have made it to the top. Perhaps someone has risen from adversary to success. We put them up as a model of success, create a ‘system’ from their actions and promote it as the success panacea.

We‘ve all heard this advice: set huge goals if you want to succeed, and then go for it. That advice comes from coaches, self-help gurus and consultants and is deeply imbedded in success literature. Yet goal setting may actually be counterproductive if the bar is set too high.

Many people don’t achieve the stretch goals they set. One of two things happens: either the goal is so difficult we become demoralised and give up; or, the goals are set, and then promptly forgotten because we didn’t really believe in them. To be successful you need to set realistic and achievable goals, and be prepared to change them along the way.

The following is a typical template for goal setting that can be found in many books:

  • Work out what you really want
  • Write it down as a measurable goal
  • Make your goal specific and clear
  • Understand what it will look like when you achieve it
  • Set deadlines
  • Take action
  • Review outcomes and change your approach if required
  • Never give up!

The inherent problem with goal setting is that most people are resistant to change. Therefore, goals that require substantial behaviour change, or thinking pattern change, will automatically be resisted.

When we repeatedly fail to reach stretch goals our performance invariably declines. That’s human nature. So why do we set ourselves up for failure? Is setting ‘big fat audacious goals’ really the path to success? I suggest a more realistic and systematic path.

So what should replace the process of setting goals, particularly stretch goals? Small improvements and incremental targets that are realistic and sustainable. This approach allows us to enjoy little wins and map our progress.

Smaller steps allow us to believe we can do it and get leverage from tiny victories. One day at a time, one more lap or a 5% improvement is the way to achieve the big goals in life. Add to that regular positive reinforcement and this type of goal setting is beneficial.

Another reason why many people are not successful in achieving goals is that their goals are not connected to their values and their sense of personal mission. Setting goals that run contrary to your personal beliefs create a conflict that will prevent you from achieving them. If your personal values dictate that you should spend as much time as possible with your family then having a goal of establishing a part-time business after hours that requires work in evenings and weekends will not work.

Check the outcome that you want and look to find another path in keeping with your personal value system. There are many paths to the same destination and these will vary depending on the individual. If you understand this you can then read about others’ successes and use that as direction and inspiration, rather than a ‘success system’ to follow to the letter.

Finding great results where you least expect

March 9, 2011

Success and failure exist in balance

I’m currently in Bangkok on business and I’m impressed with the ingenuity of the local community to make a living. Very friendly, always appearing happy they can show us all that success can lie in many places.  It made me think about where we find success and where our results come from.

We encourage our children to play to win and often reward results over effort. Even if we don’t all share the need to be at the top, most people are taught from an early age to value the experiences that lead to positive outcomes and to avoid those that lead to anything short of that. Yet, success isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

If we set our lives on simmer and only set challenges that we know we can achieve, how do we ever hope to grow? Are we successful if we can easily achieve every goal we set? What we are doing in setting the bar too low is opening ourselves up for huge disappointments in the future.

Despite our best efforts to control all aspects of our lives there’s a big world out there in which we must interact. In the workplace, with our family and in society we’re frequently set challenges that are not of our own design. Almost invariably we’ll face a challenge we can’t meet and then what will we do? Though failure isn’t something we necessarily plan for, there are times when it leads us to greater heights than we might otherwise achieve.

People who are too focused on success can be so concerned about holding on to the positive results they have achieved that they never stretch themselves.  As we progress through life and careers, we are less and less likely to take on difficult tasks for fear of losing what we have.

This may stop us going for a promotion we’re suited too or not taking on a new hobby or recreation because the emotional trauma of not succeeding can be devastating to our self image. We will no longer ‘put ourselves out there’ or accept that success takes time. We have become, as the Eagles sang in Hotel California, ‘prisoners of our own device’.

Our ‘device,’ in my opinion, is to reflect our active experience in the world and to move forward as social creatures, in purpose and action. This is the process of being alive. It has neither beginning nor end. It is an end in itself.

The upshot is that success can breed conservatism and a tendency to hold on to what you’ve got. There’s a balance here. No success breeds apathy. Some success breeds the confidence to try new things; some failure breeds the wisdom to try again. It can be good to take some calculated risks from time to time. This kind of risk taking applies to exploring new opportunities and expanding your horizons.

It’s not necessary to take a huge leap into the unknown or to take on things with reckless abandon. Instead, there are steps you can take to challenge yourself without putting it all on the line.

 Allow yourself the luxury of not having to be the absolute best at everything. Then try something new. The strategy of not fearing failure can stretch you outside your comfort zone and open your eyes to new possibilities that will ultimately lead to a happier and more fulfilled life. Are you willing to allow yourself to fail, even at something that doesn’t really matter? Does it really concern you if others don’t see you as having a 100% strike rate every time?

Here’s an example of where failure is good.

I have been going to the gym for many years and each time I go my goal is failure. The type of failure I’m after is muscle failure. If I work my muscles to fatigue, they’ll strengthen. But if I approached my training on a day today basis of just going through the motions without trying to fail, my muscles will adapt to my level of effort and won’t grow.

The same applies with life. Do you need to up your weights and push yourself a little further to grow? Are you prepared to be a little sore in the morning from the effort?

You can use failure to benefit your life.  Here’s how:

Don’t be obsessed with holding onto what you’ve got. Instead of trying to protect the successes you have achieved, look for ways to challenge yourself beyond your comfort zone.

If you’ve become discouraged by your failures, don’t allow this to make you feel bad about yourself. Instead, realise that each challenge you’ve taken has helped you to grow and expand your knowledge, expertise and personal achievement.

Remember it’s not always easy to break out of our self imposed limitations. Often to get out of the box we have to kick the hell out of it. That takes times, persistence and effort.

Take small steps toward change. If you want to run a marathon, try running around the block first.

There is great satisfaction from making progress toward a goal. We have heard many times that we should enjoy the journey. It’s true, because sometimes the destination may be somewhere quite different to where we thought we were going. It might even be better.

Change for the sake of change is not the goal. But not being afraid to fall down once in a while can give you exactly the type of motivation that will help you find your own version of success and fulfilment.

It’s all about me

March 3, 2011

Psychopaths in the workplace

It’s all about me. Really.

Ok, it can be about you, but only when it’s not about me.

But it’s always all about me.

Do you know this person? They exist in all walks of life but are most often found in a senior management position in medium to large sized organisations.

Welcome to the corporate narcissist or, as I like to call them, the ‘garden variety psychopath’. These people are very efficient survival machines doing untold damage to the business and staff. They rely on negative power to succeed at the cost of those around them. They can make your life a misery.

On my journey to CEO I have met many such individuals, who clearly demonstrated narcissistic qualities bordering on psychopathic. Their only concern for the company was how its performance reflected on them. Their status, car, memberships, bonus structure and office size came way before customer relationships, staff engagement and profits.

They’re easy to spot when you know what to look for. They entertain lots of positive illusions in relation to themselves; that is, they think they are better than they really are. Results don’t matter; they just want more; more money, privilege, recognition, respect – more everything.

They display a powerful self-serving bias; they unjustly take credit for successes and disown responsibility for failures. They’re not team players. When they blame others, it allows them to avoid responsibility for their personal failures.

Their over confidence and carefully crafted self perception can be alluring, and their tendency to view themselves more favourably than the objective evidence warrants gives them a level of confidence that ‘corporate’ wants. They can be charming and will get the job when confidence is confused with competence.

You may be impressed at first. That is, until they reveal their psychopathic tendencies. Their actions reveal an individual who is incapable of feeling guilt, remorse or empathy. They are generally cunning and manipulative, and know the difference between right and wrong but dismiss it as applying to them.

In many respects, the corporate sphere fosters psychopathic behaviour. Narcissism and aggressive behaviour are considered a fair trade for the ability to thrive in an increasingly aggressive business world. No one gets killed, but there’s plenty of blood on the carpet.

So we ask the question: is economic pressure on modern day workplaces and corporate culture itself helping to create a world where psychopathic behaviour is flourishing and even being rewarded?

Business structures and procedures have changed dramatically over the last 30 years, since the turgid bureaucratic model optimised productivity. The new business model of mergers, acquisitions and takeovers not only trimmed corporate fat, it also created a demand for a new kind of player, not the steadfast ‘company man’ of the past but an entirely different model, the corporate predator.

Attracted by fast-paced, high-risk, high-growth environments, they thrive in such corporate instability. This creates the prevalence of histrionic, narcissistic and compulsive personalities heading to the top of many organisations. 

To corporate psychopaths, success is the best revenge. Nice guys, they reason, don’t get the corner office. The ends justify the means and live by the maxim of taking no prisoners. Loyalty means nothing and they happily sacrifice others, without regret or remorse, to further their own needs.

The psychopath recognises no flaw in his psyche, no need for change. He wreaks havoc in an organisation, which can destabilise the entire business.

Is the psychopath as the new breed of business person being produced by the evolutionary pressures of modern life? Is the business school’s focus on aggression, attack, ruthlessness and win at all costs selecting out the more placid leaders?

Business school training is designed t help managers get what they want. This is common fare for psychopaths, so they are able to reach very high positions in life. It is only over time that their associates become aware of the fact that their climb up the ladder of success is predicated on violating the rights of others.

The ones I’ve worked with have all failed spectacularly. They just couldn’t deliver. It was never their fault of course, there was always someone else to blame. They fed on the energy of others, destroying themselves in the process.

Bizarrely, most went on to bigger and better things, with a golden handshake to get them out quietly.  Contracts paid out and another company ready to pick them up and pay them even more. And so they go on wreaking havoc, leaving me shaking my head as to how they get away with it again and again.

So it isn’t all about me, or all about anyone. It’s good to be a team player, even the boss, and allow others to express themselves and grow.  It’s very good for business and ultimately very good for the individual.