I’m a casual poker player.

Say what you will about poker, the game itself can be a very useful allegory for life in the business world. When you play a game like poker, you have a set of cards that are dealt to you. Every move in the game is about evaluating and measuring risk. In fact, on the card table, gambling can be seen as an investment in your available resources and the longevity they may have against the other potential hands at the table. As you weigh the strength of your hand, you will inevitably (or should inevitably) reach a point where a hand you’ve been dealt is incapable of competing, and you will have to fold your hand.

The same dynamic can be true for leaders. At some point, every leader has to face the reality of an underperforming facet of the organization, and sometimes after weighing the risks and the benefits, a cut is necessary. There’s a very good reason why we call it “cutting your losses”: it’s painful. It can feel personal. It’s never easy.

Knowing when to cut your losses is the real challenge. Whether it’s an unsuccessful product launch, an obsolete department within your organization, or even an otherwise productive employee who has developed a toxic attitude – often, we will “stay the course” assuming that if we keep our hand to the plow, we’ll be able to navigate through the situation. As we consider the investment we’ve put into these things, it seems better to push through rather than to take a loss. This could be your downfall.

Two kinds of mindsets when facing a major loss

How we think about the situation has a lot to do with how we come up with a solution. Psychologists identify two kinds of mindsets when facing a major loss:

  • Prevention Focus – concerned with what is lost if we don’t succeed.
  • Promotion Focus – think of goals in terms of new potential gains.

If you adopt a prevention focus, you’re more likely to see all the investments you’ve committed to getting where you are today, making it difficult to cut your losses. If you adopt a promotion focus, you’ll be much more likely to see the cuts as an opportunity to reinvest.

While both positions have merit, studies show that people will more often instinctively take a prevention focus because the effort they’ve invested is a tangible factor in the decision. In other words, they’ve shelled out the money, time, and effort, and they hate to watch it go down the tubes.

Often the promotion focus is the less obvious, but much more fruitful, position. The person sees that there is still money, time, and effort that are yet unspent, and those resources would be better allocated to other investments, rather than continuing to send them down the drain. This is the focus of the visionary.

Knowing when to fold your hand and cut your losses is a great challenge that can’t be taken lightly. Often, the decision to keep going can have as big an impact on your life or your business as the decision to cut. When you face the question of cutting your losses, step back and know your focus: prevention or promotion. It can make all the difference.

 

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Own It and Move On

July 11, 2014

Are you a dweller? You make a mistake and it haunts you. Or, someone else made a mistake and you obsess over what they should have done differently. You think of everything you never had the courage to act on or actually voice. Why, why, why? What if? Only if I had…

Basketball-Court

My son Orin just started playing basketball this year; he’s got some good talent but is still learning the basics. I noticed him being overly hard on himself and it occurred to me he just couldn’t get past his mistakes…or at the minimum they would bother him for too many plays. I gave him two little phrases: “Own it and move on.” and “My bad.”  “My bad.”, is a humble recognition that he screwed up; a powerful admission that can put his mind and his teammates’ minds at ease. They don’t need to fear he didn’t see where he fell short, and he doesn’t need to make an excuse for it.  I’ve seen and lived the opposite and know that as soon as you start to dwell, you take yourself out of the moment and the mistakes compound. You forget to live (or play hard) because you’re afraid.  At least I have.

Navel gazing isn’t the answer 

Our decisions have repercussions and “owning” it may take time to repair certain relational, financial or emotional damage.   But navel gazing and working around/ignoring our mistakes takes time too.  The difference is that one is time spent moving forward and experiencing personal growth, and the other leaves you stuck in defeat and discouragement.  

Own it and move on. Whether it be with your spouse, business partner, kids or your teammates. Is there something you’re dwelling on today? It might be time to humble yourself, apologize if necessary, and get back in the game.

 

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Disconnected.

You know that feeling?

Something is off. You aren’t in sync with your boss. Your team seems fragmented. Time and energy feels wasted. There might be a major defining moment that is at fault or it could be incremental deterioration. Regardless of the source, it’s not ideal and a sustained disconnect undermines you, your company and any healthy forward progress.

What’s the culprit? And more importantly, how do you fix it? Life would be easy if the blame game was black and white. In my experience it’s never been that easy though. Broken relationships and fragmented teams are often the result of many factors. It’s always the leaders responsibility to deal with but not always their fault.

Diagnosing the broken connection

The team doesn’t know the vision. When your team doesn’t understand or know their personal connection to the vision you create a disconnect. Instead of rallying behind THE vision they start to create their own to fill in the gaps. Is this your story? If so, don’t settle. Fight (respectfully) for a clear vision and if you’re the leader, listen, so that you can provide the clarity your team needs.

Everyone is in it for themselves. This could be the leader that overlooks the needs of the team or it could be a rogue team member that doesn’t lift a finger beyond their job description to help out.

Reality is ignored. The very nature of a vision is that it lives in the future. It’s something to be achieved and navigated towards that is different then the present reality. BUT…it doesn’t mean we get to ignore the present reality. Leaders need to be honest about the present situation or they’ll loose their team. Painting a false sense of utopian reality doesn’t help anyone. We need to be honest about the present struggles as we paint a picture of a better future.

Company values are all talk. Knowing and living your company values should be a no-brainer. You have them for a reason, right? However, if your company values are nothing more than words on a paper or platitudes dished out in a meeting then you’ve got a case of hypocrisy. Your true values are what you do day in and day out. When they’re aligned, watch out world. When they’re not, a credibility storm is brewing.

My way or the highway. Humility might be the most powerful way to unite a team. When established leaders are out of touch or new leaders are arrogant you build a culture of isolated superheroes. A team where everyone wants to lead as long as it is their idea, isn’t really a team.

Feeling disconnected is an awful spot for everyone. No one wins. How can you fight for clarity and lead your team to be more connected?

 

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How do you measure clarity in your organization? Is it as simple as asking everyone to regurgitate the company mission statement? Providing clarity is the hardest yet most necessary work of any leader. We usually don’t like to ask the questions because we don’t really want the answers. It takes time and might make more work in the short term. Here are twenty-one questions I dare you to ask your team this week. Allow for anonymous answers if you think that will give you the most helpful and unbiased information. Then schedule at least a half-day out of the office on your own to study and organize the answers. It might be painful, it might be encouraging, but regardless it will be insightful into the clarity your team has and where you might need to emphasize your leadership attention over the coming months.

IMG_4027
Image © Nate Smidt

Mission Clarity (WHY?)

  • Why does our organization exist?
  • What is the single most important thing we do in the world?
  • How would you articulate the company mission in your own words?
  • How do you personally connect with the mission? 

Vision Clarity (WHERE?)

  • Where is our company headed?
  • What should the organization look like in three years?
  • What are the top three objectives of the company over the next year?
  • How does the vision of the company inspire you on a regular basis?

Leadership Clarity (WHO?)

  • How would you define the leadership culture of our company?
  • How many bosses do you have and do you know who they are?
  • On an average day, how many people are delegating tasks to you?
  • Do you have a defined path for personal growth and leadership development?
  • How is your supervisor developing you for future responsibility?  

Strategy Clarity (HOW?)

  • What are our three most important strategic initiatives right now?
  • How are we going to accomplish these initiatives?
  • What are we doing that we should not be doing as a company?
  • How do our day-to-day tactics align with the vision of the company? 

Numbers Clarity (WHAT?)

  • What are the most important numerical metrics we measure?
  • Do you have good information and data regarding the metrics?
  • How do you define success in your job?
  • Do you know the financial goals of the company?

 

Are you willing to take the risk? The more dead honest you and your team are, the more helpful it will be to your future. If I can be of any help with a Clarity Session please let me know. Go for it.

 

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How do you feel about confusion? If you’re at all like me, you hate it. It’s disorienting, frustrating and down right troubling. I’m a bottom line guy, I like to get to the point and understand how my efforts are directly contributing to the benefit and success of whatever I’m involved in. Unfortunately we’re wasting a lot of our time at work confused. Lost leaders and a clarity crisis are driving up the cost of confusion for organizations everywhere.

Have you ever spent a bunch of hours on a project only to realize it was never going to see the light of day? Sometimes we can justify this in the name of R&D, but more often than not it’s just wasted energy, time, effort, brain power and ultimately dollars that could have been more effectively put to use elsewhere. This and other confusion riddled events are costing human and financial capital every single day.

6 Ways Confusion Is Costing Your Company 

1. The elephants in the room are being ignored. Everyone knows the problem but no one is willing to talk about it. It could be an incompetent leader or a highly critical team member, an unwise strategy or unrealistic budget. The elephant lingers and confusion rises as no one steps up to deal with it. Time and effort are wasted side-stepping and working around something that needs to be dealt with.  

2. Decision paralysis is stalling out the initiative. Who makes the call? Why aren’t they making a call? Are they afraid? Have bad information? Not sure what the priorities are? A lot of factors can go into creating a paralyzed decision maker, but nonetheless it creates confusion as time drags on and critical decisions are punted down the field.

3. There are too many cooks in the kitchen. Do you have three or four bosses and not quite sure who the buck stops with? The amount of time and emotional energy spent navigating an overly complicated org chart is exhausting. Few things create more confusion than bureaucratic lines of authority and communication.

4. Conflict isn’t confronted and resolved. Avoiding conflict and tip-toeing around co-workers creates inefficiencies like none other. All of your strategic energy gets spent figuring out how to avoid, ignore or passive-agressively run over other team members–the very people hired to help make things more efficient and helpful.  

5. No one owns their mistakes. We usually know when we screw up and the quickest way to deal with it is a simple ‘I’m Sorry.’ By taking responsibility you save people from the speculation and wasted time of gossiping and blame shifting. Few things are more powerful than a leader who sees their faults and is willing to own them.

6. There is a feedback vacuum. Feedback is essential, be it good or bad. People want (and need) to know where they stand. If they’re doing a good job, let them know. If they’re falling down, let them know. People are resilient and can handle the truth. Without it you wake up and go to bed demotivated because you’re never quite sure if you’re doing a good job. 

As leaders we either foster confusion or clarity. Which one are you creating? Which of these six categories can you focus on today and work towards leading with more clarity?

 

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I got stood up at lunch yesterday and while I sat there, checking my phone to pass the time, two guys next to me were having a clarity crisis conversation. Trying to figure out what was wrong with their boss. “Is he stupid? Does he not care? Is he full of $&*T?” They bounced back and forth between talking about how this place is better than all their previous jobs, and trying to understand the severance policy of the company and how many weeks of pay they might be entitled to. You might say this is just the reality of business these days but I don’t think it is overstating things to call it a crisis. A clarity crisis that is eroding away at the company’s bottom line and the emotional health of its people.

Clarity doesn’t mean you know the future. Clarity doesn’t automatically put an end to bad leadership or selfish employees. Clarity does better your chances of creating a unified and prioritized team that spends their time thinking about how to make the company better rather than their exit strategy.  

Three keys to defining and building clarity

Clarity is the antidote to feeling lost or stuck. Here are three important ways to ensure clarity within your organization.

1. Clarity is a shared reason for being. The most philosophical of the bunch for sure, but it’s a reality you can’t avoid. People are only motivated for so long by activities, you need to dig deeper into why your company exists. How is it uniting people together towards a common goal? More and more people want to make a difference, a difference that resonates with who they are. What an amazing opportunity to help our teams make these connections to the why of what we’re about. 

2. Clarity is a shared vision for the future. We all know that every vision we have does not come true, but without a vision we can’t lead anything. When you don’t know where you’re headed, you loose perspective, you loose passion, you loose the joy and satisfaction of a job well done. Your work becomes rote and disconnected from the future you envision. Work with your team to explore, understand and build a shared vision of the future together. As you do, you’ll find the buy-in and commitment begin to increase.

3. Clarity is a shared strategy for execution. When the rubber meets the road, every person on your team will have the tendency to interpret the best path forward through their own lens. A great vision is one thing but a lack of clarity develops most quickly in the execution. There are always different methods to attack an opportunity but it is hard for the same team to deploy different methods. Investing in this will take your company to that next level as everyone operates from the same playbook.

None of this is easy work but it’s worth it. How can you drive more clarity within your organization today?

 

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There is an epidemic of lost leaders. So many people feel stuck, unsure of the next step. Unsatisfied in their current role, unsure about how their work connects to what they really want to be doing with their life; unable to effect change, not sure where to take their company next or how to navigate a significant setback. Now, these lost leaders may not seem lost as we’re good at the old adage “fake it till we make it.” But really, we’re often just going through the motions, not fully committed, and not using our talents to their fullest potential. It’s easy to get used to this life and take an attitude of just dealing with it. The problem is, this hurts you and your company.

The powerful antidote to cure our aimless efforts, is so simple we often overlook it; a clear, unified and prioritized team. In my career, I’ve been both lost, stuck, and looking for direction, as well as participating on a team with a shared mission to get the RIGHT things done together. Sometimes both in the same place. Because I’ve experienced the difference, it’s my personal mission to help fight this epidemic. Specifically, to give leaders and their teams a breath of fresh air with resources, tools and a process to pursue health; a compass for creating meaningful work together.

How do you know if you’re lost?

Over the next few months I’ll be diving into each of these subjects more fully but here is a quick set of diagnostics to assess whether or not you’re lost.

You’re lost if where you’re leading is in conflict with what you believe. If your deepest held convictions are not in concert with where your or your company are headed then you’re on an unsustainable track.

You’re lost if you can’t answer the question of why your company exists. Going through the motions will only get you so far, true longevity is built by understanding the why behind what you’re doing.

You’re lost if you are suffering from a clarity crisis. Meaning, you don’t have a clear vision of the future and what’s next for the company or how you personally fit into the vision.

You’re lost if your leadership team is operating off of different agendas. The CFO is headed one way while the marketing team another because they don’t have shared priorities.

You’re lost if confusion is costing your company forward progress. When confusion reigns within a company’s strategy, real time and money are wasted rendering you not as effective as you could be.

You’re lost if your resources do not align with your plan. Whether it is a lack of financial resources or an abundance of human resources, they must be aligned with the plan to ensure success.

I’m excited to share much more on these subjects with the aim of helping others find their way forward, personally and organizationally. As you dive into your own personal clarity journey, check out the book, “The Advantage” by Patrick Lencioni. It’s an incredible look at how creating clarity gives you the upper hand in any organization. I’ve also written on how clarity and staff morale are interconnected.

When we’re able to connect the depth of who we are as a person with the activities and actions of our work, we reach a sweet place of alignment. That’s my hope for us all.

 

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BIG NEWS on the Munson front. Friday was my last official day at Storyville Coffee. I love the place to death and am so proud of what we’ve built over the last few years. The people of Storyville represent one of the finest collections of human beings I’ve ever seen. I will greatly miss working alongside them every day but am hopelessly addicted to the coffee, so if you’re ever looking for me, start there!

Journey

A New Chapter Starts Today

I like challenges. When someone says, “you’re crazy” or “that’s impossible”, something inside me perks up. Every role I’ve had in the last 16 years has posed its own opportunities and challenges. I’ve had many exhausting days and many triumphant days. I’ve enjoyed some success and tried to learn from the failures. My plan is to take this experience and build a leadership consulting company to help leaders and their organizations thrive. There is an epidemic of lost leaders and organizations, my mission is to help.

When people ask how long I’ve been thinking of this, my usual answer is, “Since I was 12, when I dreamt about building a teleporter to take me home back up the hill from my best friends house.” Starting something new is never easy. It’s a risk but as with most dreams in life they require taking that first step and diving in.

What If It Doesn’t Work?

I hear regularly “what if it doesn’t work?” or “what if you fail?” Failure is a real possibility, and I don’t take that lightly, especially with the responsibility to feed four children. However, I can’t move on without trying and am so excited to jump in, and trust the process. I’ve slowly worked my salary back to nothing which is where this ride begins so I better get going.

In the coming weeks I’ll be writing a lot on the subjects of helping leaders and organizations find clarity, get unstuck and maximize their potential. In the meantime if I can help you with anything, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

 Thank you for sharing in this journey with me.

 

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Yesterday I wrote about defining success and today I want to focus on how to build on it.

Have you tasted it? That feeling that comes with victory. That sense of accomplishment. The satisfaction of a job well done. What happens when success comes your way? Do you enjoy it? Do you take it easy? Do you fear you’ve peaked? In my experience, there are two roads we head down after experiencing success; we either presume upon it or we learn from it.

Presuming on Past Success

Presumption is the attitude that naively and arrogantly says, “I did it once, I can do it again.” It’s often accompanied by a flippancy that thinks it can get by without all the work this time around, forgetting what the journey looked like to get there in the first place. In an organization this could be accompanied by pedal-to-the-metal, get-rich-quick methods that produce steroid-like growth. You experience a faster flash, a more immediate impact, and put out a greater investment of resources up front to try and buy success. It’s more chaff, less substance; more height, no foundation. The success is short lived.  

Presumers will fail, despite the fact they’re coming from a past experience of success. They may not fail right away and the immediate results may look like success, but over time, without a deep foundation, the results will fade away. This will continue to be the case until the new failures are converted to learned lessons.

Learning from Past Success

Analyzing a victory is so important. What worked? What didn’t? How can I get better? Repeat what you did right the first time, but learn from the mistakes you made so that you can improve. Ask questions of others involved in your success to see where your strengths and weaknesses are. Listen to critique with an open mind and be willing to learn at every opportunity. 

Those willing to learn will continue to succeed. They will never be mistake-free, but when they do mess up, they will see it as an opportunity to grow, and persevere until they reach their goal.

So, be bold, chase success, stay humble, learn from it, don’t sacrifice the wrong things and keep after the attitudes that got you there.

  

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Regardless of status or position in life, most people want more. More money, more recognition, more respect, more accomplishments, more success. Success is a universal pursuit. I’ve never met anyone who isn’t pursuing it. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so but I do think it is important to define and personalize. If you don’t, then your life will be spent comparing yourself to others. That is a bad thing because it robs you of the joy of living your life freely.  

What is success?

At the end of the day, defining success is personal and subjective. But I think it’s fair to say that when someone feels successful, they have accomplished something positive, achieved a goal. Personally, finishing a 1/2 marathon in under two hours was a success for me; I set a goal and achieved it. For someone else, my time would be a total failure. Again, success can be relative, but the recipe for realizing whatever success you are after is basically the same–faithfulness, diligence, and perseverance in your relationships, dreams and opportunities.

What is it you’re after and why is it important? Have you defined it and are you sacrificing other important areas of your life to achieve it? If you haven’t defined it then you don’t know exactly what you’re after. You certainly won’t know when you achieve it. Spending time to think and dream about your future is an important discipline. Paint a picture of your future and then really examine your motives. What it is going to take to get there and what will be sacrificed along the way? Then ask yourself if it’s worth it. If success in one arena of life leads to failure in another, are you really successful? If you make a million dollars but your family falls apart, is it worth it?

Categories of success

I’m not a fan of compartmentalizing your life into categories but for the sake of defining success, it’s helpful. Take some time and think through your Friendships, Career, Family, Finances, Spiritual Life, Hobbies, Education and any other important pursuits. What does success look like in each area? Where do you want to be 1, 3, 5, 10 years from now? As your dreams begin to formulate on paper, it will inform what’s needed to pursue them faithfully. You’ll be forced to honestly wrestle with your priorities and determine what is most important to the life you want to build and your future success. Blessings. 

Stay tuned for a follow up post: How To Build On Your Success

 

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