Which Matters Most? Ambition or Talent? November 20 2014 4 responses
One of my favorite Saturday routines is spending an hour or so browsing through the weekend edition of the Financial Times on my iPad. There are often fascinating long interviews with newsmakers in a feature called “Lunch with the FT” and usually some interesting reviews of books I won’t read but am interested in learning a little bit about. Without fail, though, my favorite feature is a short one called “The Inventory.” Each week, the FT asks a person of note twenty questions, most of which are the same week after week. Two of the most intriguing to me are, “Are you environmentally conscious?” immediately followed by “Do you own more than one home?” Others I like include, “If your 20 year old self could see you now, what would he or she think?” “If you lost everything, what would you do?” and “Do you believe in an afterlife?”
My favorite question in “The Inventory”, though, is “Which matters most? Ambition or talent?”
While the occasional few interviewee tries to fudge it by saying both or by redirecting the question, most come down squarely on one side or the other. Of those with a clear point of view, it seems to be about evenly split between ambition and talent.
Lately, I’ve been asking colleagues and clients this question. One of those folks spent close to ten years as a bat boy for two major league baseball teams when he was a kid. One of those teams won the World Series. This guy has seen a lot of talent in his life. When I asked him the ambition or talent question, he immediately answered, “Ambition, no question about it.” When I asked him to explain he told me he’d seen a ton of major leaguers with plenty of talent wash out after a year or two. His observation is pretty much everyone at that level has a ton of talent. The differentiator between the stars and the journeymen is ambition. The stars work harder. They put in the hours on the practice and the reps. They block out the distractions. They focus on what they’re there to do. (Derek Jeter comes to mind as I write this.)
As I think about my own observational experience in business and other fields, I’m inclined to agree with my former bat boy friend – ambition matters most. Sure you have to have a certain amount of talent to get in the game but the differentiator is ambition. Another word for it might be relentlessness.
What’s your take? Which matters most? Ambition or talent? Would love to read your opinion and why you have it in the comments.
Mindful Mondays: What’s on Your De-Stress Checklist? November 17 2014 no responses
|Warm Bath||30 points|
|Social Interaction||25 points|
|Reading Fiction||15 points|
Seven Things Leaders Can Learn from Bill Clinton About Connecting with People November 13 2014 9 responses
“Take a look at this: gas under $3 a gallon – under $3 a gallon. Unemployment under 6%, whoever thought? Stock market breaking records every day. No wonder the guy is so unpopular.”
As Letterman said, before delivering his punch line, being President of the United States is a “lonely, lonely gig.”
Being an ex-President of the United States? Not so much. According to Gallup, the most popular ex-Prez is Bill Clinton. His approval rating earlier this year was 64%. There are probably a lot of reasons for that. Most Presidents are more popular out of office than in. In Clinton’s case, he likely gets a lot of credit for the work he’s doing through his Foundation. He also does a lot of public appearances and is a master communicator and connector.
Earlier this week, I got to see exactly how much of a master he is when President Clinton spoke to a packed house for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. For just under 90 minutes, Clinton held an audience of 1,500 people rapt as he answered questions on everything from Ebola to education to Putin to what his most favorite thing was about being President (that last question was submitted by the moderator’s 4th grade son).
There were a lot of things I noticed Clinton doing that makes him world class at connecting with an audience. There were a lot of lessons that leaders can use to connect with their people. Here are seven of them:
Mindful Mondays: What You Can Learn About Focus from the World Series MVP November 3 2014 2 responses
If I ever write another book, I want to interview Madison Bumgarner for it. That dude knows how to focus and I’d love to know more about how he does it. As you may have seen last week, the San Francisco Giants starting pitcher came on the mound in the 5th inning of game seven of the World Series and pitched for the rest of the game. The scene was set in Kansas City and the Giants had a 3-2 lead over the Royals when Bumgarner took over. He shut the Royals down pretty much exactly as he had when he pitched a nine inning shut-out just two days earlier in game five.
As reported in this summary, the World Series MVP pitched a record 52 innings in the postseason with a 1.03 ERA. He threw 32.7 of the innings in the Giants’ 17 postseason games and 34 percent of the innings in their World Series Games. In an era when starting pitchers typically work on a five game rotation, Bumgarner pitched in three of the seven games of the Series and allowed only one run.
Watching him pitch in game seven was mesmerizing. In a rocking stadium filled with a sea of Royals fans wearing blue, Bumgarner just kept doing what he was there to do – retiring batters. As I watched him between pitches, I was totally struck by how calm and focused he was. There was no psyching himself up between pitches. As he looked down at the mound, you could see him take a quiet breath through his nose and then turn to face the batter and release his pitch. Every time, it was the same thing. When the inning was over, he would quietly and deliberately walk back to the dugout, take his seat and fix his gaze on an indeterminate point in the distance.
Bumgarner is a man of few words and I’ve been unable to find any interviews where he talks about how he’s learned to focus like he does. This brief quote from an article in the New York Times offers a few clues:
“I was just concentrating on making pitches. I wasn’t thinking about how many innings I was going to go or how many pitches or any of that. Just thinking about getting outs.”
That’s pretty much it. Don’t focus on the distractions. Focus on what you’re there to do. In Bumgarner’s case, his focus was pitch by pitch leading to out by out. In the last half of game seven he got 15 of them. Little steps – pitch after pitch, out after out – led to a big result – the World Series championship.
What’s the takeaway if you don’t throw a 95 MPH fastball? For me, it’s focus on your breathing and then focus on what you have to do. What’s yours?
Three Short Videos for the Overworked and Overwhelmed October 29 2014 2 responses
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dave Summers and other great folks from the American Management Association to talk about Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative. The AMA has a really cool little video series called Three Questions where authors give short answers to questions in their wheelhouse.
If you’re feeling overworked and overwhelmed or know someone who is, these videos just might help. You can watch all three in under five minutes.
And a Big Shout Out…
I’m so grateful to so many people who have helped me let the world know about my new book. They’re great people that you should get to know. Here’s a partial list of some of the people on our launch team and the coordinates for where you can find them.
|Mimi Darmstadter||My Life’s Work Coaching
Working Mama Group
|Lori Ermi, PCC, SPHR||The Ermi Group||@LoriErmi|
|Mark Fortier||Fortier PR||@Bizbookpr|
|Joel Garfinkle||Garfinkle Executive Coaching||@JoelGarfinkle|
Terri Hughes – LinkedIn
|Henry J. Lescault||Untouchable Leadership|
|Lawrence Levin||Top Teaming
The Levin Group
|Chris Perry||Career Rocketeer||@CareerRocketeer|
|Rae Ringel||The Ringel Group|
|Patricia Wheeler||Leading News
The Levin Group
Coming Clean October 8 2014 17 responses
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re undoubtedly aware that I have a new book coming out, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative. I hope you’ll read it and get a lot of value from it. But before you do, there’s something that I want to share with you, as a regular reader of this blog, that has, for the past five years, been a private issue between me, my family and a few friends. That private issue is now public. Because you’re a regular reader here, I want you to hear about it from me in this setting before you read about it in the new book.
In the summer of 2009, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. That came as a shock because I was pretty healthy up to that point, had run a couple of marathons and thought I was pretty much bulletproof. Within a few weeks of my diagnosis, I could barely walk around the block and had to pull myself up the stairs by the banister to get to bed. I had bad days and somewhat better days the rest of that year and through the end of 2010. I tried some of the MS drugs but they didn’t agree with my liver and I had to stop taking them. In October of 2010, my wife, Diane, encouraged me to go to a yoga class because she had read that it helps people with MS function better.
I nervously went to a class and when I got there I took the instructor aside to tell her about my condition and to please keep an eye on me in case I passed out or something. She told me not to worry, that they regularly had people with chronic illnesses in class and that she would take care of me. She also told me if I came to yoga three times a week it would change my body and if I came more than three times a week it would change my life. She was right. I chose the more than three times a week option and it changed both my body and my life.
Today, I’ve written my second book, completed a 200 hour yoga teacher training program, been to Paris with Diane for our 25th anniversary and travel all over the place coaching and giving presentations. (I’m writing this post on a plane from Washington, DC to New York). I’ve gone from not being able to walk without support from Diane for balance to doing head stands, hand stands and arm balances most every day of the week. In short, I’m living at my best.
Managing stress is very important in managing MS. Yoga has been a big component of a system that along with intentional breathing, vibrant relationships and regular routines of reflection helps me do that. None of that is to say that I don’t get overworked and overwhelmed. I do just like everyone else does. The difference for me is that I recognize that feeling more quickly now and have learned how to respond to that feeling to get back to a more productive and healthier state.
That’s one of the big reasons I wrote the new book. I wanted to share the system based on mindful routines that keep me at my best physically, mentally, relationally and spiritually. The other big reason I wrote the book is that see a need among so many of my clients and audiences to an alternative to the overworked and overwhelmed state they often find themselves in. At this point, I’m passionate about sharing what I learned through interviews with successful executives and thought leaders, reviewing the latest research and my own experience. It feels like a mission for me.
I’m confident that I would not have written the new book if I had not had MS. Because my experience with not just surviving but thriving with the disease was so pivotal in writing Overworked and Overwhelmed, I felt like I had to make the private story of my illness public and write about it in the book. So, that’s what I mean by the title of this post, “Coming Clean.” Because you’ve been a regular reader here, I wanted to share the backstory with you before you read the rest of the story in the book
And, like I said earlier, I hope you’ll read it and that you take insights and action steps away that will strengthen your leadership and improve your life. Please share your stories and thoughts with me if you do.
Mindful Mondays: Travel Tips for the Mindful Road Warrior September 15 2014 2 responses
My work requires a lot of travel to meet with and present to clients. As the recent news stories about high altitude disputes over reclining seats on airplanes suggest, business travel can be stressful. That stress can eat you alive if you let it. Over the years, I’ve adopted some routines that have helped me stay healthy and sane when I travel for business. I thought I’d start to share some of them with you today. Let’s call them travel tips for the mindful road warrior.
As I discuss in my forthcoming book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative, I think being intentional about your routines in four big domains – physical, mental, relational and spiritual – can help you show up at your best most often than not. What I try to do when I travel is keep up my routines as much as possible. It requires some preparation and flexibility to do that but I’ve found the pay off to be worth it.
Today, I’m sharing what I’ve learned about the physical routines that work for me when I travel. In the weeks to come, I’ll share the mental, relational and spiritual routines that help me stay more mindful on the road. Of course, I don’t think I have a monopoly on good ideas. Please share any tips you have to share for the mindful road warrior in the comments section at the end of the post.
Tired of the Fire Drills? Appoint a Fire Marshal August 20 2014 no responses
One of the things I talk a lot about with my executive coaching clients is the highest and best use of their time and attention. When they think about what they really need to accomplish and how they should be spending their time to do that they often see a gap. The gap is between what they should be spending their time and attention on and what they actually are spending it on.
When they itemize the lists on both sides of the equation they usually recognize that a lot of what sucks up their time and attention each week is fire drills. If you’re an executive or manager, you know what fire drills are. They’re the unexpected customer crises, data calls from the top or systems breakdowns that draw you into a vortex of email chains, impromptu meetings and circular conversations. Before you know it, you’ve turned over ten or twenty hours of your week to stuff you had no idea was going to even come up on Monday morning. Fire drills make it really hard to stick with and follow through on all of those more strategic and value added uses of your time and attention.
How do you get out of the fire drill time suck? Appoint a fire marshal to handle them. If you think back on your own development, you’ve likely had fire drill experiences in your career that forged you into the leader you are today. You learned a lot from those fire drills.
Give the people on your leadership team the same opportunity. Every week or two, designate one of them as the fire marshal for the team. When a fire drill sounds, the fire marshal is the first responder. If it’s a brush fire, it’s their job to get it put out and maybe not even get you involved until they tell you it’s over. If it’s a raging forest fire, they should bring you in earlier but you should give them the space to coordinate the response. If half the state is on fire, then you should probably take the lead. The good news, though, is that most fire drills don’t require water drops from big huge planes. Most are smaller than that and probably don’t require your hands on attention.
So, if you’re tired of the fire drills, try appointing some fire marshals. They’ll get some valuable experience and knowledge and you’ll have more time to do the things you know you need to but never seem to have the time for.
What’s your take? What conditions would need to be in place for you to appoint some fire marshals?
What Leaders Can Learn About Trust from Vladimir Putin August 13 2014 2 responses
Given his track record in Crimea and Ukraine over the past several months, you wouldn’t think there is much that leaders could learn about trust from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The shoot down of the Malaysian Air flight, the Russian-backed rebels, the troops massed on the Ukrainian border, the government-stoked propaganda in Russian media and the current “humanitarian” convoy that the Russian army is driving into Ukraine have blown the international community’s trust in Putin out of the water.
So, what in the heck could a leader learn about trust from Putin? It’s one of those what-not-to-do kind of lessons. An article in the New York Times about Germany’s changing relationship with Putin sets the table for the lesson. A longtime German politician named Gernot Erler is quoted in the article. Erler has been working on establishing a stronger relationship between Germany and Russia for decades. He’s done with that. As he said in the article:
“The policy of Vladimir Putin is destroying reserves of trust with breathtaking speed. Russia is not naming its goals and has suddenly become unpredictable. And being unpredictable is the greatest enemy of partnership. Restoring trust will take time.”
And in that quote is the lesson about trust. People won’t trust you if you’re unpredictable.
As I’ve written here before, my favorite explanation of trust comes from Fernando Flores. He believes trust is dependent on three factors: Sincerity, Credibility and Competence. You could argue that when it comes to at least the first two of those three factors, Putin has proven to be predictably unpredictable.
Of course, most leaders aren’t in a position to disrupt the world order in the way that Putin has, but, within their own domain, they can either do a lot of good or damage in the way they build or break trust.
If you’re a leader (or parent or friend or co-worker), it might be really useful to ask yourself on a regular basis, “What am I doing to build or break trust?” Taking a look at your sincerity, credibility and competence are a good place to start the self-exam. For good measure, you might want to throw predictability into the mix.
What’s your take? What are the most impactful ways to either build trust or break it?
Weird Al Takes Business Buzz Word Abusers to School July 31 2014 one response
Years ago, someone introduced me to a game called BS Bingo. (They actually spelled it out but I’m keeping things PG here.) If you were playing, you had a bingo type card where each square contained a common business buzzword. You could take the card to a meeting and check off the boxes as you heard the words used. When you got five in a row in any direction, you yelled out, “BS!” and you were the winner.
God bless Weird Al Yankovic for bringing BS Bingo into the 21st Century. He’s recently released the video for “Mission Statement,” the last song on his new album (which hit number one on the Billboard chart last week!).
Making world class use of a whiteboard, Weird Al makes the case that “We must all efficiently operationalize our strategies,” and “leverage our core competencies.” Because, of course, at the end of the day it’s all about the synergy.
If it just doesn’t feel appropriate to yell out, “BS!” in your next management meeting, watch this video instead. It’s hilarious and at least it proves you’re not the only one being driven out of your mind.
What was your favorite line in the song? Any buzzwords that drive you crazy that Al missed and should include in the sequel?