Nancy and I bonded in the late ’90′s workaholic days of an internet startup when our kids were little. More than a decade has passed and she’s VP of a growing company and I’m consulting and coaching, both of us busy as can be. We don’t see each other enough now, and the reason I know that is that at the end of every lunch that survives our schedules, we hug and say things like, “which college did Jeff decide to go to? Is Alex already graduated? Really!?” We’ve been so busy talking business, leadership challenges and career strategy that we don’t manage to squeeze the kids in until the end.
And this is so refreshing to me, and Nancy too. How many women’s networking lunches do we go to where everyone is so busy catching up on the personal stuff that we don’t get around to business? Another friend of mine recently complained about her women’s professional group, because the business issues she cares most about haven’t gotten a chance to surface due to others chatting up their family dramas.
Are we too integrated?
I think women are – as a rule – really getting skilled at work-life balance. We, more than the men I know, manage to integrate ourselves into our lives very holistically. Maybe it’s because we’re good at multitasking, maybe it’s because we still carry the larger burden when it comes to kid care, or maybe – most likely – we’re just that good:)
I have heard some women say they value women’s networking groups precisely because they can focus on non-work issues. These women don’t feel like they can “let their hair down” with their staffs and colleagues because they’re afraid of being perceived as not focused on the business, so they rely on their professional gatherings to get that itch for personal sharing with others who understand the stresses of their work-life challenges.
But I’m beginning to wonder if this could be a problem for some women in terms of tapping into the Old Girls Network we talk about needing to create to help each other out. Are we getting good at networking but not using it to build our business and mentoring skills? Are we using our woman-to-woman networking to vent our personal stuff and complain about the system to the point that we don’t coach each other in working the system, using it and dominating it so we can change the rules more directly?
Not like the guys
Let me be clear. I’m not advocating that women put their personal challenges aside completely to be “more like the guys” who focus on the business to the exclusion of personal issues so often. I don’t think that we’re “not ambitious enough” or uninterested in success. I’m also not worried about what “others” think of our proclivity for mixing personal and business issues in our dialog. Overall, I think our ability to integrate our personal and professional selves is a good thing – for our businesses, our families and ourselves. And there is some special bonding that can happen over pictures of the kids.
What I’m wondering is whether many women are missing an opportunity to really mentor each other on the business of business. Are we giving each other a leg up or are we just empathizing and listening sympathetically?
I know some women have particularly negative experiences with other women leaders who actively compete with them and refuse to help them. I think this is a different phenomenon and will cover this research on the Queen Bee/Adult Mean Girl bosses in a separate blog.
What’s Your Experience?
I have no idea what the statistical average of women’s group’s practices are so I’m not trying to come to any grand sweeping conclusions here. But I am curious about your experience. Have you noticed women optimizing the personal bonding to the detriment of the business mentoring and support? Do you know programs that are good at managing this balance? Am I making a mountain out of mole hill or tapping into a deeper theme we’d be advised to examine in more depth. Please share your thoughts.
A key leadership skill is learning to manage your personal power in every situation. Just like balancing on one foot, once you understand the feeling of InPower, it’s easier to identify when you unconsciously give your power away and can take steps to retrieve it and catch yourself earlier next time.
How do you know you’ve just given your InPower away?
Our emotions are excellent indicators of our InPower balanced state. When we’re InPower, we are calm, balanced, unapologetic and free of the culture around us. By contrast, fear, anger, doubt and guilt are sure-fire signals that you’re giving your power away and need to take it back. Similarly, expressions of disrespect, distrust, irresponsibility and unkindness, given by others (and believed by you), mean you’re off balance and out of power. These emotions and reactions are not “good or bad”, they are merely indicators of your power stance, signals to you and others around you that you are vulnerable to being knocked even more off balance. They mean that your power is leaking and in need of repair.
“Taking back your power” is as simple – and as hard – as paying attention to these emotional signals and putting yourself in a genuinely positive state. Sometimes this can be challenging, causing us to let go of beliefs and unconscious reactions that no longer serve us, and other times it’s really quite easy. Always it is a choice.
Once we become adept at managing our own InPower balanced state, we can also practice it in the world, helping others around us attain more InPower so that the groups we lead as a whole are more powerful. An InPower leader can not only foster group power but direct it into achieving great things in the world.
Not your fault?
Often we like to pretend that no one else notices when we’re out of power, or convince ourselves that our lack of power is someone else’s fault. This approach is tantamount to admitting our powerlessness and waiting around for someone to allow us to be in our power. Guess what? The chances that someone will give a powerless person power is about zero. Plus, no one can give you your internal power; you need to show them how powerful you already are and how much you deserve more power of the type they can give (e.g., authority, money, title etc.) In short, powerlessness is a lousy strategy for gaining power.
Anyone who believes no one notices their InPower state, sometimes unconsciously, is fooling themselves. While an occasional wobble may go unnoticed, regular flailing is clear to everyone – except sometimes the out-of-power folks themselves who rely too heavily only on external signs like money – to diagnose their leadership power.
Most of us aren’t used to feeling InPower and balanced because it is a discipline that must be learned and practiced. It’s certainly not reinforced by our culture or media. Looking at the headlines and typical daily routine most of us find ourselves in, it seems as though our culture is working hard to keep us out of power. In addition, we’re not born with InPower. Learning to take back our power requires that we notice when we are in balance, when we give it away, and then making the choice to stop giving it away; this is an adult skill, not one babies come wired with.
Unlike external power, which tends to have natural resource limits that people often squabble and fight over, InPower benefits from an unlimited supply that requires no competition with others to access. Each individual has an unlimited supply of InPower, and when InPower individuals get together and focus on accomplishing things, the total supply merely expands.
So what do you do?
There are many practical ways you can gain balance. Learn to read the signals of when you’re wobbling out of it and take back your personal power – for yourself and for the people around you that you are leading to change the world. My weekly newsletter provides you prompts to help you become conscious of where you are in and out of power, as will these blog posts.
In upcoming weeks we’ll be exploring the way our language can tip us off to power drains and provide us tools to take back our power and even learn to speak truth to power. Follow the Take Back Your Power series of posts or subscribe to the blog to be notified of these posts when they go up. I hope you’ll not only join us for this power journey, but share your stories and experiences with InPower along the way.
Good leaders need to be reasonable managers, able to make sure the important stuff gets done from day to day, but a true leader’s potential is discovered and exercised during times of business transformation. It is in those times that the leaders truly change the world. The words “change and transformation” are used a lot interchangeably and I’ve come to believe their meaning has pretty much been lost in modern business. “Change and transformation” don’t just mean “different than the way things are today.”
What is business transformation?
I love Chris McGoff’s distinction of CHANGE VS. TRANSFORMATION in The PRIMES. Change is improvement on the past (e.g., better, faster cheaper, ______er.) Transformation is something else altogether – a new thing, designed to achieve a vision of the future that isn’t here yet and is waiting to be created by us.
Transformation is what happened to Shell Oil in the mid 70′s when they redefined themselves as an energy company instead of an oil company. Transformation is what happened when the Internet turned into the web thanks to intuitive interface inventions like the hyperlink and the browser that organized information for human consumption instead of computer consumption. Transformation is what happened when Zappos gave customer service agents free reign to make customers happy instead of instructions about how to handle their calls.
From the outside, transformation can appear magical – like the emergence of a butterfly from a caterpillar cocoon, but when we look inside, we see very definite patterns which are repeatable if not predictable, and this is why transformation is more an art than a science.
Repeatable Patterns of Transformation
Here are the key elements of any business transformation, using the examples above and a few others:
Define radical success: In any transformational effort, the definition of success initially sounds a little crazy. Zappos went for 100% customer satisfaction, Shell set a target that a meaningful percentage of their revenue would someday come from chemical products. Looking at these things with our 40/40 hindsight, including how the market and technology developed, makes sense. However, from the perspective of where the market had been, and prevailing norms at the time these way-out goals were set, these were radical goals.
Understand what’s at stake if you don’t: It takes more than just a dream of the future to motivate groups of people to change, much less transform. For people to get up and move, they must not only be able to understand the radical definition of success you offer, but they must also believe that complacence with the current situation is not an option. The major inhibitor to transformation isn’t failure, it’s inertia. The catch in business is that you have to counter the inertia of many different people, all motivated by different things. Chris McGoff has identified the three ways people are motivated – intellectually, emotionally and financially – to transform in his STAKE PRIME. If you want to start seeing Change and Transformation happen in your world, starting asking people what’s at stake if things stay as they are. For an example of this, read about my recent power breakfast.
Look back once, and then never again: Make sure you honor the past and take from it a few things of value, but don’t let it be your guide. Transformation is like reading the wind while sailing, you may have to tack to one side and then the other, but your horizon point is always the goal. Shell could not grow it’s chemical business by doing things the way the oil business worked. They had to stay focused on doing what was necessary to grow a new kind of business and adapt their company along the way.
Experiment and do more of what works: Once you’ve really unhooked from the past, you have tremendous freedom to try new things. Many won’t work and that’s ok because you’re learning what does. Fail fast and when you find out what works, do more of that and learn from the wisdom of failure. Sure you have limited resources, which provides some urgency, but there’s too much at stake and no going back, remember? The development of the Mozilla browser birthed the internet and even though Netscape (the company that productized Mozilla) isn’t around anymore, its investors made so much money they are now the Silicon Valley funders of much of the technology underlying the Internet as it continues to morph and grow so fast that less than two decades later people like me can build and manage a web site.
Constantly let go: Skilled transformers are always ready to release that which has outlived its usefulness – a brand, a technology, a market, or a customer. Microsoft is actually a good example of doing this well and failing. Under Bill Gates, Microsoft at first ignored the Internet because its business model relied on multiple private enterprise networks, not a single public, open network. After Netscape’s wild success, however, Microsoft saw the writing on the wall and risked much of its product integrity to transform itself successfully into the dominant Internet-savvy company for a time. With the successful release of Internet Explorer it succeeded in dominating the desktop software market once more, putting Netscape out of business. However, while adapting its products to the Internet, it did not become Internet-centric and remained vulnerable to Google and subsequent Cloud initiatives. It remains to be seen whether Microsoft can, or wants to, transform itself fully into the Cloud. There is always a little bit of caterpillar carcass sticking to us and we must be ready to shed it the moment we are certain it’s holding us back. The art of it is in learning to know when that moment to let go actually arrives when you can begin leading your customers just as they are ready to let go too (you don’t want to get too far out in front of your customers).
Be comfortable – but not too comfortable – with risk: There are no guarantees in life and there are certainly none with transformation. If transformation is anything, its unpredictable. Those that survive and thrive in it pay close attention and adapt quickly, managing and mitigating risk instead of trying to avoid it. Quite often the secret to success comes at odd times and in odd forms, and if you don’t open yourself to risk you’re not likely to discover it.
Learning the art personally
Because it’s an art more than science, the way to learn transformation is to experience it. Sometimes we’re thrown into a situation where we have no choice, but an opportunity we all have all the time is to become adept at transforming ourselves. It’s not just businesses that can transform, people can too and transformative leaders are often transformative human beings who become skilled at managing transformation in their own lives as well as at work.
Research says that it’s a small percentage of people – 5% – that can do so, but I take a broader view of transformation. I think we can become skilled at it if we try because we already are. We transform from children into adults, our bodies are biologically transforming all the time and everything I listed above is available to us all personally at any time. All we have to do is want that brighter future, understand what’s at stake if we stay where we are, and step boldly out to let the past go.
What do you think? Do you think transformation is hard? Do you think anyone can do it if they try? Can any company? What’s your experience with transformation?
In entrepreneurial circles, there is a well-known trap waiting for any successful startup visionary, the Founder’s Syndrome, which has gotten many an organization’s founder fired by the board and/or their funders. It’s what happens when the founder’s original vision and passion, which enabled the little startup to succeed originally, actually starts to hold it back from growing past a certain point.
The limits of passion and vision
Passion and vision are amazingly powerful. They can cause people to invest in even the most crazy idea. (Can you imagine what people said in 1999 when Sergey Brin and Larry Page told their venture funders their startup was called “Google?”) But, even crazy-smart ideas have their limits. Eventually, the wild-idea startup has to take on some business discipline, learn to scale and keep coming up with marketable products and services.
No matter how smart they are, even experienced entrepreneurs rarely know all that they need to know to lead a long-term successful effort. None of us do, really. All we know is that the challenges we face today will be different from those we encounter down the road. So when we fire up our engines, here’s what the smart founder needs to do to avoid the crash-and-burn fate of Founder’s Syndrome:
Fail fast and become skilled at letting go of any residual attachment to the failure. Learn the lessons the failuregave you and move on quickly.
Enjoy your successes and become skilled at letting go of any residual attachment to success. You may have to do it differently next time.
Be ready to transform yourself and your company into something altogether new. Work to put yourself out of business.
Successful Founders experience personal transformation
These all basically boil down to “become skilled at letting go and actively seek to become what the world, business and customers need from you.” When you are the founder, if you don’t transform and become capable of being more than your humble beginnings, the company can’t transform either because at first you and it are really the same. If you don’t transform, not much happens, but if the company doesn’t transform it won’t grow, scale and turn into the wealth-engine you were looking for.
But frankly, why waste the chance for a personal transformation, fueled by that thing you’re pouring your heart and soul into? Let it engergize you and give you the courage to do what we all find so difficult – to become more than we are. Let it be the impetus for your personal transformation to face your fears, experience wonderful highs, live through heart-thumping near misses and change the world.
Business is an adventure. Let it grow you into someone new.