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The Courage to be Vulnerable

It’s been 3 weeks since I joined Culture Amp, and one of the striking things is how clearly the values of the company are articulated, discussed, embraced, and modelled by everyone in the company.

One of the four values is having the courage to be vulnerable. This value deeply resonates with me, and is one of the most important for a loving leader to embrace. It is the difference between wanting to hold the worth of others to the fullest degree and actually following through on it.

Bringing out the best in people

As a leader, the single most important part of your job is to bring out the best in the people in your team. Your goal should be to watch in awe as the wonderfully unique, special, talented people around you shine as they accomplish remarkable things. The full force of a tight-knit team on a mission is so much greater than anything you can muster on your own, no matter how skilled or strong you are.

The thing that fuels this kind of empowerment is love. The authentic unconditional love that holds every person to an infinite worth, regardless of any circumstance or attribute, and takes action on that recognition.

To be a leader that genuinely loves in this way requires you to be vulnerable. You need to do things and say things and make sacrifices that are in keeping with completely valuing each person. It takes courage. But it is so worth it for your team, for the results of your business, and for yourself.

Vulnerability in challenge

Many years ago I was leading a huge transformation project that was on the verge of seeming impossible. Even though there was great risk, all the way along I could see a path to the finish line. I had deep faith in the team and our ability to succeed in the mission, and I continually encouraged and helped people through all of the challenges.

But then as we approached the delivery date for this project, it got to the point where I started to doubt that we would make it. I could no longer genuinely see the path to the finish.

I was due to have a weekly all-hands meeting with the team on Monday morning, and I didn’t know what to do.

I could have stood up and tried to encourage and inspire people to find a way through that final month, but it would have been fake. I would have been saying and doing things that I didn’t believe deep down. And in doing so I would have stepped back from loving my team, because you are always honest with people you genuinely love.

So I took the path of vulnerability. I stood in front of 50 people in a room, stuttering and stammering, saying that I wasn’t sure any more if we would get to the finish line on time, asking what everyone thought we should do because I had no idea.

In the midst of my awkwardness, one of the engineers spoke up and said “You said that if the next 2 days don’t go extremely well, there’s no way we can make it. Why don’t we see what happens in the next 2 days”. I latched onto this suggestion like a drowning man grasping for a life preserver, and we left the meeting with that plan.

Your feelings aren’t always the reality

I left that meeting feeling very insecure. I felt like I had let my team down as their leader, and instead of being a calm confident presence I was stammering and incoherent. I felt that I had been leading them so far on a journey, but then just when they needed me the most I was giving them doubt. It felt like a real low-point in my leadership.

But then later that day I started to get feedback about the meeting. One of my leaders said “somehow that meeting this morning has really lifted everyone’s spirits”. Someone else thanked me for being so “real” in the meeting.

We went forward from that meeting, found out after the couple of days that we did need a bit more time, and ended up doing a soft release on our due date just to internal people, with our production release 2 weeks later. The project was a huge success for us as a team and as a business, and it lifted and inspired many people in other parts of the company.

When I look back with hindsight, I see that the meeting that I felt so bad about at the time was actually one of the best meetings I’d had as a leader. I was completely vulnerable with the team. I laid bare my heart, and shared all of my fears and uncertainties. And this acted to bring us all closer together for the better, rather than causing things to fall apart for the worse.

Entering my new job with vulnerability

When I started at Culture Amp, I had a different experience of vulnerability. For the first time in 22 years I was stepping into a new company in a new domain with a new team. What would that be like? Would I be able to adapt? How would I connect with everyone and come up to speed?

Fortunately for me, Culture Amp have a really amazing on boarding process, and it is abundantly clear that a lot of time has been spent thinking about how to being people into the company in a way that really supports the person.

From this position of safety and reassurance, I started reflecting on the best way for me to connect with everyone in my team. And then it struck me. I needed to have the courage to be vulnerable and share with everyone who I really am. I remembered a leader who I had recently hired in my previous company who had held an introduction session with the team, and decided that I would do this. I also resolved that in that session I would share the whole story of who I am, and not hold anything back.

Telling my story

The introduction session I had was really just telling my story. I talked through a journey from when I was a child through to now, highlighting key moments and changes along the way. I didn’t separate personal things and work things, but rather told the interleaved story of the progression of my life. I shared high points and special moments. I shared low points, such as my early doubts around my ability as a leader and my battle with chronic fatigue.

I shared things that are important in my life – my family, my involvement in my church and community, being physically active and taking on different kinds of endurance challenges. I shared my deep desire to see leaders leading from love, making workplaces all over the world safe places where people can truly thrive and achieve amazing things. And I shared the way I looked at my new role and the way I intended to approach it.

After that session, many people reached out to thank me for sharing my story so openly. And it leads to various different discussions that may not have happened otherwise. As is always the case when you are vulnerable, the risk taken is rewarded in ways not possible without having the courage to do it.

You have opportunity to be courageous today

All of us, whether in a leadership position or not, have opportunities to make a tangible difference to those around us today. And one of the most powerful ways we can do that is to have the courage to open our hearts to others.

Keep your eyes open and be aware. Every single person you interact with today is a special unique person, filled with gifts and talents, a one-of-a-kind that is irreplaceable and of priceless worth. What would it look like to convey somehow the amazing qualities you see in that person? What hopes, dreams, uncertainties, challenges are you facing that maybe sharing with this person will help you both?

Be aware, see what ideas come to mind, and then take the courageous step of acting on one of them today. And see what flows from your vulnerability.

Cheers,
Paul.

Love Your Team

The little things are the big things

When it comes to being a leader, it is easy to gravitate towards the big things. These seem (and actually are) really important.

Do we have a clear vision?

Is there a strong strategy that will take us to the vision?

Do we have the right organizational structures in place?

How clear are our goals and are we holding ourselves accountable to them?

As important as these things are, there is one thing even more important – culture. And even more specifically, the genuine unconditional love of the people who are embarking on this mission with you, and the playing out of this in all of the little moments.

A huge hike

Every year myself and three friends do the Oxfam Trailwalker together. This is a 100km hike, through all sorts of terrain, done straight through day and night, to raise money for some of the poorest people in the world. We tend to complete the walk in 24-26 hours, and it is always a powerful (if not painful!) experience.

If we boil things down to the core level, the most important ingredient to completing that walk is water. If we didn’t have water, our bodies would shut down. No matter what gear we had, how good our pacing strategy was, no matter how clear we were on our vision of completing that walk, if we didn’t have water we wouldn’t make it.

Now, the water isn’t the only thing we need. We also need all the other things I mention. But if we have water, our bodies are hydrated, we have energy, and we have a group of 4 talented and passionate people who are going to figure out all the rest together.

Culture is the water

Culture is the water, in the hiking analogy. If there exists an atmosphere where every person is genuinely valued and is safe to be themselves, safe to create, and safe to experience the inevitable failure that is part of the creative process, then the best comes out of people.

Struggling with your strategy as a leader? If you truly love your people and build an environment where they thrive, those people will help you build a strategy you never could have come up with on your own.

Not sure of the right structure? The people around you will help shape the right structure for you all.

Have a particular weakness? Trust your people and they will fill in your weaknesses with their strengths.

No matter who you are, no matter what your strengths and weaknesses, if you make your #1 priority your people then everything else will find a way to come together.

You drink water in sips

In the Oxfam Trailwalker, you are constantly sipping small amounts of water all the way along the trail. You carry a reserve on your back from which these sips are made.

Imagine for a second what would happen if every so often, even just once every couple of hours, someone opened up your water tank and dropped in a single drop of poison.

You wouldn’t make it to the end. It might even endanger your life. The most vital, most crucial thing needed to complete the walk and keep you in vibrant health would have been corrupted. And it would have devastating effects.

You love your team moment by moment

Every moment of the day, every interaction you have with other people, are like small sips of water. If the moment is grounded in the unconditional valuing of the other person, then it is life-giving water that nourishes both of you.

If on the other hand the worth of the other person is reduced or ignored, the moment becomes like poison. And can have devastating effects on your team and organisation.

If you want to build a truly special culture where people really can thrive, it needs to be intentional and needs to happen in every moment, every interaction, every word, every action, every decision.

And not just when it is easy. Anyone can do that. Your true culture comes through when it is hard. And it is so important for a loving leader to hold the value of their people super high in the times of stress and pressure, in the times of failure, as well as in the times when people are behaving with you in a way that is less than ideal and when there is temptation to become frustrated with the person.

But isn’t that almost impossible?

We are all human, and as hard as we strive not to, there will be moments that push our buttons and cause us to respond in ways that are less than the lofty goal of holding unconditional love for every person in every situation.

While that is true, I will say two things about it.

The first is that the minute we stop striving for that gold standard of being loving in every situation in every way, then it is the start of our demise. It is better to strive and occasionally slip, than to give up on the aspiration.

The second is that as a leader, the love you strive to hold for others is also there for you too.

In the walk, if poison was dripped into your water supply, there would only be one solution – immediately drink the antidote to neutralise the poison.

In the world of leadership, there is only one solution for moments when you fall from the standard you aspire to. And that is humble apology and making amends. There is nothing you can do that is so bad that forgiveness will not be extended to you if you are truly sorry and want to make up for it.

Be intentional today

Today is a blank canvas, ready to be painted. You have countless moments today, and you have the opportunity in every one of them to touch lives, to nourish each person and yourself with life-giving water.

Do this, and amazing things will happen around you. And you will discover that the big things really are the adding up of all the little things.

Cheers,

Paul.

Freedom isn’t what you think it is

Freedom is one of the most misunderstood concepts in our current day and age. Apparent freedom and true freedom are very different things. And for anyone to get the most out of their life, or for a leader to get the most from their team, it’s crucial to understand the difference.

My own journey

Many years ago I suffered with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This illness lasted for 2 years, and there was not a moment in that seemingly never-ending time where I felt normal. Constantly tired, constantly struggling, I resigned myself to the notion that I had lost my quality of life for good.

But then one day I made the decision to try everything I possibly could to pull out of this illness. I took a month off work, and spent the first two weeks in bed. I then started setting small goals, aiming to walk for 5 minutes one day, then 10 the next. I poured myself into learning about good nutrition, to fuel my body with healthy food that gave it the best chance of recovery. I acted hour by hour, day by day, with the disciplines that stood the greatest chance of giving me my life back.

Nothing changed overnight, but gradually my health started to improve. I cannot pinpoint a particular day when my health was restored, but after 6 months I was pretty much back to normal. I had my life back! I got a second chance!

From that point forward I committed myself to really looking after my body. I appreciated life and health like never before. I became very disciplined in eating well and exercising, and I was so grateful for the opportunity to be active. This focus on health really grew my fitness, and in the years ahead I had the physical fitness to be able to do amazing things I could only have dreamed of in the middle of my illness.

I still remember crossing the finish line of my first marathon. Such an exhilarating experience, one that is impossible to fabricate without actually going through it.

At the heart of my gratitude was that I had the freedom to do it.

Freedom has a frame of reference

If you ask someone these days what freedom is, you’ll likely get the answer “Being able to choose to do whatever you want to do”.  And while this sounds good on the surface, this is only an apparent freedom.

The reason that doing whatever you want is only an illusion of true freedom is that so often what we want to do right now is something that fulfills a short term desire at the expense of something even greater in the long term.

Continuing in the health analogy, if I say I am free to eat what ever I want and then continually eat junk food, I end up in a state when I am far from free. I end up overweight, sluggish, restricted in the activities I can engage in. I don’t have the freedom to run like the wind and experience the exhilarating joy of having my body working at the fullness of its potential.

Rather than indulging in the base desires that I have in the present moment, true freedom is making the choice to take the actions that will lead to the longer term fulfillment of something much more rewarding.  True freedom is stepping into the fullness of who I truly am, maximizing the development of every talent and wonderful unique characteristic that make me me. Settling for anything less is being trapped.

The “freedom” of choosing to become trapped doesn’t really make me free.

What this means for leaders

Understanding true freedom is crucial for leaders.

The greatest leadership is founded on unconditional love, on the genuine valuing of every person to an extraordinary degree, aligning all words, decisions, and actions with that recognition. And this involves valuing people so much that you help them to be free.

Parents know how this works. They set boundaries with their children, not allowing them to indulge in staring at screens and binging on junk food all day long. They do this because they love their child, and want to help their child be free. If a parent lets their child do whatever they want with no discipline, then that parent is actually being unloving.

As leaders of teams in an organization, we too must work with our people to determine appropriate boundaries and disciplines. We need clarity of goals. We need to agree on work practices that lead to the freedom of us being able to operate as a high performing team, rather than just leaving things wild open for anyone to do anything with no accountability.

Part of the wisdom of a loving leader is to know when to help people form structure and disciplines, and when to leave them wide open to run. If the worth of the people are not at the center of this thought process, then it leads to oppression. Rules get established and enforced that end up restricting rather than liberating. Or on the other end of the spectrum, the leader is too detached and the team end up getting trapped because they are too ad hoc.

Next time

The next time you encounter a situation where the question of freedom is at play, either in your own life or in your team, consciously consider what’s written in this blog. Ask yourself what ultimate freedom looks like. What is the frame of reference that is so great that were you able to operate in that frame that you could truly be free in the most exhilarating use of that word. And then consider the most loving way to help yourself and your team hold to the disciplines that will take you to that true freedom.

Cheers,

Paul.

Love Your Team

If I didn’t love my team would I quit?

When I first talked about Love Your Team at a technology leadership conference one of the questions I was asked at the end of the talk was “If you didn’t love your team would you walk away?”

My answer to that question was simple – “I will always love my team.”

How can I say that?

On the surface my answer might seem boldly unrealistic. How can I say that I will always love my team. What if I don’t?

But here’s the crucial point – loving someone is different to liking them.

I can’t guarantee that I will naturally like every person that is ever in my team. I can’t guarantee I will have a free-flowing enjoyable dynamic with everyone. I can’t guarantee that I’ll never get frustrated by something that someone says or does.

But I do have a choice about whether to love someone even if I don’t naturally like them.

What does it mean to love someone?

At the heart of loving someone is the conscious recognition of their inherent worth. That as a human being they are special, unique, and of more value than anything else in this world.

Charlotte Mason, a British educationalist in the 19th century, found some of the most elegantly powerful words to describe this:

“the beautiful infant frame is but the setting of a jewel of such astonishing worth that, put the whole world in one scale and this jewel in the other, and the scale which holds the world flies up outbalanced.”

To love someone is to consciously hold that recognition of their worth and to strive to align your words, decisions, and actions with it. This translates into trusting people, supporting them, recognizing and encouraging their efforts and results. It also translates into being honest with people, giving them clear feedback when performance isn’t meeting expectations, and helping them grow to succeed. Sometimes love will even drive to the shared recognition that there isn’t a good match between the person and the company, and that it is time to part ways.

Please never mistake being a loving leader with being soft, being nice, and trying to get everyone to like you. A loving leader always strives to do what is right, nomatter how hard that is to do, and strives to hold deep respect for every person throughout.

How do you love someone who you don’t like?

Imagine that you want to get fitter, healthier, and drop some weight. There are two ways you can approach this:

  1. Focus on the actions you need to take. Just do the things you need to do – eating healthy food and regularly exercising – knowing they are the right things that will take you to your goal even if you don’t feel like doing them.
  2. Focus on your inner motivation. Cultivate an awareness of what a healthy body feels like and foster in innate desire to want to eat well and exercise. Let those feelings naturally propel you into the action you need to take.

If you can’t stand eating healthy food or exercising, it’s unlikely that starting at 2 is going to get you very far. If you wait until you feel like acting, you are never going to act.

In those cases, starting at 1 is more likely to get you going. You acknowledge that you know that eating well and exercising are the right things for you to do, and you grit your teeth and do them, despite your feelings.

Now let’s zoom forward a couple of months. If you have consistently acted then two things will have happened. The first is that you will have developed a habit of eating well and exercising, and it will be much easier to continue than it was to start out. And the second is that you will have started to discover for yourself how good it feels when you are looking after your body. It’s highly likely that you will have developed some degree of actually liking healthy living. At that point 1 and 2 are working together in an upward spiral, and if you keep at it you will go from strength to strength.

The same pattern applies with loving people you don’t like. Starting at 2 may not get you very far. And if you wait until you like someone before you love them, they you may never love them. But regardless of your feelings you can start at 1. You can acknowledge that you know that it is right for you to hold the worth of the other person unmeasurably high, even if you don’t “feel” this, and then start acting in a way that is in line with that recognition.

If you do this, and we zoom forward to the future like in the health scenario, the same two results will occur. Firstly, you will have developed a habit of interacting with that person in a way that aligns with the recognition of their inherent worth. Secondly, it is highly likely that you will have started to discover some of the good in that person that you never saw before, and that you could genuinely say you are starting to like the person, even if just to a small degree. And just like in the health scenario, if you persist you will continue on an upward spiral where 1 and 2 work together.

A challenge for you

I’m really going to challenge you as I finish this blog post.

I want you to identify someone who you work with regularly (or who you interact with regularly in any aspect of your life) who frustrates you, gets on your nerves, and who you really don’t like.

For the next 30 days, starting right now, I want you to commit to interacting with that person with the words and actions you would use with someone you did inherently like.

Any time frustration builds up inside of you due to things that person does or says (or leaves undone or unsaid) I want you to detect that frustration, and intentionally override your natural reaction. I want you to acknowledge that this person is a human being who is valuable, that there is someone in the world that looks at this person with deep feelings of love (say, for example, the person’s mother), and I want you to ask yourself how that person who deeply loves them would respond. And then I want you to respond in the way that you identify, as much as you likely won’t feel like it.

(Remembering again that this isn’t about just “being nice” to the person. The loving response may be very directly and honestly talking to the person about issues, but doing so in a way that upholds their inherent value and looks for a constructive path forward.)

Then in 30 days time I want you to step back and reflect on what has transpired over the 30 days. What differences have you noticed in that person, in your relationship with them, in the way you interact with them, in the way you feel about them, in the way you feel in general? What has flowed from your commitment to intentionally love them for 30 days?

What I’m asking you to do is not easy, but I can assure you it is worth it. It will unlock growth in your leadership and your life. It will have a positive impact on the other person and in everyone around you both. And it is a way you can make a difference in the here and now in your unique circumstances.

What would our world be like if all leaders in all stations genuinely acted on this intention?

Cheers,
Paul.

Love Your Team

The difference a loving leader can make

Today I had lunch with a good friend of mine. I catch up with Daniel at least a couple of times a year, and I always look forward to our chats.

We are both leaders with lots of difference experiences over the years. Both reluctant leaders who never set out to intentionally get into leadership, but just found ourselves naturally gravitating into leadership roles in our work and other spheres.

I can really relate to Daniel. And inevitably when we get together we end up share stories and insights that always seem to be exactly what each of us needed to hear at the time.

Today was no different.

A young man who was lost

Daniel told me today of a young man named Trent at his current company. Trent is a recent graduate with only a year or so experience in the workforce. Passionate, eager, but as it turns out lost and confused.

When Daniel joined the company he met Trent and invited him out for a walk to get to know him.

Daniel is a great listener, and one of the most authentic people you will ever meet. Within 30 minutes Trent had opened up to him.

“Daniel, I’m completely lost. The business leaders have big expectations, but I don’t know what I’m meant to do or how to do it. I’ve been spending my time trying to do things and look busy, but the truth is I don’t know what to do.”

Trent had been struggling through a really difficult and uncomfortable situation at the company. The business leaders weren’t very approachable and Trent was afraid of exposing the fact that he was lost. Every day he was having to face the excruciating experience of being responsible for something but not knowing how to achieve it. And having no one he could turn to for support.

Daniel had a short clear response for Trent:

“Don’t worry Trent. From now on you and I are in this together. I’m going to mentor you and coach you. We’ll teach each other and together we’ll figure out how to be successful here”.

The power of an act of love

Daniel’s statement to Trent was a powerful one. It wasn’t just his words, but the fact that he completely meant what he said.

Trent also intuitively sensed he has safe with Daniel. He had been afraid to raise his situation with the other business leaders, but not with Daniel.

Daniel embodied what it is to be a loving leader. He held the value of Trent to the fullest degree. He believed in him. He committed himself to helping him. And he was completely honest that he didn’t currently have all the answers, but would figure it out together.

How differently must Trent have been feeling after that walk with Daniel than before? Meeting Daniel must have been like a streak of sunshine breaking through a cloudy sky.

The outcome

The story Daniel told me was from over 6 months ago. Zooming forward to the present day, Trent is delivering beyond expectation in the business. He has learned a huge amount from working closely with Daniel over that 6 months. Trent is now mentoring another new person, and Daniel feels he is ready to lead a small team should the opportunity arise.

Perhaps most powerfully, Trent has learned one of the most valuable lessons there is to learn – the empowering effect of unconditional love. He has had the privilege to work with a wonderful loving leader, and this will influence the way that Trent leads for the rest of his career.

It’s hearing stories like Daniel’s today that gives me such hope that striving to be a loving leader, and encouraging others to do the same, can make such a difference.

Daniel has influenced not just Trent’s career, but his life. And it all started through one conversation grounded in unconditional love.

May we all be on the lookout for the opportunities where we can follow in Daniel’s footsteps.

Cheers,
Paul.

Love Your Team

Are you living in the moment, right here, right now?

Last week I met with two people from a recruitment company who are helping me fill a leadership position. As I sat down that night reflecting on my day, I looked back fondly on what was a really joyful and energizing meeting.

Why was it so joyful?

There are a few reasons, and I am moved to share them with you.

1.      The care that underpinned the meeting

Meeting with Kate and Andrew was not just a business transaction. It wasn’t merely a mechanical process of them finding out information about the position I am hiring for and then providing me data on next steps.

I could tell that Kate and Andrew genuinely wanted to help me.

They travelled a fair way to get to our office, and took a full hour out of their day to spend with me. Andrew had just returned from an overseas trip but made it a priority to immediately meet.

They were deeply curious about what was important to me and to our company. They took a lot of time to really listen, to ask great questions, to explore together.

It would have been possible for someone to gather the base raw facts of the position over an email and a short phone call. But that person would never really understand what I am trying to achieve and why it is important to me.

Kate and Andrew went the extra mile, and the authenticity of their desire to help me shone through.

2.     The connection we made

Besides the objective of filling the position that I have open, the conversation also included sharing stories and experiences in various forms.

I learned of a recent success of Andrew’s where he had taken on an opportunity to fill a CEO role, and  through a lot of hard work and a remarkable sequence of events ended up filling that position in an almost unheard of rapid timeframe. Hearing this story was a great encouragement to me in various ways.

I learned of Kate’s tireless work to promote Women in ICT which provided some inspiration to me.

I shared some of my recent experiences and thoughts, and saying those words out loud helped crystalize and clarify the thoughts in my mind relating to a couple of things I am working on.

The time we spent together helped me and encouraged me in numerous ways outside of the base objective of sharing the information about the job.

3.     We were in the moment

Thursday had actually been quite a challenging day for me with a lot of moving parts and complexities, with a temptation to feel overwhelmed. But that hour-long meeting was a refuge. I was completely in the moment. I was present.

An hour passed in what seemed more like 30 mins, a common phenomenon when you are deeply engaged in something with your full attention.

Work (and life) can be like this

The joyful, inspiring, energizing experience of that meeting is available for us more than I think we often realize. It is right in front of our noses, but we don’t stop to see it or to seize it.

What prevent us? Most commonly fear, stress, worry, insecurity.

Instead of being present, right here, right now, with our full attention on the people we are with at the moment, we have all sorts of anxieties that take us away – What if that big project I’m working on isn’t a success? How am I going to find the time to fit in the huge list of things on my plate? I have no idea how I’m going to deal with that big issue that is causing everything to fall off the rails. I don’t think anyone appreciates what I do or supports me.

But imagine what it would be like if you could go from situation to situation in your day and experience the freedom of truly being present in the current moment.

Trust is key

In order to truly be free and present in the moment we need to be able to genuinely trust that we can safely put all of the other things that are competing for our attention aside for the time being.

Children are the perfect role models for us in this. My girls teach and remind me of this all the time by their example. Have you ever observed the joy that radiates from a child that knows they are loved and knows that they are completely safe in the presence of their parents? The way they engage in the book they are reading, or the activity they are doing. The detail they notice. The enthusiasm they exude.

“Where do they get the energy?” is the catch cry of parents as they see their children exerting themselves with such vigor in so many different things.

But the children know the secret. The joyful intensity with which they operate isn’t something that depletes from a limited energy store. It is the opposite. The full application of themselves in the moment, with complete trust that they don’t need to worry about anything else at that time, is restorative and the thing that provides them the energy.

What drains us is not how many things we do, nor how many things we have on our plate, nor how fully we are applying ourselves. What drains us are our fears, uncertainties, regrets, insecurities. The more we pull back due to these things, hiding away from lovingly giving our all, the worse our situation becomes.

We must trust in love

There are many things that we can and do put our trust in. But not all things we trust in are equal. In order to genuinely live in the moment, even in the midst of chaotic and seemingly overwhelming circumstances, we must trust in “love”.

I could write volumes on what it means to trust in love, and there is no room in this short blog to do so. But I will leave you with one thought to consider.

If you are responsible for something, say a project at work, you always want to do the best job of that. Deep down we all do. In fact, so many of our fears surround what will happen or what people will think of us if we fail.

So how do you go about doing the best job?

Part of it is trying to put in place the best plan or structure you can. You try and understand and be clear on your goals, you try and mitigate risks and issues, you schedule and do work, you collaborate with others to come up with the best outcomes.

Now, let’s say you are doing the best you can in all those things. You are using all of your experience and knowledge to try and do the best job. You are reading and learning. You are collaborating with others. You are measuring how things are going and trying to be accountable to ensuring the goals are achieved.

Which, then, of these scenarios is going to have the higher chance of success:

  • Constantly worrying and going around in circles in your mind about what will happen if you aren’t successful. Multi-tasking during meetings, splitting your attention between what is happening in the meeting and half a dozen other issues you are worried about. Going through each day in a constant state of stress and unease, falling in a heap when you get home. Waking up in the middle of the night playing over in your mind all of the unresolved risks and issues.
  • Trusting that you are doing all the things you could be doing. Trusting in the people you are working with, knowing that they have the potential to think of and do amazing things. Being present doing the single thing you are engaged in right now, with a child-like application of yourself, setting your mind on the love you have for the people you are working with, the people you are doing the work for, and gratitude for the opportunity to be doing this. Leaving aside other things until it is the time to be dealing with those things, and then at the appropriate time giving that next thing the full attention it deserves. Sleeping through the night in peace.

I’ve lived both of these, and I can tell you that 2 is by far the more rewarding and successful path.

The bottom line

If you don’t care about the things you are doing, holding back and shrugging your shoulders and saying “if it fails, it fails”, then you are not going to find peace. Deep down you will know you are holding back.

If on the other hand you care about the things you are doing but are spending all of your time worrying about all the ways you could fail, or are disregarding the worth of others to forcefully achieve what you are desperately focused on, then you are still not going to find peace.

But if you ground yourself in love – caring about the things you are doing, caring about the people you are doing those things with and for, trusting and not doubting the way of love is the best path – then you will find peace. And many other things.

On Thursday I experienced the restorative effect of spending time with two loving leaders, Kate and Andrew. This helped me return to the present. Which in turn helped me to be a loving leader to others in that day.

Who could you give the same gift to today?

Cheers,
Paul.

Love Your Team

You never know the impact

We had parent teacher interviews this evening. I love the chance to connect with the girls’ teachers and talk about how the kids have been going at school. Both girls are thriving and have wonderful teachers, which makes these interviews particularly sweet.

But tonight was no ordinary interview. Something completely unexpected happened that I never could have predicted.

My wife and I walked into the room to meet with our youngest daughter’s teacher. After greeting each other the teacher started to talk about her husband’s work and the challenging leadership role he has. She then said that both her and her husband have been reading a blog that has been really making a difference for them.

Just when I was wondering where this conversation was going she turned to me and said the last thing in the world I was expecting:

“It’s your blog.”

Remarkable timing

Hearing that feedback was humbling. I would never have guessed that my writing would have made its way into the hands of my daughter’s teacher and that it would have had the kind of effect she described.

The timing was also remarkable.

Over the last couple of months I’ve really struggled to find motivation and traction with my writing. With many challenging goals at work and a full life with the family, it’s been hard to fit in consistent writing time. But if I’m honest with myself the biggest obstacle has been my motivation. Something has been pulling me away from finding the time to write that I know is there if I really want it. Maybe some fear. Maybe some doubt. In any case straying too far from that glorious thing called habit, which is there to serve us if we will let it.

But in the last three days I’ve had three separate encouragements. Someone reached out to tell me that a conversation and some feedback I gave them years ago really helped them turn a corner in working with other people. Another person told me that my Love Your Team initiative helped them make a significant career decision. And then there was the feedback tonight from my daughter’s teacher.

On an evening when I had not planned to carve out any time to write, I find myself writing with joy and purpose. Tonight I was given the exact thing I needed at the time I really needed it, and I am very grateful.

Loving leadership follows the same pattern

A truth that I’ve seen play out countless times over the years is that the moments we make a difference in someone else’s life are often unknown to us at the time. We have our plans and go about our business, trying our best to achieve the goals that are in front of us. But it is a side-conversation, a moment talking to someone in the kitchen, a small piece of encouragement, that ends up touching someone, inspiring them, unlocking ideas and potential that were always there but just needed something to draw them out.

It is the moments that are grounded in love that have the highest chance of having this uplifting and transformational effect. The moments when we truly see other people as they are – people of infinite worth and potential, despite the flaws and blemishes we all have that can so easily get in the way of truly valuing someone.

As leaders, whether in business, or politics, whether at a school, or in a family, the most important and foundational thing for us to do is to truly hold the worth of all of those around us to a super high level. And then to let that recognition flow into our decisions, words, and actions. When we do this, there are all sorts of ripples that spread, most of which we never find out about. But it is these ripples that inspire people, bring teams together, and end up delivering awesome sustained results.

There is no formula for this. No management structure that can enforce it. No process that can guarantee it. These is something magical and special about us human beings, and when we engage with each other in genuine unconditional love it unlocks powerful things that can’t be unlocked in any other way.

Be a loving leader today

Every single one of us, whether formally in a leadership position or not, can be a leader in love. If we choose to unconditionally value every person we encounter in our day, and have the courage to express and act on that, then we will be a beacon that radiates ripples that touch people’s lives. We will foster an atmosphere around us where people feel safe, feel valued, and get encouraged and inspired.

In the next meeting or interaction that you have with others, remember that the way you are in that meeting is more crucial than the specifics of the content you are discussing. The content is still important, but it is your being that has the potential to cause the ripples that inspire and touch lives.

Tonight I was on the receiving end of that. The genuine encouragement from my daughter’s teacher gave me the inspiration I needed to start writing again after a period of drought. I could perceive the value she held for me. I could see it in her eyes. I could experience it in her body language. I knew it was genuine. And this made her encouraging words deeply impactful to me.

What kind of effect could your loving heart, thoughts, words, and actions have today?

Cheers,
Paul.

Love Your Team

This leadership thought exercise will challenge you

When I talk to people about loving leadership my experience is that the concept is always well-received. I’ve never met anyone who has objected to the idea of valuing people or said that they don’t do this. It appears like I’m putting words to something so simple and obvious that we all innately know but just don’t state very often.

So if loving leadership is common sense and something that most people would say they already do, why am I so focused on writing about it? Why not, having shared the simple reminder that true leadership is grounded in love, move on with other topics?

The answer is that there is a vast chasm between what loving leadership sounds like on the surface and what it actually is.

This article poses a thought exercise to help illustrate this radical difference.

Imagine your most important meeting

Imagine that you are about to have the most important meeting of your career. If you are a business leader, this meeting might be with the CEO of the company that, should they sign up, would instantly turn your business into an extraordinary success. You also see this CEO as a role-model, someone you deeply respect and look up to more than anyone in the world.

After a few days of anticipation, it’s finally time for the meeting. You are in the elevator, heading up to the 23rd floor. The time has come.

How alert, aware and intentional are you heading into that meeting?

You arrive on 23 and are asked to sit and wait.

5 minutes pass. Then 10. Soon it’s 20 minutes, and just as you are getting nervous that the CEO might not show up, he comes hurriedly through the door apologizing for being late.

How do you react to this? Are you frustrated with the CEO, struggling to pay attention to him, not making eye contact and not really listening to his explanation for why he was late? Or have you forgiven him and started to graciously engage?

After some small talk the CEO highlights a concern about the deal you are negotiating. He starts talking about going in a direction that is different to where you think things should go. Do you cut him off and tell him that he doesn’t understand and should listen to your perspective? Or do you deeply listen to what he is saying, seeking to understand where he is coming from, having an open mind that there could possibly be merit in what he is saying?

During the middle of this conversation the CEO makes a hand gesture and accidently knocks over a cup of coffee. It splashes onto the table and onto your clothes. How do you react? Do you hold a frustrated grudge against him for the rest of the meeting, or do you chalk it up as an accident and seek to reassure him in the midst of the embarrassment he must be feeling?

After the coffee incident the discussion gets back on track and you both converge on a path forward that seems great to both parties. But just before signing the deal, the CEO asks for some conditions that you believe are unreasonable for you to sign up to. How thoughtful are you in the way you hold your ground? Do you speak to him in a flippant way that could cause insult, or are you empathetic yet clear and firm that you can’t take on board these conditions?

You finally sign the deal! You are exhilarated – it is a dream come true. The CEO then shakes your hand, and asks if he can give you some feedback. You say yes, and he gives you feedback on some things you said and did in the meeting that might be problematic for you in future situations. How do you react? Does it get your back up and do you leave the meeting irritated and speaking to your colleagues about the nerve of that CEO? Or do you accept the feedback graciously, ponder it for any truths that might be contained that can help you grow, and then celebrate the great success with your colleagues, reaffirming to people just how highly you think of that CEO?

I want you to connect with the sense of admiration and value you have for that CEO, and how that plays out in all the little moments of the meeting.

A different scenario

I now want you to imagine another meeting.

This meeting has a similar purpose – looking to get alignment and agreement on something with the other person.

But this person is very different to the CEO.

This person is in your own organization and is junior to you. They are in another department, and there is a big disconnect between your two departments. Everything this other department does seems to work against the initiatives that you are driving in the company.

This particular person has been a thorn in your side. In the last company meeting they publicly raised a whole lot of issues that could give the perception that you and your department were doing a bad job. This person themselves has had a track record of very poor results, but they seem to constantly raise issues with the way all of the other people and departments around them are doing things.

The tone, manner, and nature of the interactions this person has with you gives the impression that the person does not like you. And the things they have done in the past give an impression that they are very focused on their own success and accolades at the expense of others in the company.

You are due to meet this person about a joint initiative that seems like it has a lot more benefit for that person and their department than you.

You are walking to the meeting room. How does your alertness, awareness, and intentionality compare to the meeting with the CEO?

The person turns up 20 minutes late. How do you react? With the same genuine graciousness you held for the CEO, or do you bear an angst against them?

The person highlights a whole bunch of concerns and suggests a different path to the one you have in mind. Do you listen as deeply and entertain this other path with as much openness as you did for the CEO?

Now the coffee is spilled. How do you react?

The other person suggests some completely unreasonable conditions that they think you should adhere to going forward. How empathetic are you in the way you hold firm to your position?

You finally agree on something that is satisfactory. And then at the end the person says they want to give you some feedback on how you handled parts of the meeting? What is your reaction to that feedback?

You leave the meeting room and go back to your desk. A colleague and good friend comes and asks you how your meeting was. How do you respond? Are you harboring any ill-will against the other person and do you make any negative remarks about the person?

Loving leadership is radical

In the fulness of what it means to be a loving leader, the answers to the questions in both parts of this thought exercise must be identical. You must genuinely value the worth of the irritating colleague to the same level as the role-model CEO. And the genuineness of this must play out in all of the little moments of the conversation.

Genuine loving leadership is radical. It needs explicit intention, a super amount of discipline, and a constant willingness to sacrifice yourself for others. You can’t be a loving leader without it being the primary of all of your motivations.

It is easy to value people you naturally like. It is easy to value people who are good to you. It is easy to value people when things are going well.

But it is hard to value people that you don’t naturally get along with. It is hard to value people who are not good to you. It is hard to value people when you are under intense pressures to get a particular result.

On the surface when we think about loving leadership, we tend to imagine the situations when it is easy. And we all could rightly call ourselves loving leaders in those situations.

But real loving leadership is about what happens in the hard situations. And it is much harder for us to look in the mirror and call ourselves loving leaders in those ones.

Trying is what counts

If you are grasping the radical nature of what I mean by loving leadership, then it will start to become clear how almost impossibly difficult it is to embody true loving leadership. In every moment, in every situation, no matter how you are feeling, never diminishing for a second the value you hold for every single person.

When I hold this gold standard up against myself, I come up short.

But it doesn’t mean that I throw away the standard and settle for near enough.

I strive to embody what it is to be completely loving in each situation, and when I fall short I acknowledge it, I make amends, I learn from it, I accept the forgiveness that is shown to me, and then I get back up and keep trying again.

I am far from perfect in this endeavor to be a loving leader. But one thing I do know is that aiming for that gold standard makes a difference.  Having that intention and genuinely trying to hold to it has made a huge difference to me as a person, to my leadership, and to the impact on those around me.

Aim high, but do not fear

My purpose in writing this blog today is to encourage you to intentionally set your sights on the lofty goal of being a loving leader.

Without understanding the radical nature of loving leadership, it’s impossible to become a truly loving leader. You can’t become one by accident.

But the risk of laying out that gold standard is that it causes discouragement, because the bar seems so high.

I hope that I have been able to convey the one without causing the other in you. And if I have failed in this attempt, then I sincerely apologize.

To be a loving leader you don’t need to have everything together. You don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to have an unwavering self-confidence (see my previous blog on healthy self-doubt).

All you need is to believe in the inherent value of people, despite all of their flaws and blemishes, and to have a heart to try and live that out in all the little moments. You will fail in this – we all do. But you will get back up and keep going, and drip by drip you will become closer and closer to that which you are striving to become. And along the way you will experience the most amazing ripple effects.

Cheers,
Paul.

Love Your Team

Do you ever doubt yourself? I know I do

For the last few weeks I’ve been writing about what it means to be a loving leader. You don’t have to formally work as a manager to be a leader – all of us can be leaders in making a difference in the lives of those around us.

Loving leadership is grounded in holding the value of every single person to the same level as your own self-worth, and intentionally striving to align every word, decision, and action with that recognition. When you show up with that intention, day in day out, moment by moment, remarkable things start to happen.

Last week Leslie Peters was kind enough to take an hour out of her busy week to talk with me about loving leadership. It was an inspiring discussion, and touched on a key point:

Your own self-worth is crucial. If you don’t unconditionally value and accept yourself, it will be almost impossible to value everyone else in this unconditional way.

I doubt myself greatly

I remember when I was a teenager I made it onto the Victorian Karate team. I’d had been training since I was 11, and lost pretty much every bout in every tournament I entered. But then when I was 14, something clicked and I started winning.

Before I knew it I found myself competing in the Victorian championships, and in what seemed like a miracle to me, I qualified for the Victorian team.

The train trip to Adelaide with the team was exhilarating. Like a dream come true. But when I arrived and saw all of these people wearing their state team tracksuits from all the different states in Australia, I had a heart sinking realization – “I’m here with the best karate fighters from all over Australia”. I felt unworthy, out of place, and extremely nervous.

The morning of the tournament I was in the bathroom, bringing up what was left of the small amount of breakfast I could stomach. I was feeling the pressure. I was trying to put on a brave face, but inside I was a wreck.

Finally it came to my division. 14 year old boys onto the mat. I walked out for my first bout. 2 minutes later I walked off the mat beaten. My heart aching, as I felt that I’d let everyone down. One of the coaches came up to me and I tried to speak. But only tears came out.

What got me through

Coming out of that experience, I could have decided to give up karate. I felt completely unworthy, and this was even more solidified in my mind after the failure.

But I didn’t give up.

Why?

It wasn’t because someone told me I was awesome and that I could do anything.

It wasn’t because I suddenly let go of any doubt about my abilities.

It was because someone told me I was unconditionally loved. It was because someone said to me that they would be there for me no matter what. Whether I succeeded or failed.

And I believed them.

I have my parents to thank for my persistence with karate. In the following years I had many karate successes and failures, but the failures never stung like that first nationals in Adelaide.

Self-worth is not the opposite of self-doubt

An important lesson I’ve learned in life is that self-worth is not the opposite of self-doubt.

Self-worth means that you recognize the inherent precious value that you have as a person. No matter what weaknesses you have, no matter what failures you’ve experienced, no matter what regrets you have chalked up, you are special and important and valued. Just for being you. A unique living masterpiece.

Self-doubt means that you have a sober awareness of your abilities and your limitations. It is a recognition that you may not always be right. Self-doubt keeps you safe from the trap of over-confidence, and in its right measure assists massively in being a successful leader.

If you combine self-doubt with a low self-worth, it is debilitating.

But if you combine self-doubt with an unconditionally high self-worth, then it inspiringly powerful.

How do you find true self-worth?

In my karate story, I had too much of my self-worth tied up in my achievements. If I was successful, I felt worthy. If I failed, I felt unworthy.

Trying to find self-worth by aiming to become better and better is a perilous path. Sure it may be the catalyst for amazing effort and achievement, but in the long run it leads to destruction. A never-satisfied thirst for the next achievement that often leaves lots of casualties in its wake as others are cast aside who don’t make the grade.

True self-worth comes from being loved. Being unconditionally loved. A toddler doesn’t get their self-worth from anything inside themselves. They get it from the unconditional love of their parents. And this foundation of unconditional love can support an even greater level of effort and achievement than without, as we dare to be even bolder with a safety net that will always catch us.

Losing in the first round of that first national tournament was in my mind the biggest failure in my life to that point. It was the unconditional love shown to me after that failure, after I felt I had let everyone down, that gave me the self-worth needed to continue on.

I’m grateful that I doubt myself

I still doubt myself to this day. I doubt my ability as a leader. I doubt my ability to write this article smoothly. I doubt that I am capable of staying afloat amidst all of the complexities and pressures of my life.

But I am grateful for these doubts. They keep me humble. They help me seek out, listen to, and rely on the help of others.

Most of all they remind me that even though there are many things about myself that I doubt, there is one thing that I can completely trust in and rely on no matter what. And that is love.

Trusting in love

It may sound strange to hear me say that I completely trust in love. But it is true.

There are two things that my life journey and leadership journey have taught me without doubt.

The first is that I am loved. I am unconditionally loved. I can fail in every way that it is possible to fail, but I will still be loved. I could write endlessly about all the different ways that I know I am loved, but this blog post is not the place. One thing I will say is that you would see the unconditional love and support of my wife and kids at the top of the list.

The second is that love can be relied on. No matter what situation you are in, no matter how complex or challenging, if you truly value those around you, engage them, listen to them, trust them, encourage them, then remarkable things happen. Every single success in my leadership career can be tied back to amazing things achieved by the special people around me. My job is to love those people and to help set up an atmosphere and environment where they can thrive.

My confidence as a leader does not come from self-confidence. It comes from confidence in the power of love. I know that if I open my heart and genuinely unconditionally love people, that the best things inside of me and inside of them will come out.

You are loved

The reason I am writing this blog today is to remind you that you are loved. You truly are. You are unique. You are special. You are exquisite. You have talents that if they were allowed to shine in their complete fullness would amaze all who beheld them. You have pure goodness inside of you, even the smallest glimpses of which deeply touch people. And no matter how much you have failed, no matter how many scars you carry, no matter how much you have been treated in a way that is the opposite of true love, no matter what your weaknesses and shortcomings, no matter what your self-doubts, there is nothing that can detract from your inherent priceless worth.

I don’t think we tell each other enough just how deeply and genuinely we value each other. And I am taking the risk of doing that this morning.

In the years of my life when I doubted my self-worth I could never have written this blog post. It is only from the foundation of having experienced being unconditionally loved that I have the confidence to write this today.

Tell someone today how much you value them

Is there someone in your life that could benefit from being reminded just how much you genuinely value them, for who they are, no matter what? If there is, then please reach out today to let them know that. We all need the reminder.

If you aren’t sure what to say, send them a link to this blog and tell them that you appreciate them with the fulness of the sentiment this blog conveys.

And remember, always remember, that your worth is beyond measure, and no matter how much you fail this will never change. By all means have healthy self-doubt and stay humble. But never doubt that you are loved. And never doubt the power of love.

Cheers,
Paul.

Love Your Team

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