Are You Working To Prove Yourself Or Improve Yourself?

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There are two types of people we have all worked with, lived with and or done business with. One type of person is rooted in the past and prefers to walk the well worn path of the known, the safe and the predictable. When something new comes along and they don’t know how to handle it they resist the idea and become more interested in proving themselves to be smart, competent and successful.

The second type of person is willing to stray off the beaten path and venture into unknown territory. They are inquisitive and see the unknown not as something to feel threatened by, but rather see unfamiliar events as opportunities to learn and grown in unanticipated ways. They are less concerned with proving themselves and more inclined to improve themselves.

I have been the former and prefer the latter. I remember back in 1985 when I landed my first corporate leadership position. I was recruited at twenty-five to lead a four location health and wellness company with two hundred and fifty employees and operating budgets of over ten million dollars. I thought I was the senior quarterback who had just been drafted in the first round of the NFL draft.

I bought a new car, upgraded my wardrobe and found a new apartment to keep up with my upgraded responsibilities. I was enthusiastic beyond measure and felt as though I had “arrived.”

But within ninety days I heard from the CEO that I had alienated every employee in the corporate office and that I had ninety days to fix it. If I didn’t I would be gone. He suggested I read the book How To Win Friends and Influence Others by Dale Carnegie.

In one conversation I learned that I had been committed to proving myself and that no longer was I the first round pick, but rather I might not even make the practice squad. In that moment my focused shifted to one of improving myself and building bridges with the people I alienated.

The moment we become enamored with proving ourselves over improving ourselves our growth, influence and effectiveness plummets. To avoid this there are three strategies successful leaders can use to continually and effectively improve themselves. They are:

1. Surround yourself with truth tellers. Successful leaders surround themselves with a trusted cadre of people who tell it like it is. If you want to accelerate your growth you must have people who will tell you what you need to hear versus what you want to hear.

2. Practice the 1% rule. Focus on progress not on perfection. You do this by committing to improve your leadership effectiveness by 1% every day. Over the course of seventy-two days you will be 100% more effective than when you started. Small daily improvements will win the day.

3. Create a compelling future. Without a noble or uplifting future to guide you; without an idea, hope, dream or aspiration that has grabbed hold of you and won’t let go, then work becomes a long, slow slog on your belly through enemy territory with bullets flying over your head. All leaders who create something noteworthy; even extraordinary, have a compelling idea that changes their perceptions, their thinking, their mindset and ultimately their actions.

Call To Action:
Do not waste another day trying to prove yourself. The likelihood is that if you are reading this post and have gotten this far you are smart, competent, talented and successful. My blog doesn’t attract unsuccessful people.

Today, take one of these strategies and drive it a mile. Resist doing one mildly or timidly. Do one with a ruthless determination to make a meaningful difference in your leadership and the life of the people that matter most to you.


Because that’s what leaders do

Which strategy will you implement today?

Hugh’s Words of Wisdom

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The Five Strategies I Use To Accomplish More In Less Time With Less Stress And Greater Enjoyment

I have a lot of priorities. I have client projects, writing for my blog and book, business development responsibilities, creating online courses for Claris University and acting as the head chef and on site general contractor of our kitchen remodel. I’m very productive and was asked recently how I do what I do. I have five key strategies, none of which are earthshaking or new information to you. They real key to my success and level of accomplishment is in the summary at the end.

What I do:

1. I plan my week. Before starting my week, I spend sixty minutes planning the following week and what I will “accomplish” each day specifically. I review my priorities and define what a successful week will look like. I view this planning time as writing the next chapter of my personal and professional life. Either I write the next chapter or someone else will. I take full ownership of my week and never delegate my schedule to someone else. Ever.

2. I view time as finite. I used to engage in magical thinking with regards to time and my schedule. It worked like this: there was an infinite amount of time available to accomplish something the further I was from what I needed to do. INnturn, I magically thought I would be able to pull all of the requisite pieces of a project together within an hour. It never worked. I view all of my priorities through a “time is finite, precious and limited” prism and don’t engage in magical thinking.

3. I have good self-talk. There are two powerful voices playing in my head every day; my biggest advocate and my greatest critic. I listen more to my advocate now and remind myself of where and how I’ve been successful. If I’m going to listen to a voice it’s now a positive and affirming voice. To help with this I complete an accomplishment list before leaving the office each day. You can find it on my resources page here.

4. I focus on progress. I used to focus on perfection. I wanted all matters associated with my work to be “just right.” The problem was that I never achieved “just right” because the higher levels of accomplishment I achieved I in turn raised the bar to new levels. I never felt satisfied. I don’t do that anymore. I strive to make progress every day and move my most important work forward.

5. I eliminate distractions. When I turn off my phone and shut off my email I not only think more clearly, but I also think more creatively. For the longest time I refused to disengage from the hustle and bustle of work as I thought I was too important. Being disconnected was not an option. I learned an important lesson the hard way…when I don’t schedule quality uninterrupted time I never achieve consistent quality results. And, life becomes a long slow slog through enemy territory with bullets flying overhead.

Here’s the real kicker though. None of the above five strategies mean a hill of beans unless you have the VOLITION to implement them. Frankly, you know what you need to do. The question is which one will you without question start implementing today? Not tomorrow when XYZ is around…because that’s magical thinking. Today.

Which one?

Hugh’s Words of Wisdom

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One of the questions I like to ask my clients when we first start working together is, are you having fun?

This is not a theoretical or philisophical question. It’s a simple question that asks leaders an unexpected question and speaks to their mindset regarding work. More often than not I hear a conditional and nuanced answer such as “yes, but” type answer. For example, “generally yes, but for the last six months we’ve had a major project that’s taking massive amounts of my time and resources.” Fair enough. We all experience times of tumult and stress where work is not fun nor enjoyable; it’s necessary and important, but not fun.

That begs the question, is having fun at work important? Shouldn’t fun be found in the confines of the weekend with family and friends? The short answer is no. The longer answer is that in all of my coaching and consulting work with successful leaders, those who genuinely enjoy their work and answer yes to having fun at work, they perform at higher levels than those who answer no.

If having fun at work allows you to perform at higher levels, it is true for your employees also. When employees feel inspired, committed and rewarded the greater the likelihood they will describe work as fun and rewarding. And when work becomes fun and rewarding the payoff for leaders is that employees then create fun and rewarding experiences for customers. You can never create fun and rewarding experiences for customers unless you’re doing so for yourself and your employees.

What three strategies can you use for infusing work with more fun? Here are my top three.

1. Be ruthless in managing your calendar. Many leaders run from meeting to meeting with no time to spare. This creates massive amounts of stress and lower levels of effectiveness. Being ruthless about what goes on your calendar, when and with whom is one area where leaders can reduce stress and anxiety and find greater satisfaction and success. When you feel greater satisfaction and success work becomes more fun and rewarding.

2. Laugh it off. Yes, I know there are times when work is about life and death. Volkswagen executives are navigating the engineering fiasco that circumvented EPA emissions testing. Work right now is a life and death situation for 300,000 Volkswagen employees as well as their dealer network. But generally, the more serious the work the greater the need to schedule time to maintain strong personal relationships and to laugh and see the lighter side of life. Watching a Robin Williams or Jerry Seinfeld comedy sketch produces more endorphins and reduces cortisol levels. Laughing is an excellent performance boosting strategy.

3. Stop chasing success. The moment leaders stop chasing success and start allowing success to chase them, work is transformed positively and appreciably. This is not a play on words, but a fundamental shift in a leaders mindset. When leaders stop “playing to not lose” and start “playing to win”, their thoughts, beliefs, perceptions and behaviors change in ways that attracts greater success. Becoming a magnet for success as opposed to chasing success is a game changing shift for leaders. It is also a game changing shift for their employees.

My challenge for you:
Discuss all three of these strategies with your team and then brainstorm an even more extensive list. Then choose one strategy and deploy it for four weeks. Then review your list again and rinse and repeat.

Which strategy will you start with?

Hugh’s Words of Wisdom

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Outsiders see you with greater clarity than you see yourself. This is true for both your strengths as well as your weaknesses. For example, with my coaching clients I see their strengths and potential with greater clarity and enthusiasm than they see themselves. The benefit of doing so is that I can anticipate and position them for greater influence and leadership impact than they could on their own. There are three reasons why this is possible.

1. I pay more attention to strengths and less to weaknesses. Without reservation the vast majority of my clients believe correcting their weaknesses is the surest path to greater performance. I work to disavow them of that notion. My most successful clients know what they do well, what value they provide to their teams and customers and use this knowledge as the jumping off point for their professional development. They DO NOT start with shortcomings or weaknesses as this creates a harsh and critical focus on what’s not working versus what is working.

2. I talk to them more positively about themselves than they talk to themselves. If you recorded most people’s self-talk over the course of a day and played it back to them at the end of the day they would be stunned at how negative their self-talk is. Most people are far too critical of themselves to do their best work. Their internal critic pelts them with comments such as “I blew that” and “that was dumb.” This narrative creates a failure mindset as opposed to a success mindset.

3. I suggest plans based on previously undreamed of possibilities. My mentor, Alan Weiss, said to me “the majority of people make plans based on their fears of what might happen rather than on what their key constituents need or want.” Uncertainty and trepidation are a lethal mix that will always lead to lower performance. Having a deep rooted belief in our ability to learn and grow allows us to experiment and take risks.

If you wanted greater influence and leadership impact, which of the above three areas will serve you best?

Hugh’s Words of Wisdom

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Belief. What we believe about ourselves and those around us influences us in significant ways. This belief led Henry Ford to say “whether you think you can, or you can’t, your right.”

For me, I don’t believe I will ever play in the NFL or NBA and I am 100% confident that I’m 100% right about that. But there are other areas of my personal and professional life where my confidence and belief has at times been less certain. For example, during times of adversity and illness what I believed about my health and wellness, my significant relationships and my business and my community involvement influenced what I achieved. When I first saw the linkage between what I believed and what I achieved I set out to change my beliefs. I wasn’t content with what I was achieving and realized the most significant change that needed to happen was a change in my beliefs about what was possible.

But changing our beliefs can be hard.

As leaders, what you believe about the people you work with will not only affect each individuals performance, but your team or organizations performance. If teams believe they are incapable of meeting the challenges posed by their biggest competitor; if they believe they are going to be obsolete and relegated to the “also ran” group of teams, the likelihood they will experience these beliefs is considerably higher than with an opposing belief.

One of the strategies I’ve helped successful leaders use to improve performance is to change their beliefs as to what’s possible for themselves as well as those they work with. Think about the beliefs required to rescue the three Apollo 13 astronaunts stranded in space in 1971.

While not a complete list, here are five strategies you can use to change an individuals, teams or organizations beliefs.

1. Find an extraordinary exemplar. Find someone who you know or admire who has achieved something extraordinary and study them. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

2. Recall a big success and what people said to you and or the team. Create a file to capture your list of what contributed to your success and add to it as frequently as possible.

3. Read, watch and immerse yourself in the biographies of people who achieved something extraordinary and find one thing you can learn and or adopt from their experience.

4. Surround yourself with people with an unshakable belief in what’s possible.

5. Change your vocabulary. More important than what people say to you about your work is what you say to yourself. At the earliest sign of a “I can’t do this” narrative replace it with an alternative narrative. For example, “I haven’t done this before, but I will learn how to do it with time, patience and tenacity.” Number five is easier when numbers one through four are in place.

Hugh’s Words of Wisdom recommendations:

1. Personalize this list. Make it your own by adding to it ideas that appeal and resonate with you.

2. Be of service. Think of your most significant relationship. If you wanted to help them change their beliefs what would you recommend they do?

3. Be courageous. Most of the time you know what needs to be done. You have the experience, wisdom, discernment and courage that comes from being alive. What hinders you is a fear or trepidation about some aspect of your actions and in turn you second guess yourself. As Bob Newhart said in his famous skit, “Stop it.”

The Vacuum of People Skills and How To Fill It

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Have you ever met, talked with or interacted with someone who really, really frustrated you? We all have. When you consider all of the factors that frustrate you about working with others you will undoubtedly find that it is their behavior and the corresponding way they make you feel that is the issue.

When someone’s behavior is different from yours; they like to do things quickly when you like to do things methodically, you don’t describe the other person as different you label them as difficult. And therein lies the problem for getting work done. The vast majority of performance barriers are more personality based than they are technically based.

If you want to be a valuable business partner to the people who matter most to you, you have to learn to focus on the impact your behavior has on people and not your intent with people. Impact is what determines the level of trust and respect in professional and personal relationships. While technology has advanced at an unprecedented rate, for leaders however the advances on the people side of work has faltered like an unreliable wireless network.

Hugh’s Three Impact Questions:

1. What is the impact I want to have with the people who matter most to me?

2. What is the impact I am having with the people who matter most to me?

3. Who is the best person to help me answer number two?

The best answer to number three is an outside advisor or coach. In the absence of this type of relationship you may have a colleague or coworker who has both direct experience of you working with customers and who has the courage to tell you the unvarnished truth.

If you have neither, feel free to ask me about my Leadership Brand Audit. I help leaders or teams see their Default Brand, their Desired Brand and their Designed Brand all within thirty days.

Hugh’s Words of Wisdom

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There is a simple admonition about becoming successful that we all need reminding of from time to time. Successful people do things that unsuccessful people don’t.

The people who have achieved something noteworthy or inspiring have a set of beliefs and behaviors that allow them to be successful. Identifying what specifically successful people do and replicating it increases the chances of you being successful.

Here are my top ten suggestions for being more successful as a leader.

1. Get clear: Have a clear end goal or purpose that is compelling and uplifting. Knowing what you want is an essential first step to greater success.

2. View failure as necessary: Failing is a part of life. You’ll stop failing after you’re dead. Look at failure as the next steps in your learning and development. Failure allows you to learn from your mistakes in powerful ways.

3. Have positive self-talk: I tell my coaching clients that what they tell themselves about their leadership is ten times more powerful than what I tell them. Their self talk will either support or sabotage the conversations we have. Having positive conversations with themselves is crucial.

4. Find an exemplar: Don’t reinvent the wheel. Find a real world exemplar for what you want to accomplish and study them. How do they think, what do they believe, what do they do and say that helps further their success?

5. Invest time and energy: You may have the talent to be a brilliant violinist or heart surgeon, but if you don’t invest the time and energy into perfecting your talent you’ll never live up to your full potential. Plan to grow your skill set or mindset by 1% every day and you’ll be 100% more successful in 72 days than you are today.

6. Surround yourself with successful people: Just as you cannot have happy customers with unhappy employees, you cannot become more successful if the people you spend time with are unsuccessful. Successful people are an inspiration and accelerator of success. Unsuccessful people wear you down and hold you back.

7. Find a coach or mentor: Athletes are known for having coaches. They know that the best return on investment they know of is in themselves. Yet, too often employees in organizations make that investment last or not at all. This is a career limiting maneuver.

8. Play to your strengths: Russell Wilson, the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, knows his strengths as does the Head Coach Pete Carroll. They’ve designed the Seahawks offense in ways that compliment his strengths and by doing so, have had two Super Bowl appearances in three years with one win. That epitomizes playing to your strengths.

9. Focus on the process and not the prize: Too often people lose sight of the importance of their processes. Yes, having a clearly articulated purpose is essential, but having a process for achieving your purpose is mandatory. Without a process you will focus on your purpose but lack a clear vehicle for achieving it. That results in the maximum frustration possible.

10. Cultivate a success mindset versus a scarcity mindset: Mastering your mindset is the greatest accelerator of success a leader will ever find and use. Building a supreme self-confidence in what’s possible and valuable is what Nelson Mandela, J.K. Rowling and Steve Jobs used to not only become supremely successful professionally, but to enable citizens, readers, employees and customers to live a more rewarding and enriching personal life.

Which of the above, if you were to make it a habit, would provide you with the greatest leadership advantage?

Hugh’s Weekly Words of Wisdom

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There are three questions that are central to being successful at work. These three questions are deceptively simple, but carry powerful insights into the nature of your work.

1. What are you doing? This question ferrets out two important aspects of work. Does the role and responsibilities of your work excite, engage and use your talents and skills to the best of your ability? Does your role fit into a larger strategic puzzle that enables you to use your talent, skill and passion in ways that fosters individual and organizational success? There are times when either through a merger, an acquisition and or a leadership change you cannot be successful and it’s time to find greener pastures.

2. Who are you working for? Do you value and appreciate your customer/patient/member/constituent? Are they people you want to give the very best of yourself in the hopes that their lives will be better? Is the well-being and comfort of the people you serve more important to you than your own well-being and comfort? Putting the people you serve ahead of you does not require you embody the sacrificial giving of Mother Theresa, but it does require you value those you serve in caring and loving ways.

3. Who are you working with? Do the people you work with develop your passion, talent and skill to the highest level possible, or do they suck the life and energy out of you? When confronted with a lack of passion, incompetence and or indifference by others do you respond by doing more, doing it better and doing it yourself in the hopes that higher productivity will prevail? If you do you no doubt believe strongly in #1, but you also do so because you hope that by doing so your discontent will be reduced. It won’t work. If you are working in an organization and or with people that drain you, no matter how passionate and talented you are you will never be able to do exemplary work.

Hugh’s perspective on your answers

If you can answer all three questions in the affirmative you and your fellow employees are flourishing as are your customers.

If you can answer two questions affirmatively you can tolerate the absence of the third for a period of time. How long? It all depends on whether you have the resources and courage to walk away and find greener pastures.

If you can answer only one question in the affirmative, regardless of the question, you are simply surviving at work and at risk of burning out professionally as well as personally.

If you found these questions helpful and want to think about your answers in positive and powerful new ways, check out my Mastering Your Mindset teleconference. You can find the teleconferences page here.

Hugh’s Words of Wisdom Wednesday

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Today is my 56th birthday. As I do on each of my birthdays I take an inventory of the last year and look for areas to celebrate. What I found exciting is seeing that my beliefs are more fully being acted on than they were in previous years. How did that happen? It’s quite simple. I wrote them down.

I’ve decided to share my list with you not to be self referential, but in the hopes that by seeing my list you’ll write down what you believe and that your life will become as rewarding and enriching as mine.

Here’s what I believe:

1. Worry and fear are lethal. They rob us of our energy, vitality and energy. Eradicating them via taking decisive action was a priority last year. Taking action helped sideline worrying.

2. My mindset is my greatest asset. What I think, believe and allow to enter into the grey area between my ears enables me or hinders me from living the best life possible. I wish I had learned this earlier in my life, but my mindset is the greatest accelerator to living the most rewarding and enriching life possible.

3. Overcoming resistance requires discipline. I experienced a lot of resistance when creating my transformational leadership program as well as when I write. Overcoming the resistance required a level of discipline I hadn’t mustered before. Discipline is an essential trait for living a rewarding life, but it requires, well, discipline.

4. Family and friends are a gift. It is easy and maybe even trite to say that the most important things in our lives are our family and friends, but in all honesty, the older I get the intimacy and connection I experience with the people that matter most to me are what make me a wealthy man.

5. Having a purpose is a game changer. I believe that there is a purpose residing in all of us. When I found mine thirteen years ago it changed my view and experience of life both personally and professionally. Knowing that my purpose is to enable human flourishing permeates every aspect of what I do and fills me with conviction and enthusiasm.

6. Life is to be savored. Savor is the perfect word for how I want to experience life. Life is precious and comes with absolutely no guarantees. When we savor each day we wake up recognizing that the day is a fabulous blessing that may not be repeated. Jump in and savor every moment.

7. Faith and belief are transformative. My spiritual life was the most rewarding part of last year. I cultivated my faith with vigor, curiosity and a deep enthusiasm. My faith transformed my understanding of what making a difference in the world looks like and propels me forward to enable human flourishing in ways I never imagined.

8. Work is not a four letter word. Not unlike with my mindset, I choose to make work something that is rewarding and enriching. My work can uplift the human spirit in the world of work…by choosing to do so my work life fascinates and uplifts me.

9. My health is a choice. I have a choice every day as to whether I exercise and eat well. When I do my health and well-being are improved. Health has always been a priority, but over the last year I’ve come to believe fully that I can remain healthy and vibrant for years to come. Alyson has changed my diet in positive ways and I want to maintain this level of health because number ten is so important to me.

10. Travel is essential. Travel eliminates biases as well as opens up new perspectives about people, cultures and how we are all interconnected. It is essential to get outside of the safe confines of what is known safe and predictable and traveling to other cultures is enables a global perspective and is a world of fun.

11. Hope, optimism and encouragement is in short supply. Because many people have a mindset that is filled with fear, worry, negativity or even pessimism, there is an opportunity to plant in the fertile soil of their imagination a seed of hope, optimism or enthusiasm. My friend, Brian Walter, calls doing so Assertive Optimism. That’s brilliant and something I believe I can do also.

12. Money means nothing. For forty years I had a terrible relationship with money. I thought whatever money I accumulated would be taken away from me. That was a birthday gift my parents gave me. But the meaning of money comes from the meaning I give it. Gone are the days of having a scarcity mentality. This last year elevated my belief in viewing my company, my work and money as a catalyst for improving the lives of my clients, my family and friends and the charities we support. This belief is uplifting and liberating.

13. Forgiveness is a gift to me as well as to others. Saint Ignatius in his examination of conscience says that forgiveness is the only path to wholeness. Far too often we walk around with anger or resentment from events twenty years ago. One of the healthiest things we can do is to learn how to forgive ourselves as well as others. When we do we experience wholeness and happiness.

14. Love is the problem and the answer. When there is an absence of love there is a degradation in the quality of the relationship we have with people. When I’m not loving towards my family or friends I treat them poorly and dismiss them. When I love them in ways that allow them to be the very best they can be our relationship flourishes. Maybe that I will master this in my 57th year.

Hugh’s Words of Wisdom Wednesday

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If you want to flourish personally or professionally there are three aspects of doing so that need to be understood and taken responsibility for. They are your experiences, your mindset and your behavior.

Experiences: The experiences you have can be positive or negative. They can be out of your control or in your control, and they can leave you with positive or negative memories. A trip to Spain can can be filled with positive memories that were both planned as well as serendipitous.

Mindset: What happens in between your ears is an important aspect of flourishing. Your mindset is comprised of your dominant thoughts, beliefs and perceptions. Your mindset also filters the way you see the world and the people around you. It too can be positive or negative, but is always in your control. Some people have a scarcity mindset and others an abundance mindset. Either mindset will be influenced by past experiences.

Behavior: Behavior is what gets the majority of your attention. The behavior of the driver in front of you who cuts you off, the behavior of your spouse or partner who praises you for a job well done, and the behavior of a customer who has had a negative experience with one of your employees.

Far too often what happens is that your experiences determine your mindset unconsciously. Your experiences, good or bad, influence your mindset which in turn drives your behavior. And when you repeat certain behaviors repeatedly they become ingrained in your thinking as normal and acceptable…that leads to more experiences similar to your current ones.

The shift that is required in order to flourish in any area of your life is to have your mindset drive your experiences and not the reverse. When you do this you take control of your thinking; the thinking that leads to the flourishing experiences you want.

Are you flourishing? If you are the good news it’s rooted in your mindset. If you’re not, the good news is that it’s rooted in your mindset. The hardest part about flourishing is taking ownership for your experiences, your reactions to them and crafting a mindset that allows you to flourish.

Do you have a flourishing mindset?