Apr 27, 2012

- 3 Things a Leader can Learn: from a Yoga Manifesto

People from all walks of life, all ages and all religions practice yoga for spirituality, relaxation, detox, strength and flexibility. Looking in from the outside, I always wondered, “What do they know that I don’t?”
When my wife suggested taking a yoga class two years ago, I went with trepidation and visions of chanting, incense, and body parts in odd places.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I was beginning a journey learning more about myself and, surprisingly, more about business than I learned at one of the top ten business schools in the country and 20 years of professional experience.

Here are three things I learned:

1) Embrace Fear to Overcome Fear
That first class I was nervous.  Was I doing yoga right?  Was I out of step (yes)?  Did it matter (no)?  It turns out yoga is called a “practice” because it’s about growth, and just like in business, every day is an opportunity to succeed or fail.
As a fit person, I was confident in that first class. “No problem,” I thought.
Until the headstand.
My calm teacher said in the calmest of tones, “Now it’s time for some inversions.  Everybody grab your mat and let’s get close to the wall. I want you to place your head on the ground with your arms out in front, and flip your legs up against the wall for an inversion.”
And fear came over me.  I quietly thought, “You want me to what?”
I was out of my element.  I started breathing heavy.  But I wasn’t going to be shamed, so I tried.  As my head turned red with a rush of down-flowing blood and want of oxygen, I flung my legs up against the wall with a loud bang.  I thought, “I’m crushing my spine; this is not good!”
I came down hard, wondering if I had crushed a vertebrae.  But when I looked around and saw other people in perfect headstands, my ego hurt more than spine.
Class by class, as I continued to show up and push through the fears of uncharted territory, I came to believe that I could do a headstand.  I would do a headstand.  If I fell, so be it.  And my hard work paid off.  Today—no wall needed.  I can stand on my head in the middle of any yoga class.  Any time.
It reminded me of a time in the past when everybody thought I was insane—even me at times.  When launching Half.com from scratch, I had the idea to corral a 350-person town called Halfway, Oregon and rename their town to Half.com, Oregon.  My ad agency snickered.  As I drove into the small hamlet for the first time, I felt fear and doubt—maybe I couldn’t do this.  I had visions of being tarred, feathered, and permanently tossed out of town.  Fear.
But I pressed on.  For the cost of $100k, and 23 computers for the elementary school, I renamed the town, literally putting Half.com on the map.  Six months later, eBay acquired us for $300 million.
The headstand.  It’s a pose in yoga that few novices relish.  But I envisioned it in my mind, embraced the fear of falling as real, the fear of injury as real, but temporary, and thus overcame that fear.
And with many other poses in yoga, the fear of falling, the fear of making your failure widely known in front of many people is entirely real.  But embracing that fear enables regular people to overcome great adversity in business.  It enabled Richard Branson to create a billion dollar enterprise from a basement.  It enabled Howard Schultz to go from subsidized housing to creating Starbucks.  Achieve power through fear and adversity by embracing it.

2) Transitions Make or Break You
When you’re standing on one foot, spine parallel to the ground, back aligned to the wall, one arm reaching for the sky, and three fingertips separating you from a fall, that’s not tough.  The tough part is transitioning from one position to that position; that is what makes or breaks you.
Again, this is true in business and in life.  Doing what you’ve been doing isn’t hard.  Transitioning from one position to the next is where failure abounds.
It’s this transition that’s a lot like business. Transitions require planning and execution with intense focus.

If you’re paying attention, planning is the easiest part.  Transitioning from planning to execution is where things make or break you.  Without intense focus, you could slip and lose sight of the end goal.  Focus was one of Steve Jobs three golden rules of Apple’s marketing (the other two being “impute” and “customer empathy”).

In yoga, if you don’t focus intensely during transition:  breathing, turning, pulling up—you can exhaust quickly or fall on your ass.  There is no room to mind wander, and there is no room for distraction.  In business, as well, if you don’t focus, you can exhaust quickly or fall on your ass.

When we transitioned from buying online media to becoming a forerunner in advertising attribution modeling, we focused on product and technology for two years.  We were intensely focused with out first client and had only a one-page website during that time.  After two years of continual focus, we saved our first client over $5 million, and then, after proving to ourselves that we had a winning product, we finally got a real website and unveiled to the world.

When Larry Page asked Steve Jobs for advice before Jobs passed, his advice to Page was, “Don’t get distracted.  Focus.”  When you transition, make sure you plan, and most of all, execute with intense focus solely on what matters.  Distractions will make you fall on your ass.

3) Soul Needs Training
This is perhaps the most surprising lesson of all.
The whole “Namaste” “Ooohhm” aspect of yoga freaked me out.  What I’ve learned, though, is the complete yogi – and the complete CEO -  are about positive energy.

Namaste is simply a phrase meaning “the light in me honors the light in you.”  Whether you’re Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, or Hindi, when you examine the phrase Namaste, it’s really about energy.

Like nuclear power, it’s energy that can be used for good or bad.  The amount of positive energy you bring to your office, your call, your meeting, is felt.  This is embodied in your body language, your smile, your gratitude, and gestures like opening a door and saying hi.  When a baby smiles at you, you smile too.  There is no complication in that exchange.  The amount of energy and light you bring reflects on people.  And sometimes that soul energy requires training.  Case in point:

A client of ours has a wacky member on the team.  Quick to change decisions, also quick to not make a decision, and usually crabby.  Perhaps you’ve encountered someone like this.  I usually tried to avoid this person, but we had a conference call scheduled, so I consciously decided I was going to be positive and smile throughout the call.  We began chatting personally and children came up.  A child of mine has special needs, and I shared this.  One of her two children has special needs, unable to speak, with limited mobility.  Upon learning our uncommon, yet common bond—we went from friction to friends.
It was because of yoga.  The light (or darkness) we bring follows us everywhere.  Into meetings, into calls, into our homes.  And yes, life will suck at times.  And we often don’t know why. Smile anyway.  It’s the now that matters:  the soul needs training just like our smile needs training.

Now where do you go from here?  The yoga studio?  Tai Chi? QiGong? Maybe.  Soul training is really a metaphor for life and a metaphor for business.  Each day starts anew with an opportunity to learn and to succeed.   But to succeed, a wise man said…

“We must become the change we want to see in the world.”
Will you become the change you want to see in your world?


Apr 10, 2012

- If You Think Your Team Makes Decisions, Think Again

Executives tell me their teams make decisions all the time. "Bob," a CEO will say, "I know you think that individuals — not groups — make most decisions. But that's not true. My team and I make lots of decisions together."

In fact, they don't. It's an illusion. Executive teams may discuss issues, debate courses of action, and even give their stamps of approval, but they actually don't decide anything of moment as a group. True, the agenda will contain an item like "Final decision on China plant expansion." True, a presentation is made, ideas get kicked around the table, arguments and counterarguments arise, opinions form, compromises are struck, and a consensus emerges. True, it looks a lot like the team decided — and the boss may even think that's the case.

But then I ask the CEO two questions. First: "Were you part of the consensus?" If the answer is yes, then in reality the group didn't decide; they agreed on a course of action that was acceptable to the boss. The CEO may reply, "But sometimes the discussion changes my point of view. In that case, the group shapes the decision and participates in it." 

Absolutely correct. The group discussion helped evolve the boss's thinking, which reshaped the ultimate decision. But even if the decision wasn't one the boss would have initially made or isn't his or her top choice, the fact is that the CEO was part of the consensus. And as long as the boss is a required part of the consensus — as long as whatever is decided has to be inside the boss's acceptable set of outcomes — then accountability never really shifts to the group. It is the leader, not the group, who ultimately allows that particular decision to go through.

Second, I ask: "What if the group can't reach agreement — what happens then?" Leaders will concede that the decision bounces back to them for disposition. In which case, I would argue, it never left their hands in the first place.

In some cases, leaders do hand off important decisions and then walk away. But my experience has been that when they delegate a decision, they delegate it to an individual, not a group, and the phenomenon I just described cascades down a level.

Yet the illusion that teams decide persists — especially among leaders themselves — while subordinates often find the situation unsatisfying or frustrating. In a study of top management team performance conducted by the global executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles a few years ago, 124 CEOs worldwide and 579 of their direct reports were asked to rate whether leadership team decision processes were clear. On a scale of one to seven, the CEOs rated decision process clarity, on average, at 5.62. The executives who worked for them returned a rating of only 3.86.

Should a leader, not wishing to have a team feel disenfranchised, create ironclad decision processes that genuinely empower the group to make at least some types of important decisions? Probably not. First, the reality of how important decisions take place is unlikely to change. Nor should it. Individuals, not teams, bear ultimate accountability for decisions. Second, the fundamental relationship in organizations remains unchanged. Despite decades of innovation by organization theorists, most executives continue to work in a hierarchy consisting of bosses and subordinates.

The wise boss will recognize that individuals, not groups, own decisions and will make this clear to subordinates. Some may be concerned that team members will feel disempowered. But the truth is not nearly as disempowering as fostering an illusion.

Last week, I spoke with an executive about a meeting we'd worked on together that involved him and his peers. He was very happy with the outcome. "One thing I was very impressed with," he told me, "was that nobody ran to the CEO afterwards to reverse any decisions the group had made, which is what often happens here." That's not just terminology. If something the group does can be reversed by a quick trip to the boss's office afterwards, then the group wasn't accountable for making that decision in the first place. It might be a recommendation, or a preferred option, or a consensus view, but it wasn't a decision. Subordinates would be greatly relieved and better served if we stopped putting the false label of "making decisions" on what they're doing in those meetings.

More important, explicitly letting go of the illusion of group decision making clarifies individual accountability and puts the group's time together to more effective use for debating, revising, brainstorming, and aligning. All of those activities are of great value, but none genuinely involves decisions, even of the casual, consensus-seeking type that characterizes the deliberations of many senior teams. Frankly acknowledging that inescapable fact is the first step to tapping into the real power of the team.


Apr 3, 2012

- 10 Reasons YOU CAN Achieve Your Dreams

Instead of realizing their dreams, too many people never get started, too busy, instead listing all the reasons why they cannot achieve their dreams.

Things like:
  1. I do not have enough money.
  2. I’m not talented.
  3. I do not have enough knowledge.
  4. I do not have enough experience.
  5. I have failed many times in the past.
  6. I’m not lucky.
  7. Who I am to dream of making such an impact.
…and so on.

They defeat themselves before they even get started!

This is not what you deserve.

So, here are 10 reasons why YOU CAN achieve your dreams:

1. You can because it’s feels great!

“To be able to get out of bed and do what you love for the rest of the day is beyond words.” - John Schroeder

Your dream exists to turn your life into a masterpiece of joy and contribution. Doing what you love and living your life on your own terms are the best things you can do for yourself.

2. You can because it’s YOUR dream

Writer Richard Bach says, “You’re never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however.”

The dream that is born inside your heart will never exist, if you do not have the power to make it come true. That’s a timeless truth.

Since you have thought about it, then you have an innate ability to achieve it.

It’s so unique that only you can make it true.

3. You can because it shapes your future

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

The world’s movers and shakers are those who believed in their dreams and persevered until they manifested what they have dreamt about.

Envision your dream and see by your heart’s eyes how it can change the world and have a huge impact on so many lives.

4. You can because you can land on the clouds

“I’m a dreamer. I have to dream and reach for the stars, and if I miss a star then I grab a handful of clouds.” -Mike Tyson

When you work on your dreams, you will create your best life possible. Even if you cannot reach the stars, you will at least land on the clouds.

5. You can because you are hungry

“If you take responsibility for yourself you will develop a hunger to accomplish your dreams.” -Les Brown

Nothing will feed your hunger for making a difference more than pursuing your dream.

It will add meaning to your life and make your efforts worthwhile. It will make you wake up every morning with exhilaration and enthusiasm.

As Les Brown says, “You gotta be HUNGRY”

6. You can because you don’t want to die again

“When you cease to dream you cease to live.” -Malcolm Forbes

If you ignore the love and light in your heart, your soul will die of starvation.

Too many people are living, but very few are actually ALIVE!

Following a dream is the only way to start living. When you dream, you become alive. And I do not think you want to ignore your dream and die again.

7. You can because you are a pioneer

“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” -Oscar Wilde

You will face criticism, not because you are wrong, but because you are a pioneer.

People are not used to see dreamers who have crazy ideas to make the world a better place.

Most people are so stuck in the rut that they do not believe someone can get out, spread his/her wings and fly high in the sky.

8. You can because you deserve it

“Dreams are the touchstones of our character.” -Henry David Thoreau

You deserve to have a big dream and to become remarkable. If you do not leave your mark in the world, no one will remember you.

Living small makes you small and you are born to be great. You have a dream because you have a strong character that strives to live big and be big.

9. You can because there is a problem that only you can solve

“Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions.” -Edgar Cayce

You dream because you have a burning desire to solve a problem or fulfill a need that would make the world a better place.

You are our answer to our most difficult questions. You owe it to us and to the world.

10. You can because you've got the courage

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” -Walt Disney

All what your dream needs is courage that will nurture it and make it grow beyond all limitations. And you have this courage within you.

If you’re passionate about it, unleash it. No matter what you think or what other people think, YOU CAN.

You can.

You deserve.

You owe it to yourself and to the world.

It’s time to believe in the beauty of your dreams and show the world the promise and brilliance of your legacy.


- An Offer You Can't Refuse: Leadership Lessons From "The Godfather"

What does a real-life CEO have in common with the central figures of a fictitious Mafia crime family in The Godfather? According to Justin Moore, CEO and founder of Axcient, plenty. 
Moore is a serial entrepreneur, early-stage advisor, and angel investor. He’s currently at the helm of Axcient, a company he founded that provides backup, business continuity, and disaster recovery services to the small and mid-sized business (SMB) market. Right now, Axcient is protecting more than 2 billion files and applications for businesses across North America.
Moore also happens to think that The Godfather is “one of the best movies ever made” and had a chance to watch it again when the film was aired extensively last week to mark the 40th anniversary of its premiere. Though a decade had passed since the last time Moore watched it, his recent viewing offered an unexpected reward. This time he found the film rife with teaching moments for CEOs running a business today.
“I certainly don’t endorse crime or violence, and I’m not suggesting business should operate like the Mafia,” explains Moore, “but there are some universal themes in the movie I can relate to as a CEO.” Moore says The Godfather offers valuable lessons in community and team building, making tough decisions, and playing to win while not neglecting friends and family.
Here are five essential leadership lessons Moore distilled for Fast Company.
1. Build a powerful community. 
Someday, and that day may never come, I'll call upon you to do a service for me. ~Vito Corleone
Uttered in the iconic rasp of Marlon Brando, the words of Vito Corleone illustrate how he creates a loyal community among those he has helped. Moore says, “By granting these favors and helping people with their problems, Vito Corleone is building a network of influence--relationships that may or may not deliver a specific or quantifiable return, but all which serve to strengthen his power base and which have the potential to be reciprocal in the long run.”
Moore says building strategic partnerships enables companies to work through challenging markets and fast-track overall success. “As a CEO, I see it as part of my job to be a super connector, networking with the technology and investment community without an expectation of reciprocation. Partnerships forged through time, trust, and mutual benefit--such as those Axcient has built with HP, Ingram-Micro, and a vast network of service providers and resellers--are the types of community relationships that bring about the greatest returns.”
2. Hold people accountable. 
What's the matter with you? I think your brain is going soft. ~Vito Corleone
The Godfather reminds us of the importance of being tough when necessary. “As soon as Vito Corleone allowed a few moments of weakness to be seen by his enemy, they attempted to assassinate him. And it was largely because of failures of his team,” Moore observes.
“In business, accountability isn’t achieved by a murderous rampage. But the lesson is this--to be successful in business you have to be tough, and you have to be extremely focused on hitting goals and getting results," says Moore. That doesn’t mean patience and understanding don’t have a place, he says, but ongoing tolerance of low-performing people or products just eats away at the success of the entire company. “You are ultimately responsible for all of your employees and shareholders, and that requires tough and swift decisions.
3. Don’t get emotional. 
It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business. ~Michael Corleone
“Many people don’t like to talk about the fact that in business, there are winners and losers. When Sonny Corleone reacts impulsively and emotionally, he gets taken out. In business, if you don’t take the opportunity to out-sell, out-bid, or out-market your competitor, they’ll take you out. I’m not suggesting doing anything outside the boundaries of morality or rightness--simply pointing out that when people make emotional decisions, they start making bad decisions. To lead successfully, you have to take your emotion and ego out of the equation.”
Likewise, Moore says it’s important to play to win. In business, that translates to knowing the competition and always staying at least one step ahead. “Operate your business with integrity and have respect for competition, but you also need to seize opportunities to eliminate your competition and win.”
4. Be decisive. 
Moore says that he, like most people who appreciate The Godfatherwatch the movie with a combination of shock and respect. “Shock because he is so ruthless that he kills his own family member, but respect for the fact that Don Corleone knows exactly what he wants, executes decisively, and commands respect through unwavering leadership.”
While you don’t have to kill anyone to prove a point, as soon as you know what choice to make, move forward. “Know who on your team is making the right choices, and trust them to take decisive action as well. Hesitation too often leads to missed opportunities.”
5. Spend time with your family. 
Do you spend time with your family? Because a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man. ~Vito Corleone 
Moore isn’t endorsing 1940s machismo, but he is decrying 100-hour workweeks that many entrepreneurs fall prey to in hot pursuit of the next big thing. Though he’s been dedicated like that in the past, Moore finds it’s not sustainable in the long run. 
“A leader can’t be successful in creative problem-solving and making excellent decisions unless that person is connected to people and passions outside of work. I find that it’s often time with family and friends that gives me the perspective I need to build the relationships and make the decisive actions required for continued success in business,” says Moore.

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