The clients I’m fortunate enough to work with have a few things in common. One of those being that they rose to their levels of success by being people who have answers; someone who can help solve complex problems, and understand how to take the knowledge they have and put it into action. And for many of them, that strength can become a glaring weakness. Here is what I mean.
When we are recognized for a strength, our tendency is to play to that strength; sometimes again and again. It feels good and gives us confidence to do so. So, if you are someone who tends to be good at solving problems, and you’ve earned a reputation for doing just that, you may rely on that ability often. On the surface that may not seem to be a problem. After all, you get paid to come up with novel solutions to the challenges you and your organization face.
“Just knowing you don't have the answers is a recipe for humility, openness, acceptance, forgiveness, and an eagerness to learn - and those are all good things.”
– Dick Van Dyke
And sometimes we become addicted to the feeling of being the go-to person. It feels good to help others, to solve problems, to lead the team through some impasse. A key question to ask yourself is whether the intelligence in your organization (or on your project team) flows in only one direction. In other words, does the intelligence flow only one way – from you to others? If you consider yourself a leader, then your job – actually your obligation – is to help those on your team to grow and extract more of their intelligence and genius for the good of the organization.
It can be incredibly disheartening for those on your team to come to work day after day and not be able to use all of their intelligence and ability. And when we set ourselves up as the answer man, that is exactly what they can experience.
“The person who figures out how to harness the collective genius of his or her organization is going to blow the competition away.” – Walter Wriston
Two weeks ago, I lost my father to cancer. He passed away on Veteran’s Day – and being a veteran was something he was proud of until his final day. Of course, this event has given rise to so many emotions. Certainly, there is grief. A longing to have him back. But also, a sense of peace now that his suffering has ended. And so much reflection on the memories that made up our life together.
It’s a funny thing, the relationship between a father and son. I remember my dad being my first hero. He was larger than life to me when I was a young boy. I watched him closely and would marvel at all the things he could do. He was seemingly great at everything he did.
“Every son's first superhero is his father, and it was the same for me. For me, he was Superman and Batman combined.” – Tiger Shroff
Then, as I grew older, I began to see the flaws. I felt the anger and betrayal. I judged, criticized, and even pushed him away as I began to exert my own identity in the world. It’s a classic story, and yet to me it was my own, and no one else could claim it.
He had big dreams for me as many fathers do for their sons. He didn’t always know how to express those dreams, so I pushed back against what felt like control. Of course, I see it so much more clearly now. It was really his desire for me to be better than he thought he was; to do more, achieve more, and live more fully than he had.
“A father is a man who expects his son to be as good a man as he meant to be.”
- Frank A. Clark
He could be very direct in his communication, which could sometimes lead to hurt feelings. While it wasn’t his intention, that was simply one of the outcomes we learned to deal with as his children. In his later years, it was something that would actually make me smile. I would tell him he was a cranky old man – with a smile on my face, of course!
There were many times throughout my life that I wondered if he was proud of me because it wasn’t his style to dole out compliments. As I built my career he was quick to give unsolicited advice about how I should conduct myself as a leader and to point out places where he thought I should be doing things differently. Some of it was good, some didn’t fit my style. Either way, I know he was trying to help.
When I left my corporate career to begin my coaching business, he wasn’t sure what that meant. But as he watched me learn and grow – and build a business that has taken me around the world, working with amazing organizations and people – he saw my passion and drive. And he was exceedingly proud. So much so that many times over the last few years he would call me or we’d talk over lunch with him asking me for “advice” – even though I don’t give advice. But he was eager to learn and grow and to improve himself in meaningful ways. It’s something that I treasured being able to help him with.
“Until you have a son of your own... you will never know the joy, the love beyond feeling that resonates in the heart of a father as he looks upon his son.”
– Kent Nerburn
The last few months of his life provided an incredible opportunity for me. We healed our relationship. We learned to see each other through a different lens. And it opened us up to enjoy the kind of rich, loving father-son relationship that I think we both always wanted but didn’t know how to get.
I’ll never forget our final coherent conversation just two days before he passed (the next morning he would begin to slip into a semi-comatose state and would be unable to communicate from that point on).
I had spent most of the day with him, and as always he was expressing his gratitude for my being there for him. He looked at me with an almost quizzical gaze, and said, “You know, out of all my children I never thought that you’d be the one who would be here for me. You’ve been a great help to me, and you’ve been my rock. I love you, Kev.”
And then he said three words that will remain in my heart as a treasure forever.
“You’re my hero.”
Farewell, dad. Godspeed. Rest in peace, my beloved father. Until we see each other again, I will treasure the gifts you gave to me.
“Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” – Colin Powell
Do you like surprises?
If you’re like most people, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, I like surprises.” But the truth is, you don’t! Let’s be clear about it – you only like the surprises you want. The surprises you don’t want, you call problems!
But why do we dislike problems so much? Why do we work so hard to avoid problems? Seems to me that problems, in general, have gotten a bad rap.
Let me give you 3 reasons why you should learn to embrace problems when they arise, and provide you with some valuable guidance that just might shift your perspective when it comes to how you face and resolve problems in the future.
1. Problems Are Gifts: Problems are gifts; they stretch us and help us to grow. I can’t tell you how many times I have clients who tell me something to the effect of, “There seem to be so many problems. I wish for once I could just have smooth sailing.” But what does smooth sailing look like, say, on an EKG machine? Yup, flatline.
Listen, we are hearty creatures. We weren’t made to simply live a life of comfort and ease. In fact, if your life were to be like that (as nice as it may sound) you would be bored to tears! There would be little or no growth in your life, because there would be no catalyst to require it.
We need to be stretched, challenged, and to build our problem-solving muscles. Every time we solve a new problem, we grow. Growth equals progress. And progress equals happiness. A life without problems would quickly become a life with little or no growth, and that would lead to long-term unhappiness and discontent.
“Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.” – Henry Ford
2. Your Problem Has No Meaning, Yet The real problem is that you haven’t found and embraced an empowering meaning for your problems. Just like everything that happens in your life, you provide the fuel for the experience by assigning the meaning to the event. So, when you face a problem, the meaning you give to the event becomes your experience. If you say it’s humiliating, then that will be your experience. It’s frustrating… you get to experience frustration.
The questions you ask yourself about your problems are critical to how you embrace and experience anything that happens to you. Is this the beginning, or the end? Is this being done to me, or for me? Is this a blessing or a curse? You need to become a master of meaning. That, more than the problem itself, will determine your ability to stand up to the challenge, and ultimately to be happy.
“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?” – Captain Jack Sparrow
3. Problems Shape Our Character: Problems help to shape us and develop our emotional muscles and character. The best way to build muscles is to push against resistance. And our problems are the resistance we need to push against to sculpt and shape our character. Without problems, we have no life. And when we solve our current problems, we can be sure there will be more to follow. We can’t get rid of all of our problems, but we can get better quality problems!
The bottom line is this – problems are opportunities in disguise. We need them to grow, to make things happen, to build character, and to make progress. We actually increase our optimism by facing and overcoming our problems. And each time that we do face those challenges and come out the other side, we also grow in confidence, leadership, and happiness.
“Human spirit is the ability to face the uncertainty of the future with curiosity and optimism. It is the belief that problems can be solved, differences resolved. It is a type of confidence. And it is fragile. It can be blackened by fear and superstition.” – Bernard Beckett
Next time you have a "problem", embrace it! It might just be the best thing that ever happened to you. Do you have a problem you thought you couldn’t overcome, but did? How did that impact your life? Share your story with me in the comments.
In working with hundreds of clients and speaking to tens of thousands of people over the last decade, there are some fundamental truths that have emerged from my work. One of those is the fact that human beings are most happy when we feel that we’re making progress in any area of life.
We are driven at our core to learn, grow, and become the best version of ourselves. And we seek relationships, experiences, and work that will contribute to that end.
But how often do you stop to take inventory on your progress? And when you do, what is your assessment? Are you indeed making progress? How would you know?
“Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.”
– Khalil Gibran
If you are a parent, you’ve probably had the experience where you are out with your child and run into a friend or relative you haven’t seen for a while. Immediately they remark, “Oh my, look at you! You’ve grown so much since I last saw you!” And as you look at your son or daughter you realize that they really haven’t changed all that much in your eyes.
Because you’re with them all the time, you miss the incremental growth that is taking place right in front of you. I mean, on a logical level of course you know they’ve changed. But you don’t notice it as much as someone who hasn’t seen them for a while.
Well, the same thing happens to us when it comes to really seeing and understanding our own growth. We tend to measure our progress in short bursts. What’s different from last week, last month, or even last quarter? Maybe not much. But what’s different from last year or the last two years? Probably a whole lot more!
“Success is steady progress toward one’s personal goals.” – Jim Rohn
Let me give you an example from my own progress. As I write this blog, I am coming off 6 weeks of travel and speaking engagements that have taken me to Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Istanbul, Monterey, and Las Vegas – and I have still more travel ahead over the next two weeks.
It would be easy for me to focus on the last 3-6 months and overlook the growth that has taken place from the expansion of my business over the last 10 years. I have gone from being completely anonymous as a Coach/Speaker/Trainer to an internationally recognized keynote speaker and transformational coach. Yet without the perspective to step back and look at the bigger picture it would be far too easy for me to do what most of us do; look at the short-term and miss the meteoric growth that has truly taken place.
And in so doing, I would miss out on the progress I’ve made and continue to make in my life and work. I would miss out on the feelings of happiness, pride, and acknowledgment that comes from knowing I’m making a difference in the world, clarifying my message, and growing my influence with those whom I serve.
“Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year, and completely underestimate what they can achieve in a decade.” – Anthony Robbins
Take a look at your life and work. What progress have you made over the last year? The last 5 years? How about the last 10 years? Take a moment to really sit with that and let it sink in. Don’t be caught up in the trap of only looking at the short term. See how much you’ve grown. What would someone who hasn’t seen you in say, 10 years, say to you about how much you’ve changed and grown? (And I’m not talking about your expanding waistline or receding hairline!) I invite you to inhabit that perspective, and give yourself some much-deserved recognition for what you’ve achieved.
Growth equals progress. Progress equals happiness.
Share your comments or story below. Our community grows and benefits when we are open and willing to share ourselves within it. And if you feel like you’re not growing or making progress in the ways you’d like, contact me! That’s what I’m here to help you do – to grow and make progress in the most meaningful areas of your life!
Life lessons can come to us from unexpected places. The thing is we have to be awake and aware in order to take advantage of the learning. And I must admit that I have not always been those things – especially in my early years as a leader.
I spent 25 years working for a $2.5b company, with most of those years in a leadership position in the Product Development group. I was so focused on producing results and getting things done that many times I didn’t notice things (or the people) that were right in front of me.
So many nights, I remember sitting in my office working late. Projects to complete. Emails to be answered. Budgets to oversee. The price of leadership, I told myself. And each night, like clockwork, silently and unobtrusively he came. Tidying up the area, emptying the trash. The janitor.
I have to admit that most nights I really didn’t see him. I was too busy to pay attention to this other human being working in my space – even if it was only for a few moments. And other times I managed a simple “Hello,” or “How are you today?” all while not truly paying attention to any reply that came my way.
“The whole concept of treating people with dignity and respect is a concept that isn't a business concept, it's a life concept. It's who you are at the end of the day.”
– Greg Brenneman
One evening, I happened to look up and directly into the face of this heretofore invisible person in my office and I noticed his name on his shirt. Gary. So, being the wonderful human being I thought I was, I said, “Hi, Gary. How are you tonight?” And it happened. He told me. In fact, not only did he begin to tell me how he was, he sat down in one of my office chairs to do so.
I’m not proud to say this, but my initial thought was something along the lines of, “What the heck? I didn’t expect him to really tell me how he is! Now I have to sit here and pay attention to his story. Doesn’t he know I have all this work to do?”
And as this man began telling me more about himself and his life, I noticed something breaking open inside of me. My own humanity was being called forward. I was witnessing him, and probably giving him something he rarely experienced – someone truly noticing and listening to him.
The whole thing took maybe 2-3 minutes. And yet, in that short time I received one of the most valuable life lessons I’ve ever had. It’s still with me today. We all need to be seen, heard, and acknowledged.
“Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying, 'Make me feel important.' Never forget this message when working with people.” – Mary Kay Ash
From that night on, Gary and I would spend a few minutes talking each night as he came into my office to tidy up and take out the trash. He was a good man. A kind man. A man who had many troubles in life and wound up doing work he never expected to be doing. And yet, he did all that without any sense of regret or resentment.
I felt at times as if I was giving him a gift. And maybe I was. But in my mind, he was the one who gave me something I can never repay. He taught me to see people, not see through them. He taught me that everyone has a story, and we can honor them by simply listening. He taught me that it’s okay to slow down for a few moments and connect with another human being – especially when it’s someone who may be marginalized or taken for granted.
Most of us know what it feels like to feel invisible, unnoticed, unappreciated. And that can be one of the reasons we can feel so uncomfortable around others who we perceive to be those things. But how often do we look around us and take the time to see the people around us? And not only see them, but engage them, talk to them, and make them feel appreciated. I don’t know where Gary is today. I haven’t seen him in more than ten years. But the lesson I learned from him is still with me today. It’s one that I do my best to teach to the people I work with.
“We wildly underestimate the power of the tiniest personal touch.” – Tom Peters
Take the time to look around you. What or who do you see? Who are the marginalized or invisible people in your office? Take the opportunity to say hello and ask someone how they’re doing and then WAIT and LISTEN when they answer. You never know how that just might change someone’s life.
Let me know what happens when you do this. Leave a comment. I’d love to hear how this simple act changes you and the people around you.
Quit being an average leader! Take the FREE Leadership Assessment.
Kevin Ciccotti, Human Factor Formula
Helping companies create sustainable, effective teams that are committed to the success of their projects, the organization, and the individuals with whom they work