15 Inspiring Leadership Acts

The last post on this blog explained the differences between motivation (internal drivers that push each of us) and inspiration (external animating forces that pull the best out of others). Here are 15 practical leadership suggestions that can inspire others. Any single suggestion produces positive results. The effects rise exponentially when leaders consistently apply multiple approaches over a sustained period.

Before I launch into the list, let me highlight a subtle trap. Essentially all these suggestions fall into the “I knew that” category, but that’s irrelevant. Many of us too often fall into the I-knew-that-but-I-don’t-do-that category. The key difference between great and average leaders is not what they know about leadership, but what they consistently do as leaders.

  1. Understand “what” motivates someone before we begin talking about “how” to inspire them. We mistakenly presume too much or overlay our own motivators on others. There are assessments available to help you understand the motivational drivers of your people. Consider using them as tools to help you lead.
  2. Inspiring excellence is about aligning talents and passions with job requirements and objectives. Business people frequently place too much value on experience and skills and ignore or devalue the importance of core talents. If someone works in a job that utilizes their core talents they will most likely be more successful, and that success energizes them.
  3. People respond reluctantly to a position. Relationships inspire them. Leaders must make sustained investment into the lives of others.
  4. Understand their price point. Everyone has a different price point beyond which they will not voluntarily go—you need to know where it is.
  5. Everyone inherently aspires to belong to something bigger than themselves. People are not inspired by a corporate brand. A soldier fights and dies for the person in the foxhole beside them not the U.S. Army. In the absence of a shared vision / common objectives, we all default to personal motivation drivers (i.e, is this good for me?).
  6. Principled. Resolute. Predictable. Make sound, principle-based decisions. People despise weathervane managers who too often allow the latest idea or the last voice to sway decisions. Resoluteness also cultivates courage in others.
  7. Good people inspire others around them. They constructively urge each other on to better performance and unlock positive peer pressure. On the flip side, unchallenged poor performance is a huge de-motivator. Good people will resent it and eventually leave.
  8. Sacrifice inspires people…especially when it benefits them. It’s not about YOU!
  9. People reciprocally respond with loyalty when leaders “have their backside.” Team members deal with enough uncertainty and surprises in their lives without having to wonder whether the leader will loyally support them.
  10. Be a compassionate and timely straight shooter. Don’t coddle people and hide bad news. Be honest about individual and company performance.
  11. Leadership confidence and energy are contagious. Your passion ignites those around you. Your pessimism drains them.
  12. Genuineness attracts people. We react to self-serving pretentiousness with revulsion.
  13. Celebrate success! None of us likes to feel stagnant. Openly acknowledge progress and express gratitude for the contributions of others.
  14. Committed to learning. People feel inspired by those who humbly admit and learn from their mistakes. Transparent students of life and business unlock the native streak of curiosity in us all.
  15. Daily practice gratitude. Sharing credit inspires a sense of belonging and fulfills our inherent need to make a contribution. Leaders who regularly express gratitude for the contribution of others inspire team members to do more.

Select a few of these inspiring acts to practice during the coming week.

Love at Work. It’s Missing, and That’s Bad.

A recent blog post “Law. Liberty. Love.” argued that absent a constraining force the amoral nature of liberty destroys the peaceable and productive threads that bind together any societal group, whether a family, team, community, company or country. The choice to constrain liberty by an external force (law) or restrain liberty from an internal motivation (love) impacts societies and businesses in innumerable ways and results in vastly different outcomes.

Society of Liberty Constrained by Law

Liberty constrained by law and administered by imperfect human beings faces a continual and mostly losing battle to find the proper balance of prudence, reasonableness, equality and reliability.

Liberty constrained by law creates narrow spaces hemmed in by the boundaries of many regulations and policies and wastefully consumes attention and energy to understand and avoid those boundaries. This approach demands long lists of dos and don’ts that cover every conceivable situation. Consequently, we end up with voluminous regulations and policies; including bulging employee manuals that no one reads; except to determine, after the fact, whether an infraction occurred.

When we constrain liberty by law some people in the group will push those boundaries to test how far they may go without suffering harm. Consequently, the group consumes significant time, energy and money protecting those boundaries and addressing the people who flout them. On the flip side, more risk averse people withdraw in fear of breaching an ill-defined or unknown boundary. Both responses drain the vitality from a society.

Society of Liberty Restrained by Love

On the other hand, liberty restrained by love creates vast open fields of opportunity for creativity and risk-taking. When we know that others have our best interests at heart we trust (not fear) them. This freedom from fear unleashes the innovative spirit within each of us.

Rather than an energy-sapping focus on boundaries, we channel our resources on wide-open opportunity spaces. We shift our minds from the negative to the positive. We concentrate on opportunities not obstacles. We focus on constructive behaviors; not catching people doing wrong. We don’t spend money on compliance. Instead, we invest our resources on encouraging and developing people.

People began to watch out for each other and catch mistakes (not as a gotcha, but for the good of the team). The late Bob Galvin of Motorola was fond of saying, “Individuals make mistakes, but teams can be perfect.” People start compensating for each other’s weak spots and collaborate in ways that yield results far beyond the sum of their individual efforts. People feel better about coming to work in an environment that encourages and challenges to be their best. Consequently, attendance and attention improve and drive a safer work environment, better quality and higher productivity. You get the idea.

How do we develop liberty restrained by love?

Present society defaults to liberty constrained by policies and regulations to the point that “love” for others is rarely heard in the public square or board rooms. Why? In the English language the word “love” carries multiple meaning, and this creates confusion. Classical Greek used three different words for different types of love. Eros, or physical love, which often involves sexual expression. Phileo, or soul love, is most commonly associated with affectionate feelings toward friends or personal interests we enjoy. Agape is a mature sacrificial love that is intentionally and overtly others-focused; the expression of which almost always comes at a cost to the bearer of agape.

Unfortunately, the sexually charged nature of our society means that eros dominates the meaning of love in public discourse, and, thus, we rightly shy away from it in a business environment. Yet, we instinctively know that building and sustaining any collective effort requires expressions of affection (phileo ) and sacrificial caring (agape). Since we cannot use the distorted word love, we have sought a substitute in “respect.” Unfortunately, in an environment of liberty predominately constrained by policies and laws, respect is often just a bland and unemotional tolerance with no caring for the object of respect. We just put up with or ignore each other and our lives and businesses suffer for it.

How then do we change this dynamic and unleash the power of liberty restrained by love?

It starts with each of us individually. We must shift our mental and emotional focus from personal rights to personal responsibilities. We must change our mindset from what can I get to what can I give. Invest time in getting to know others beyond work (i.e. care for the whole person). Invest resources in developing people around us. Treat others as voluntary collaborators with us rather than “assets” we leverage only for what they are worth to us or the group to which we both belong.

Openly express our appreciation for others and their work. Openly praise expressions of sacrificial caring by others. Gratitude and giving are contagious, but they will not go viral if these behaviors are stealthy. We have a real live example from recent weeks where over 300 people in line at a Starbucks in New York City paid for the order of the person behind them.

Our place in the group’s hierarchy matters little. Anyone can be a catalyst for liberty restrained by love. Yes, it may feel lonely in the beginning, but others will notice and begin to emulate sacrificial selfless behavior.

What Characterizes a Person of Integrity?

Integrity is one of those common words we may use without ever stopping to ponder what it means. We instinctively have a strong sense that integrity is a good thing; so it’s an attribute of human character worthy of effort, but how do I attain it.

I never found a definition that satisfied all the elements central to a full understanding of integrity; so a number of years ago I wrote my own:

“Integrity is the reliably consistent alignment of what I believe, think and do and the highest objective standards of morality”

Let’s unpack that definition starting with the back “…what I believe, think, and act and the highest objective standards of morality.” There are four elements to integrity:

  1. External. What I do. My public life. Observable words and actions both in terms of commission and omission in various situations; after all, sometimes the right thing to do is nothing.
  2. Internal. Who I am. My private life. My mind, will and emotions. Some call this the human spirit. This includes all the doubts and fears with which I may wrestle but not expose to the outside world.
  3. Metaphysical. What I believe. This may be an explicit and conscious set of beliefs, or it may be your subconscious internal compass of right and wrong (your conscience). Some call this the human soul.
  4. Supernatural. What is Right and True. This standard exists apart from me as an individual and serves as an arbiter of right versus wrong. [As an aside, this fourth element may make some of you uncomfortable. You may believe it inappropriate to pass moral judgments across peoples and cultures and struggle with the notion of an objective right and wrong. Consider this…Absent this fourth element, one could claim that the individuals who planned and executed the 9/11 attacks on the USA were individuals of integrity. The incredibly tight alignment among their beliefs, thoughts and actions led them to sacrifice their very lives. They made this fateful decision based on a powerful belief in the rightness of their position. Attempts to argue that their actions were wrong starts one down a logical path of right versus wrong.]

Random or occasion alignment of these four elements do not produce integrity. We must combine all four elements in a “…reliably consistent alignment… ”

Without a reliably consistent alignment among these four elements I will experience the draining and damaging effects of internal turmoil. I am weakened emotionally. The pressure erodes my passion and siphons off my stamina. Sustained internal misalignment will eventually damage my physical and emotional health.

Externally, an unreliable or inconsistent alignment among these four elements produces collateral damage to my relationships. Not only does my inconsistency hurt others, but the rebound effect makes my life a bigger struggle. The blowback also shapes my reputation as someone unpredictable and inconsiderate. The multiplying effect of my reputation makes every subsequent interaction more difficult than necessary.

On the positive side, a reliability consistent alignment unleashes and leverages the power of alignment.

When we nurture and exercise our own inherent talents we act in concert with who we are as a person. We naturally and more easily perform at a high level. We feel joy in our labors, because we are doing work we were designed to do. We receive invigorating affirmation from others that inspires us to greatness and sustains us through difficult times. We experience a wholeness that breeds contentment.

If we take integrity to the ultimate level and align ourselves with “the highest objective standards of morality”, we place ourselves in alignment with God-ordained Natural Laws. We suffer less heartache and harm. Our behaviors yield fruitful outcomes. We enjoy mutually fulfilling relationships. We are producers (givers) and not solely consumers (takers); yet we can humbly receive without guilt.

At a practical level building integrity involves regularly expose your mind to Truth (for me that’s the Bible) to erase errors that creep into your life from the imperfect world and renew your mind around right thinking. Consider writing a personal mission statement that reflects Truth and your uniqueness as a human being. Regularly assess and realign your beliefs, thoughts and actions to your mission statement.

Plants & the 5 E’s of Building Effective Teams

Seeds contain the information necessary to germinate, grow and reproduce. However, absent the amounts of soil, air, water, and sunlight most appropriate for that species, the seed may fail at any point along its maturation cycle. We can reduce the risk of failure and multiply the eventual yield by preparing the soil, planting at an appropriate time, cultivating the field during the growth phase and harvesting at the most opportune time. These external factors do not change the basic capabilities of the seed; however, they will heavily influence the quality and quantity of the harvest.

This intelligent design from nature provides us a wonderful example for building effective teams. Akin to the information encoded in seeds, the people on your team bring to any effort certain raw talents and capabilities. Similarly, certain external environmental elements of the organizational culture will influence whether individuals flounder or flourish.

My leadership experience has distilled five environmental elements leaders must provide to build effective teams.

1. EXPECTATIONS. At the broadest level, we establish expectations by painting our vision and defining the mission for the organization. At the project or team level, we define success in terms of desired outcomes. In other words, we identify where we’re going without getting into “how” the team should accomplish those objectives. Equally important, we set boundaries for acceptable behaviors in terms of the values and culture which will define the character of the team.

2. EQUIP. Provide the resources necessary to achieve the expectations. These resources commonly fall into four buckets

  • Talents – Staff the team with the necessary blend of talents; identify other resources (such as subject matter experts) available to the team
  • Tools – Allocate suitable amounts of money, equipment, space, software, etc.
  • Techniques – Define and inculcate reusable standard methods and processes into the daily habits of the organization; particularly around problem solving and reporting
  • Training in the skills needed to effectively leverage the available tools and techniques

3. ENABLE. Emotionally prepare the team for the challenge. This emotional element is crucial for building self-reliant teams that are not constantly running back to you for guidance or encouragement. Effective emotional preparation addresses at least these three components:

  • Define success so people know it when they see it. Defining success establishes a built-in course correction mechanism that allows the team to adapt to the inevitable surprises of any human endeavor
  • Clarify why it’s important to get there. Understanding not just “what” (the expectations) but “why” equips the team to deal with ambiguity which arises in the course of the journey. Whenever possible anchor “why” messages to the broader organization’s vision and mission.
  • Explain the challenge (“what will it take”). Understanding the scope and scale of the challenge prepares team members to mentally and physically calibrate themselves for the journey. This is especially true if the challenge will impose upon their private lives. Anyone who’s done open road running or cycling knows the frustrations of struggling to reach the crest of the rise only to discover the hill continues.

4. EMPOWER. The crucial element of empowerment is transferring ownership for the objective. Ownership involves two elements—transferring authority and establishing accountability. Transferring authority to accomplish the objective(s) means transferring relevant decision-making. If you’ve effectively defined expectations, the team will already know the measures of accountability, but also establishing the method of accountability (when and how the team reports on its progress) creates a healthy transparency and makes interventions an exception. If you find your team frequently seeking guidance or clarification, look first to your ineffectiveness in enabling, equipping and setting expectations.

5. EMBRACE. Once you have empowered the team be available but resist the natural urge to jump in and start dictating solutions. These disempowering actions will rapidly deflate the team and make you the chokepoint. Remain resolute. Adversity will come. Expect it and commit to remain in a coaching mode. Spend more time questioning and listening than talking (take a lesson from the LEAN leader practice of going to the gemba). It is important to display consistency in your behaviors, because unpredictability will undermine your credibility.

10 Transformative Acts of Human Dignity

I find it an interesting dichotomy that some social ideas can be both widely known and widely misunderstood.

Turn the other cheek. “Not me,” you say. “I have no plans to let someone else take advantage of me. I won’t tolerate any mistreatment.” But, is allowing someone else to abuse me and then ask for more what Jesus meant?

In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught a series of transformational behaviors; including this one “…if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” As with any illustration, it is important to understand the social context of the example. In the society of Jesus’ day people used their left hand for unclean acts associated with daily care and therefore never used their right hand in public. So, in order to smite someone on the right cheek, the offender delivering the blow had to strike the other person with the back of the right hand. This act was a power move designed to communicate or force submission. The act of turning the other check says to the offender, “I’m here. I’m ready. If you want to go any further, you will have to treat me as an equal.”

In the same passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus used another illustration, “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” According to the laws of the day, the soldiers enforcing Rome’s rule could require local inhabitants to carry their armor for a mile. That second mile meant, “You can make me carry that load for the first mile, but I’m going this second mile by an act of my own will. My sense of self-worth is intact.”

The Civil Rights movement in this country provides a more recent illustration of this transformative power where non-violent expressions of human dignity forced the culture to accept blacks as equals.

One of the sad legacies of the Industrial Age is the dehumanizing nature of modern corporations. These larger organizations force people into increasingly narrow and repetitive roles that dull the mind and sap the spirit. Large organizations also give rise to bloated bureaucracies and a stifling conformity imposed by reams of rules and policies. We can either respond to these unhealthy environments by descending into the petty mindset of a victim or react from a well-spring of self-dignity.

Many articles and books on organizational or cultural change focus on the role of the leader. I don’t want to minimize that vital responsibility, but always waiting for the leader is a victim mindset. The transforming power of human dignity compels us to ask, “What can I do to change this situation.”

One of the distinguishing elements of the lean enterprise philosophy is respect for people. This is not just about managers respecting employees or employees respecting those in organizational authority but a culture of multilateral respect. We cannot have a healthy and genuine respect for others unless we first respect ourselves. Absent self-respect our thoughts in any circumstance quickly turn toward our own needs and hurts. We evaluate every action in light of its impact on us. We harbor resentment from slights that offend us. We respond with a vengeful spirit that destroys respect and relationships.

One of the intriguing quirks of humans is our ability to behave our way into a new way of believing. So, rather than attempting to determine what motivates me and the others around me, I encourage you to begin behaving with human dignity. The power of the following ten simple acts to transform a family, a team, a company or a community will amaze you.

  1. We fulfill our responsibilities
  2. We volunteer to help others
  3. We identify and solve problems
  4. We defend the weak
  5. We give of our time and money to help others
  6. We show up on time out of appreciate the value of others’ time
  7. We resist the urge to lash out in revengeful responses
  8. We honor our commitments
  9. We take care of our bodies with proper nutrition, rest and exercise
  10. We acknowledge the limits of self-reliance and associate in community for a richer and more productive life experience

10 Signs Your Capital Investing Strategy May Be Upside Down

Since the design of the first tool, men and machines have experienced a dynamic interplay characterized at various times by harmonious synergy and contentious strife.

The Middle Age craftsman was both owner and laborer and oversaw the manufacturing process from start to finish. The craftsman viewed the manufacturing process and the machines within that process from a holistic perspective. He decided to build or buy machines based on the impact to both the machine and his labor; not the machine or his labor. He also considered how any machine might better leverage his time and talent to improve the quality and/or quantity of his finished product (not just any particular step in the manufacturing process).

The Industrial Revolution severed the relationship between owner and labor and also introduced a new layer into the decision process, the professional manager. The Industrial Revolution also disaggregated the craftsman’s role across multiple individuals who only performed discrete steps of the entire manufacturing process. These narrowly constructed roles separated laborers from the output of their work with adverse consequences for everyone. Laborers felt stymied in their ability to contribute and stopped thinking (“just do what you’re told”). Unsurprisingly, managers began viewing laborers as low-value, interchangeable elements in the manufacturing process and used people only to perform work which they had not yet figured out how to automate. This disrespectful mental framework sank to such a depth that for much of the past few decades some industries chased cheap labor all over the world. I call this the Human Capital Paradigm.

In attempts to improve manufacturing some firms turned to an alphabet soup of new techniques and tools — 5S, TQM, TPM, PDCA, QIS, DMAIC, SPC, DOE, etc. Most of those efforts failed, because manufacturing leaders continued to apply those tools from the mental framework of the Human Capital Paradigm. What’s needed is a Human Capital Paradigm, which is best explained by comparison to its failed predecessor in the table below.

Financial Capital Paradigm Human Capital Paradigm
Improvements achieved by investing financial capital (money) Improvements achieved by balancing investments of human capital with financial capital
Discipline/repeatability for high quality sought through machines; managers do not believe people can be disciplined Discipline/repeatability for high quality achieved by people using reliable processes (as the late Bob Galvan of Motorola was fond of saying “People may make mistakes, but teams can be perfect.”)
Machines designed for high repeatability, but offered low flexibility (hard automation) Machines designed for flexibility (easily reconfigurable and capable of performing a range of tasks)
People perceived as highly flexible (able to perform a wide variety of tasks), but with low reliability People are highly disciplined without losing flexibility
Managers think; Laborers do Every team member expected to think and contribute toward continuous improvement

 

In the Human Capital Paradigm machines provide flexible discipline and people contribute disciplined flexibility. The challenge of building such a culture has implications that touch almost every aspect of designing, staffing and running an organization of any size. That challenge is too large for this post. However, I will close by sharing a sample list of attributes you might use to assess how your organization stacks up against the capital investment paradigm? While not an exhaustive list, these behavior-based markers can provide clues to your progress along this journey. I encourage you to use the list below to expand or jump start your own list of markers:

  1. Expectations and related consequences established by agreement, not edict
  2. Accountability for meeting expectations belongs to individuals, not managers
  3. A focus on what we want, not what we don’t want; managers focus on catching people doing things right and recognizing them for it; not discovering and punishing wrongdoing
  4. Team members measure themselves, rather than a manager or third-party
  5. Indicators of performance visible to everybody; most notably those performing the work
  6. Opportunities for improvement often identified by people doing the work not just engineers or managers
  7. Customer-driven variety, not changeover considerations predominately influence production scheduling
  8. Disciplined adherence to standard work procedures facilitates reliable outcomes
  9. Processes highlight abnormal process variations and trigger corrective action
  10. Repeatable processes used to test and verify the efficacy of ideas before widespread implementation

I Hired Your Resume, But Unfortunately I Got You*

In the early days of moving pictures marketers quickly discovered the power of subliminal messaging. The human mind could subconsciously register a single image embedded within a movie projecting 24 frames per second. This advertising method gained favor among marketers, because it induced higher response rates among viewers than overt advertisements. The Federal Trade Commission deemed subliminal messaging deceptive advertising and outlawed it in the USA during the 1970s.

Repeated studies suggest that hiring managers are often heavily influenced by the subliminal power of first impressions. Too many of us will unconsciously make a go / no-go hiring decision in less time than it takes to watch a Super Bowl commercial. At that point, Confirmation Bias kicks into gear, and we spend the interview looking for things to affirm our initial subconscious impression.

Of course, you are smart enough to avoid that trap, or at least that’s what you tell yourself. However, unless you have a solid plan, you will end up looking at all the wrong things in all the wrong places when the time arrives to make your next hire.

Over the years I have often joked that a hiring interview is like a first date. We instinctively know that first impressions are important. We stand in front of the mirror to make sure we have the look just right. We apply extra diligence to observing social courtesies. We tell stories about our respective pasts with a focus on the positive. We talk about people we know, places we’ve been and events we’ve experienced. These fact-oriented discussions often do not tread into more sensitive topics; such as, why we act the way we do and what drives us.

Resumes reinforce this backward-looking, surface-level focus. In fact, the Latin root of resume means “to summarize” and “take back.” In other words, a resume summarizes the “what” of my past. When and where I worked. What I accomplished. A typical resume provides no sense of context; i.e. the external business environment, internal culture or surrounding talents and resources in which the candidate worked. The resume also gives no insights into the innate talents the candidate may have leveraged to deliver the results.

Granted, it’s important to understand the external/internal environments in which the candidate formerly worked, if for no other reason than establishing context for evaluating past accomplishments, but your environment is different to some extent than the candidate has previously experienced and changing all the time. However, the constant in this equation is the candidate’s talents. These raw abilities follow the candidate everywhere. When you hire a candidate you don’t get their past. Rather, you get their talents.

Unless you recognize this crucial distinction you may risk repeating the mistake of the hiring manager who lamented, “I hired your resume, but unfortunately what I got was you.”*

So, what talents are important? Most unique hiring factors are usually acquired skills (software coding) or related experiences (startups, R&D, finance, consumer goods, etc.). Talents typically have more universal applicability across projects, jobs and time. To illustrate the point, here’s a list of targeted talents I developed during my last startup:

1. Integrity. Managing becomes easy when I can count on people to say what they mean and follow through on their commitments. You don’t need lots of policies and rules if you hire people with integrity. You can trust them to do the right thing.

2. Intelligence. Experience is a weak substitute for raw intellectual horsepower. The business environment is constantly changing, and we wanted people with the smarts to solve the problems we don’t even know about yet.

3. Initiative. It is always easier to guide something in motion. Organizations waste tremendous amounts of energy just overcoming static inertia and moving into action. Besides, it is just plainly more fun to work with people who are willing to pitch in to solve problems.

4. Inquisitiveness. It is the best “I” word I identified to describe people who are curious about life and constantly looking for better ways to do things. Without people like this on the team, continuous improvement remains a theoretical concept.

In closing, here are some tips for integrating “hiring for talent” into your own culture:

  • Identifying the core talents and traits most important to your business culture takes time and careful thought; This may require researching the traits of successful people who have done similar work
  • Describe your target talents in writing–make your target hiring profile tangible; if not, we subject every hiring decision to the vague and subconscious biases of individual hiring managers
  • Develop methods for identifying and hiring people with your target talents…that’s the topic of the last blog post in this three-part “Hiring for Talent” series.
  • Talk about your target talents often; make them a visible part of your culture
  • Publicize and celebrate the linkage between those talents and the extraordinary results they produce
  • Align your reward system with your target talents

* Source, Jay Jordan in “Who” by Geoff Smart and Brad Street, pg 6

The Unequal Nature of Egalitarian Time

The world isn’t fair. Personal, corporate, community and national assets are not distributed equally. Intelligence, wealth, and power may vary greatly from individual to individual. Yet, the life distance we measure as a day travels equally for every person on earth. This same window of time is available to all; regardless of individual intelligence, wealth, health or power. However, in retrospect we can see that some periods during our life or business were dramatically more impactful than others. While the seconds, minutes, hours and days marched on at a rigid pace, not all days presented the same opportunity window.

A former business leader of mine once said that for a stable business with modest growth a year is a year. However, a business experiencing fast growth must treat every quarter as a year and every week as a month; and a business experiencing hypergrowth must respect every month as a year and every week as a quarter. In other words, time is egalitarian (i.e. there are 24 hours in every day for everyone), but time is not equal for all people in all situations.

If it takes a calendar month to develop an “annual” business plan and you are a hypergrowth business, you spent a whole “year” planning and no time executing. If it takes three weeks to close the books and issue financial reports, the “year” in a hypergrowth business is 75% complete before the business know how well it’s doing.

It does not take much thought to identify rate of change as the distinguishing factor between stability and hypergrowth. Time speeds up when my life/business experiences a high rate of change. If I do not recognize times of rapid change and correspondingly adjust the pace at which I plan, decide and act, then I risk falling behind or missing a window of opportunity.

But be careful! In order to appropriately adapt we must recognize that our minds can warp our perspective of time. Consider how often you have heard someone remark how quickly the year has flown. Contrast that with your memories of the interminable wait for Christmas Day as a child. And, if you stop and think for a few moments, you can also recall periods of time as an adult when time seemed to stand still. Don’t ask me how that happens. The best analogy that comes to mind is the difference between high-speed and time-lapsed photography. A high-speed camera takes many frames per second, but when replayed at normal speed gives the appearance of slow-motion. On the other hand, time-lapsed photography compresses time and allows us to actually observe slow rates of change that are undetectable at normal speed.

I can only speculate that our minds possess remarkable potential to adapt to high rates of change. However, extended periods of stability can also slow our minds. This is why bright people with long experience in large corporations may struggle or even fail in a fast-paced entrepreneurial environment.

Bottom line…you must learn to recognize the signs of the time and adjust your behaviors accordingly or risk getting either left behind or overrun. As the iconic American humorist, Will Rogers once said, “You may be on the right track, but if you are just sitting there, you will get run over.”

Putting it into practice. How can I leverage the relativity of time?

  • Take time to reflect and train my mind to recognize the present pace of time in my life and business
  • Adapt my rhythms of planning, decisions and actions to suit the times
  • Take advantage of slower times to crystallize and capture lessons from past failures and successes; so that I am prepared to readily apply them to future problems and opportunities
  • Commit to a lifetime of learning. Leverage times of stability to learn new skills and explore new arenas.

Law. Liberty. Love.

Liberty has an emotionally powerful appeal. We instinctively crave opportunities to choose our own way and resist boundaries that constrain us. This thirst for self-determination unceasingly appeals for freedom.

In its heroic embodiment, the pull of liberty compels some people to heroic actions that risk their lives and/or fortunes. Many Americans willingly laid down their lives to protect our freedoms. Yet, the license of liberty drives some to acts of callous disregard for others and even unspeakable acts of evil. Ancient writings speak of the chaos which results when every person does what is right in their own eyes and history is replete with examples of despotic power holders imprisoning, enslaving and killing millions of fellow human beings.

That contrast of outcomes suggests liberty is amoral. While often raised as a rallying cry, liberty alone will not produce stable families, societies or businesses. In order to avoid the risks of its worst excesses, we must somehow constrain liberty without squelching its productive nature. We may constrain liberty by external or internal forces.

External forces constrain liberty by cultivating fear and imposing physical force. A small element of a society (in extreme cases a single individual, such as a king or dictator) defines boundaries in the form of laws that prescribe the adverse consequences for unacceptable behaviors. These dictatorial lawgivers possess sufficient power to restrain lawbreakers and compel compliance through fear. In theory, a rational person will fear the negative consequence of breaking a law and instead choose to behave within the constraining boundaries prescribed by the laws of that society. When coupled with the human desire for liberty, this environment will encourage some to flirt with the lines of the law (i.e. how close may I get without getting in trouble?). Of greater and grimmer long-term consequence, the fear induced by the force of law reaps a risk-averse society or organization that squelches creativity and innovation.

An effective external constraint of liberty via laws relies upon several highly unstable presumptions in any society governed by fallible humans.

  1. Prudence — Laws prescribe a limited set of behaviors necessary for a safe and orderly society. Laws are few enough to remember and simple enough to understand such that each individual member of the society may moderate their own behaviors in full confidence of compliance with all the laws of that society.
  2. Reasonableness — Laws require no more than modest efforts to comply and are generally perceived as fair.
  3. Equality — Members of the society receive equal treatment under the laws. There are no exceptions or undue burdens for any element of society.
  4. Reliability — Laws are consistently enforced. Members of society know with certainty that they will get caught and punished for breaking the law and left alone when they comply.

The absence of any element unleashes increasing amounts of lawbreaking, which, in turn, causes the lawgiver(s) to deploy increasing levels of force and induce higher levels of fear. This societal death spiral will either choke the vitality of a society (consider the moribund Russian society under the yoke of the Soviet Union) or may induce rebellion (remember the birth of the United States).

Love for others as an internal driver can also compel us to restrain our exercise of individual liberty. We abandon other activities which may offer greater personal pleasure to care for our sick child. We moderate our language and even speaking volume around certain people or situations. We adjust our style of dress appropriate to the situation. We change our work style or schedule to accommodate the needs of the group. We give of our time, talents and treasure when others are counting on us. We make these choices voluntarily and often without immediate or even certain benefit to ourselves. Out of internally motivated love we choose to sacrifice our personal liberty for the benefit of those around us.

When we allow love to restrain our individual liberty we do not need long lists of dos and don’ts that cover every conceivable situation. We do not need bulging employee manuals or bloated legislation. We only need one beautifully and unforgettably simple guiding principle…Love your neighbor as yourself.

On the other hand, liberty constrained by law creates narrow spaces hemmed in by the boundaries of many laws and wastefully consumes attention and energy to understand and avoid those boundaries. The simplicity of liberty restrained by love creates vast open fields of opportunity for creativity and risk-taking. When I know that others have my best interests at heart I trust (not fear) them. This freedom from fear unleashes the innovative spirit within each of us.

Ask yourself this question…Do I personally and professionally cultivate relationships fueled by love or compelled by law?

Looking ahead…The choice to constrain liberty by law or restrain liberty by love impacts societies and businesses in innumerable ways and results in vastly outcomes. Present society defaults to liberty constrained by laws (including policies and procedures) to the point that “love” for others is rarely heard in the public square or board rooms. How societies and businesses might look if we constructively restrained liberty by love is the subject for a future blog post.