Category Archives: Performance

There Is No Formula For Building Your Business

The world out there makes it seems like building a business should be a linear process involving some kind of formula and multi-step process. Figure out your target market, your brand, your customer avatar, etc.  I’ve never seen it work that way.

I work with startup and early stage companies and every one of them has had their own unique set of twists, turns and growing pains. Their businesses evolve in surprising and unexpected ways and on timetables that no one can really predict.

Years ago, for example, I spent thousands of dollars on a program promising to teach me how to “scale” my law business. The content made logical sense, but I resisted implementing any of it, and the end result was wasted time and money.

When I quit the program and just focused on the business, I learned there was an enormous amount of foundational work required before I could even think about scaling.  And when I started doing that work, slowly, patiently, my business got far more satisfying.  I was serving my clients well, building something with care, that reflected my values, and I was doing it at a pace that left time for my studies and training in psychology.

Years later, I read these words by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman: “If you want your company to truly scale, you first have to do things that don’t scale. You don’t start with a 100 million users, you start with a few.  So stop thinking big and start thinking small.”

It confirmed the central point of this article: each of us already has, built into us, the intelligence and judgment we need to guide our work.  When we focus on what’s in front of us, with care and attention, our mind helps us climb a learning curve, figure things out, in a way that it totally responsive to the circumstances at hand.  And in a way, no formula, book or

When we focus on what’s in front of us, with care and attention, our mind helps us climb a learning curve and navigate towards success.  It gives us ideas and next steps. It sends warning lights when we need to pause, and green lights when taking a calculated risk might make sense.

It helps us figure things out, in a way that it totally personal and responsive to the circumstances at hand. In a way, ultimately, that no formula, book or other person could ever replicate.

The deeper we get this, the more we slow down and rely on our grounding and intelligence to navigate the twists and turns of entrepreneurship with good judgment and common sense.  And that grounding — rather than any formula, concept, or strategy – is what makes all the difference. It is the secret sauce of effective entrepreneurial leadership.

Forget Productivity Hacks – Just Do The Work

The self-help world is filled with ‘hacks’ to optimise our personal effectiveness. All of them rest of the dubious notion that we should override our in-the-moment judgment in favor of deliberate strategies or techniques.

To the common advice that we should focus on high-leveraged tasks that play to our strengths, while delegating those that don’t.

The idea makes logical sense, but implementing it is a different story.

In the early years of my business, for example, I bent myself into pretzels to delegate tasks to assistants and contractors, but since my business too young, I did not have a good sense of what or how to delegate. It felt forced and stressful, so I ended up retrenching and starting from scratch.

Eventually, I abandoned all concepts and started just doing needed doing, as best as I could manage. And that is what took my business to a place where hiring and delegating began to make sense.

From a performance standpoint, all of us are at our best when we immerse ourselves with a mind that’s relatively free of clutter and over-thinking. In that state, we bring a powerful instinctive living intelligence to our work.

That intelligence is responsive to the needs of the moment, it learns and adapts, it makes connections and generates fresh ideas, it brings us what we need to respond to what’s at hand. And it’s all automatic and built in.

Self-management strategies interfere with that intelligence. They fill our mind with clutter, blunt our instincts and reduce our effectiveness.

Am I focusing on a strength? Is this in my zone of genius? Should do more of this or less of that? No. We are not designed to live that way. What’s worse, it’s counter-productive.

Now that I have a team, what I delegate is part of the flow of judgment calls I make all day long. An instinctive sense of my own strengths and weaknesses and where to focus my time is built into those judgments by default, without any extra analysis on my part.

Strategies have us fumbling with self-management, instead of immersing ourselves in the work.  And it’s the work that makes the difference.

Of course, we all get stuck in our heads and experience doubt and uncertainty. We got through periods of being unsure how to proceed. We linger over decisions or question our own judgments.

That’s all perfectly normal and part of the process. So long as we stay in the game, our intelligence will help steer us through the rough patches.

Success may look in retrospect like it comes from applying formulas or techniques. That idea gets reinforced by well-meaning people who reflect on their accomplishments and offer some kind of roadmap to ease our path.

But in truth, our roadmap can only come from within, through personal engagement in our work. Progress may follow trends and patterns, but we can’t reverse engineer it. We have to live it from the inside-out.

On Productivity and Wild Goose Chases

Take a room full of people and ask how many have productive and not-so-productive days, around 100% will raise their hands.

Take the same room and ask how many wish they were more productive, the same 100% will raise their hands.

Do you see what is going on here?

We all have productive and unproductive streaks. Some days we’re clear and focused, others less so.

Rather than roll with the cycles, we tend to turn it into a problem and a project. We focus on improving our “productivity” and that focus ends up being a huge obstacle to enjoying our work and, ironically, to getting things done.

Let me expand on that.

As with all things in nature, there is an rhythm to our energy and mental life. Our minds ebb and flow from clarity and decisiveness to reflectiveness and uncertainty, from energy and exertion to rest and renewal.

Sometimes we know what to do and we move rather effortlessly into action. We instinctively prioritize what’s on our plate and tackle our next tasks and projects. At other times, we may linger on things, or our attention may drift, or we may move into general planning or reflecting, or feel unfocused or out of sorts.

Unless we understand the natural ebb and flow of thought, we may grow insecure about shifts in our productivity, question our level of self-discipline or commitment, and seek solutions to so-called “procrastination.”

Rather than just do the work as best we can, we go out and buy a book or app that will eradicate our natural “unproductive” periods, and implementing that becomes part of the to-do list (subject, of course, to the same ebbs and flows in thought).

Now, in adding systems and techniques to our workload, we further clutter our mind — unwittingly putting decisive action that much farther from reach.

The upshot is we’ve create a multi-billion dollar market for productivity tools and trainings, all to help us escape a harmless – and inescapable – fact of the human experience, while adding to the mental clutter that interferes with our natural instincts to get things done.

Personally, I’ve tried many productivity tools over the years, each time starting off with hope and promise, only to find them gathering dust a short while later.

Some might say it’s a lack of discipline – that’s what I thought for a long time. Now I know better.  Now I know it is common sense that leads us to drop these complex productivity systems in favor of just showing up and doing the best we can.

Most of us understand at a deep level that obsessive self-management is no way to live or work. We know that there is only one way to focus on the work, and that is to focus on the work. In doing that, our instinctive intelligence tells us how best to organize things to get things done.

There’s a deeper issue as well: When impose outside systems on ourselves, we not only struggle needlessly, we may miss the deeper intelligence behind the rhythms of thought, an intelligence that is working for us whether or not it’s satisfying our rational notions of efficiency.

I finished last year with a burst of activity completing a demanding client project. Early January came around and my mind unexpectedly became reflective, unfocused and curious. What’s next, it seems to be asking, as I started tinkering around with ideas.

Other work began to pile up (I occasionally berated myself for this), but I found myself placing it on the back-burner while my mind considered new initiatives and approaches to my business.

I was still working, mind you, keeping the business running, just not focused in the same way. You might even say I was procrastinating.

Inwardly, however, I knew there was some kind of reordering happening. Somehow, I was being called to consider my business with a more strategic perspective.

This period lasted about 3 weeks before I had a burst of insight into a new direction for my firm. By the end of it, I  felt literally like a different person.

Our slower periods are invitations to reflection and reevaluation, or our psyche taking the time to digest information. Slowing down, it turns out, can be one of the most powerful productivity tools around.

The good news here is while don’t control the rhythms of our productive life, what does ultimately control it is an intelligence greater than what’s available through mere rational thought.

As we come to recognize and rely on that natural intelligence, as we learn to trust in its wisdom and continual presence, as we learn to relax around this whole subject of productivity, we move into an easier and more consistent relationship with doing.

We don’t waste time on trying to productivity problems that don’t exist. We trust our slower periods and embrace our productive periods. We show up as best we can and do what’s next.

And quite surprisingly, a whole more gets done.

The Issue With “Issues”

It’s a dogma of contemporary self-help that “issues” are real things that are lodged in our psyche and that we need to actively work to dislodge them to experience well-being.

But it’s more accurate to say that “issues” are comprised of recurring thoughts that once understood as such resolve themselves through a natural self-correcting process.

Internal distress or suffering is a sign that our thinking has veered into unproductive territory. If I’m feeling anxious, worried about life, money, work, I am using the power of thought to create an anxious experience. That anxiousness is unrelated to circumstances.

That anxiousness is unrelated to circumstances, and it is not anchored to or connected to anything permanent or fixed in my psyche. In other words, as soon as my thoughts changed, so will my anxiousness.

And since thought is ephemeral by nature, and since the mind is self-correcting by nature, thoughts will change and so will our experience.

Once we understand this, we can look towards the natural capacity of our psyche to correct towards balance, clarity and deeper understanding. We stop obsessing

But when we think distress is more than a sign of temporary imbalanced thinking — when we think, for example, it is a sign of deeper “issues” or that our life circumstances are at fault — it starts to make sense to dive deeper into the difficult thoughts, to study and solve them, to examine their roots and causes.

That inquiry has us dwelling on our past, on our grievances, on our circumstances.

We can get so wrapped up in that, we forget we all have a natural process that restores us to well-being and gives us the capacity to move forward with life, without our having to “do” anything.  It’s just how we are wired.

Well-being is at the core of each of us, untarnished and unbreakable. That well-being is continually emerging for us in each moment, in the form of fresh wisdom, insights, understanding and ideas, that give us what we need to navigate life.

Yes we experience stress and suffering. But that’s how the system wakes us up and keeps us healthy. It’s how we know our thoughts are imbalanced and that it is time to look inwards, towards our innate, built-in, well-being for fresh ideas.

We can move forward, knowing wisdom and well-being are at the core of our nature and will see us through. It’s natural process, and we can count on it.

Inner Foundations of Entrepreneurial Leadership

Venture capitalist John Lilly gets pitched for funding by 400 entrepreneurs a year.  Here he is explaining how he evaluate the candidates:

You start to expand the scope of the questions to try to see two things. One is the quality of their thought process. And the other is how they interact with you. Do they become defensive? Do they become aggressive? Are they listening?  You’re trying to get a sense of whether, in a complicated situation with a lot of things going on, can they be honest and candid and still get to a productive place. Sometimes you get honest and candid, and sometimes you get antagonistic or defensive.

The qualities he describes here — clarity of thought, emotional balance, non-reactiveness — are hallmarks of what I call grounding.

Grounding is the capacity to remain centered amid complexity and challenge; to think with clarity and flexibility in the midst of flux and uncertainty; to avoid over-confidence and rigidity while remaining detached and impersonal, even when the stakes are high.

Entrepreneurship involves treading uncharted terrain and tackling challenges that haven’t been tackled before.

I have never seen an entrepreneurial path without unexpected setbacks and unforeseen obstacles.

The entrepreneurs that succeed are those manage to remain centered, balanced, thoughtful and reflective as they navigate these uncharted waters.

Grounding is what makes that possible.

So how do you develop or improve your grounding Most believe it’s an inborn trait or the product of long experience.  The truth, I think, is simpler and somewhat counter-intuitive.

Grounding arises from a good understanding of how our mind works: when our mind is clear and when it is cluttered; when to trust our thinking and when to be cautious; how to respond when we lack clarity or when insecurity or strong emotions overtake us.

Just a few key pieces of wisdom about the human mind can be transformational in deepening our grounding.  For example:

  • Understanding that we have rising and falling moods enables us to ride the emotional rollercoaster with grace and constancy and with far less exhaustion and fallout
  • Understanding our perceptions shift along with our moods (i.e., people and circumstances will look very different over time) introduces an enormously helpful degree of patience and curiosity
  • Understanding our mind continually produces new ideas and fresh insights on a continual basis frees us from obsessing or ruminating and allows for a more consistent engagement with the tasks at hand.

Leaders with grounding have an uncanny ability to keep calm and carry on, to remain relatively unswayed by the slings and arrows of circumstance, to seek and respond to feedback and take difficult conversations in stride.

They steer clear of counter-productive (inner and outer) drama. And they value the clear mind and reflectiveness that are the sine qua non of good leadership.

From a grounded place, things tend to go more smoothly. Work gets simplified. Performance hums along. Solutions arise.  And it all feels natural and ordinary: responsive, drama-free productivity.

In other words: Every investor’s dream.

White Paper: State-of-Mind and Organizational Performance

In the attached article, my co-author, Paul David Walker, and I explain the role that individual and collective states-of-mind plays in organizational performance.

State-of-mind is the prevailing feeling-state embodied in an organization.  It is the lens and filter through which leaders and teams view their organization and their work.  It is a largely-invisible variable that profoundly shapes virtually every element of organizational performance.

Leaders with a deeper understanding of this variable have greater capacity to raise the prevailing state-of-mind in their organization.  By doing so, they address problems when it matters most: before they even arise.  At the same time, they unleash new levels of vitality, creativity and goodwill that are intrinsic to high-quality states-of-mind and that fuel genuine leaps in organizational performance.

Click here to download and read:  State-of-Mind and Organizational Performance

Audio Program: Humility and Leadership

In his business classic Good to Great, Jim Collins describes his astonishment at observing the humility shared by the chief executives profiled in his book.  Expecting flashy, celebrity-style leaders, Collins’ instead found what he called “Level 5 Leaders”  — low-key individuals who credited others for wins while taking blame for failures; who welcomed feedback while shunning the spotlight; who listened closely to others and respected their contributions; who favored workmanlike focus on the business over publicity and media events.

Such humble leaders have a special ability to bring out the best in people.  They enable those around them to rise to the occasion.  They create space for fresh ideas and creativity to infuse and energize their organizations.  They adapt with nimbleness to changing conditions and respond effectively to new opportunities.

In the audio program below, I share more in-depth reflections on exactly why humility in leadership is so helpful in creating healthier, high-performing organizational cultures.  I also share some anecdotes that revealed to me how the opposite of humility — a rigid or closed orientation marked by unwarranted certainty or self-righteousness — can have disastrous consequences for organizations.

Click here to download and listen to this 40-minute audio program.

Audio Program: The Missing Key To A Fulfilling Career

Most of us want to be fully and passionately engaged in our working lives, dedicated to positive impact, committed to building value.

Yet studies suggest most U.S. and global workers are actually disengaged in their jobs.

Why is this?  What’s responsible for the gap between our desire to be engaged and the reality of widespread dissatisfaction?

In the audio program below, I suggest the answer lies in a basic misunderstanding of why people are engaged — or not engaged — at work.

Most of us assume engagement will come when we find the right work or circumstance: a job that matches our strengths and talents, that pays well, at a well-run company with mission and purpose, for example.

Seems logical enough.  Except it’s flat-out wrong.

Engagement is not a product of circumstance. It’s an orientation that we bring to our circumstances.

It is a state-of-mind or a way-of-being that, in its most powerful expression, utterly negates the power of external forces to determine how fully and passionately we engage with our life and work.

Often it seems that the most highly engaged people get that way because they have great jobs.

In truth, it is our capacity for indiscriminate full engagement, an orientation to give our best no matter what, that leads us to learn, grow, develop, take on bigger challenges, find solutions, and ultimately, enjoy more high-impact and fulfilling working life over time.

By contrast, when people are struggling in their working lives, it is often because they see external factors — the job they have, their boss’s behavior, the amount they are paid — as causes for their disengagement.  They have not yet embraced this awesome capacity we all have for full engagement in the moment.

Full engagement is within all of our reach.  It just requires that we stop looking for reasons to be fully engaged and see that full engagement is always possible, no matter what.

Click here to listen to or download this free 40-minute audio program.