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Priscilla Archangel is a John Maxwell Team Certified Coach, Teacher and Speaker.

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    Developing Leadership Perspective: Fact vs. Reality

    Business People Analyzing Statistics Financial ConceptThere’s an old fable about three blind men who touched an elephant to find out what it was like. One man touched the leg and declared that the elephant was like a tree trunk. Another touched the elephant’s tail and declared that it was like a snake. The third man touched its side and declared that it was like a wall. A disagreement ensued as they each defended their perspective on the animal. After all, they knew what they felt.

    Were each of them right? Yes, and no. They each experienced a part of the elephant, but none experienced the whole. They each described the elephant from their perspective, but due to limitations in their vision and space, none of them could see it in its entirety. Only when they began to compare notes, and to walk around the elephant feeling different parts of it, could they begin to piece together a view of the entire animal. They had to experience it from different angles. Later, a sighted man came along and immediately saw the entire elephant. He quickly walked around the animal, sized it up and fully described it to the men. Their facts were not the same as reality.

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    Your Best Advice

    What’s the best advice you ever received?  Fortune magazine asked this question to several business leaders recently. They identified the people who gave them their best advice, who helped them become successful, to realize their potential more fully, and kept them from making life altering mistakes.

    Here are a few of the lessons they learned.

    Ask Questions, And More Questions

    Mellody Hobson, President of Ariel Investments and nonexecutive chairman of DreamWorks Animation helped Jeff Katzenberg, DreamWorks’ CEO, think through the pros and cons of a major acquisition. He describes her as “the Picasso of questions” for her ability to ask powerful questions that helped him consider the details and come to the right conclusion for the business.

    Similarly, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin learned that “the best answer to almost any question is another question”. He credits current White House budget director Sylvia Mathews Burwell, his former chief of staff, with the ability to frame and probe discussions with key parties during the 1995 budget crisis, in a way that enabled them to develop a new and different alternative. This required patience, and the willingness to look at the situation from many different perspectives. I call it don’t just do, think first. 

    Admit it. Sometimes when we have what we think is a great idea, we want someone to validate it, not poke holes in it.  So if someone starts asking meaningful questions that we can’t answer, or the answer doesn’t support our great idea, it can be frustrating.  We can blame that person, or recognize the value of their input and thank that person. When we’re emotionally involved in an issue, it’s important to have a rational mind to paint the picture in front of us that vividly shows the pros and cons of that decision, to help us prioritize what we want to achieve. Leaders select the people on their team very carefully, because it’s important that they have individuals whom they can trust to provide the right insights.

    Pursue Evaluated Experience

    While every octogenarian may not be a fount of wisdom, I’ll take advice from Warren Buffett any day.  Warren at 83, along with Charlie Munger, his 89 year old Vice Chairman, have dished lots of advice to each other during their 54 year friendship. They’ve made mistakes but have learned from their lifelong experiences and observed “what works, what doesn’t and why”.  Their shared evaluated experience has benefited their business.

    This means you must be willing to listen to someone who’s been through what you’re going through, and learned from it, instead of dismissing their advice as no longer relevant to today’s challenges. Seek out experienced people and carefully consider their counsel.  What you’re attempting is probably not uniquely different from what anyone else has done.  

    Find a Truth Teller

    Who do you have in your inner circle who won’t hesitate to tell you the truth, even when it hurts? They’re not sticking a knife in you; they’re holding a protective shield in front of you so that you see your decisions closely reflected in the hardened metal of reality. Carefully surround yourself with people who care about you enough to give you candid and constructive feedback. This is advicethat will help you grow, and push you to continual improvement and different approaches. Munger helped Buffett to see the wisdom of a different investment strategy that has obviously paid off handsomely for both of them. Katzenberg reports that Hobson’s communication style is like a knockout punch, but so smooth that it feels like you got hit by a feather.

    A trio of entrepreneurial friends, Alexa Von Tobel, Daniella Yakobovsky, and Lucy Grayson Deland shared valuable information and advice as they were founding their respective companies. They were a sounding board for one another in a way that entrepreneurs don’t typically communicate. Having a trusting relationship like this with someone who will demonstrate transparency and openness is critical to gaining honest insight into how to improve your behavior, and your business.

    Take Smart Risks

    Peter Salovey, President of Yale University and Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation have been collaborators and friends for over 30 years. They bounce ideas off of one another, distilling them to understand which ones would have the greatest impact on the real world.  In other words, there’s a lot of great information out there, but they think about what’s really important to know and understand in order to positively leave a mark on their environment.

    Leaders who play it safe and fail to take risks, fail to make progress. Playing it safe means staying with what you know, instead of learning something new. Can you imagine not taking the risk of learning to do something new, whether pursuing a new career, learning new technology, or launching a new business initiative? Rather than back away from it, gather advice from smarter experienced people about how to be successful at it, and take the plunge.

    Smart people take smart risks based on information, evaluation and education. And while every action won’t achieve the desired result, smart risks create the best learning opportunities, which lead to better longer term results.

    My Best Advice

    To position yourself to receive valuable advice, you need good relationships. During his 20s, Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and other best-selling business books, formed a personal board of directors to provide him with life shaping advice.  Some of the most meaningful tips were from Peter Drucker, who advised him not to worry about trying to survive, but to focus instead on trying to be useful.  Bill Lazier, his co-author of Beyond Entrepreneurship, told him that people view life either as a series of transactions or a series of relationships.  Only those who view it as relationships will have a great life. And John Gardner, former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson told him to spend more time being interested, not interesting.

    A trusted mentor recently encouraged me to pay it forward; to commit a portion of my time and talents to help others become successful, without expecting anything from them in return. I had done this in other areas of my work, but he was challenging me in a new area.  I’m going to accept his challenge and consider it a seed sown to build stronger relationships, that in time will produce a harvest of benefits in others’ lives as well as my own.

    Read Jim Collins info here.

    All other stories from The Best Advice I Ever Got, Fortune, November 18, 2013, p. 117-130

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    Copyright 2013 Priscilla Archangel

     

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    Fail Your Way To Success

     

     

    Failure is typically considered a bad experience. We don’t perform as expected. We’re unsuccessful at attaining a goal. Our health or wealth deteriorates. We’re unfairly blamed for something we didn’t do. We lose someone or something that we love. But the reality is that all of us experience inadequacy, frustration, defeat and botch things up, multiple times in our lives. The question is, what do we learn from our failures, particularly the significant ones? Do we pick ourselves up and push forward, or does it paralyze us? Do we blame others and look for someone to save us, or do we use it as a tool to shape our future?

    Failure is a hot topic this month with the launch of 2 new books. Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn by leadership guru John Maxwell explores the question of “What do we learn when we fail?” Experiencing failure is a given in everyone’s life, but we often don’t want to talk about it, we just try to endure it.  Maxwell believes that the common saying “experience is the best teacher” is more accurately phrased as “evaluated experience is the best teacher”. His book shares lessons on humility, hope, reality, responsibility, improvement, problems, bad experiences, change, teachability, adversity and maturity, as key traits of learners who succeed in the face of problems, failure, and losses.

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    Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams wrote How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. In an interview with Gary Rosen in the Wall Street Journal Weekend Review, Adams advises readers not to follow their passion because it may not be very rational. For instance, a sports enthusiast who decides to open a sports paraphernalia store because he’s passionate about it, may not have a good business plan.  So don’t get passionate beyond the initial stage with something that isn’t working. Instead, try lots of things that won’t kill you, bankrupt you, etc. until something works. Adams failed at inventions, computer programs, and other initiatives, but every time he did something he learned from it, and that skill came in handy. Everything he did was all designed to give him experience that would become a stronger base.

     


    Experiencing Failure

    While we all experience failure, we generally want to experience it in private with minimal publicity.  After all, it’s embarrassing, especially when it looks like so many others around us are winning. Because it impacts our self-image, it can leave us in fear of greater failure if we see ourselves as losers, thus becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or, we can decide to focus on avoiding that same mistake in the future. We can convert failure to a positive experience, using focus and faith. Focus on what you learned and what you did right. Have faith in God and yourself to change as a result of what you’ve learned.

    The bigger the failure the greater effort it takes to get out of it, and the more we learn. Failure is all relative.  What we perceive to be failure may simply require us to redefine success. The most successful people are those who learn from their (and others’) mistakes, refuse to let those mistakes define them (don’t wallow in them), use them as stepping stones, and share them with others.

    Failure isn’t always your fault, but it may be your responsibility. For example, if you hire someone who later steals from you, it’s not your fault that this person is a thief, but it is your responsibility to hire people who seem to be trustworthy.  So you can learn to screen candidates more thoroughly, and put more security measures in place in hopes that it won’t happen again.  Or maybe you were responsible for a project, and someone on your team lied and failed to perform their assignment as part of that project. Because you’re the leader, you bear the responsibility for that failure, even though you didn’t personally do something wrong. Things may happen that are unfair. There may be a horrible miscarriage of justice, a failure that’s pinned on you. But the situation is now out of your control, and you are carrying the blame. You still have a choice to deal with sour lemons, or to make lemonade. You can’t control the decisions others have made, but you can control how you respond.

    Benefits of Failure

    So as you reflect on your failures, reflect on these accomplishments.

    • Failure is a badge of courage.  If we’ve never failed, we’ve never attempted anything worthwhile.
    • Failure informs us on our weaknesses and directs us to our strengths.
    • Failure gives us something to laugh about so that we can have fun with ourselves.
    • Failure gives us something to cry about so that we can appreciate the happy times.
    • Failure closes doors that don’t fit our purpose and helps point us to opportunities best suited for us.
    • Failure keeps us humble, recognizing that we’re not infallible.
    • Failure helps us appreciate success.
    • Failure highlights our wrong decisions so that we can learn how to make right ones.
    • Failure helps us identify what we need to learn.
    • Failure helps us identify what we can teach others.
    • Failure helps us avoid more failure.

    So the next time you experience failure…(maybe later today?)…don’t kick yourself, curse others, or spiral into depression. Instead, find a quiet spot and spend time meditating on what exactly went wrong, how you would handle it differently next time, what you’re learning from it, and how you can recover from the negative impact of it. Write that lesson down, then move forward, resolved not to repeat it.

    Copyright 2013 Priscilla Archangel

     

     

    Purchase John Maxwell’s book here and select Products.

    Watch Scott Adams’ interview here.

     

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    Forgetfulness and Fruitfulness

    Think of a time when you had an experience that was so negative that you wanted to just forget about it. Maybe it was a bad relationship, a challenging job, a chaotic family experience, or an insurmountable burden of debt. It may have happened many years ago, or very recently. In any event, the myriad of emotions that you went through during that period continues to stick with you. You may have been treated unfairly, abused, disrespected or bullied, because even adults are victims of bullying. You may have made a bad decision that you can’t undo, so it sticks with you and haunts you. Possibly you never shared your experience with anyone because it was too painful or embarrassing.

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    Unfortunately, now that experience lives on with you. You can’t shake it. It seems like it occurred just yesterday. It defines how you act and think, your responses to situations, and your perspective of yourself. You wish you could move on. You try to push it into the deep recesses of your mind, but at the seemingly strangest moments, it pops out again.

    Everyone else around you seems to be carefree. No one else seems to have such a horrible memory. No one could imagine what you’ve been through. You want to shake it, yet you can’t seem to figure out how to do that. How can you forget? How can you move forward like it never happened?

    A Time For Forgetfulness

    There was a man named Joseph who had a similar experience. For no good reason, his jealous brothers threw him into an empty pit, and left him to die. Then they changed their mind and sold him to some strangers, who sold him again to a powerful and wealthy man. He lacked the freedom to get home to his father; and even if he could, feared his brothers’ wrath if he ever showed up again. So he stayed where he was, working day and night to please his boss, hoping that one day he’d be freed from his situation. He was successful in his work until one day he got in trouble with his boss’s wife. He had seen her looking at him when he was in her vicinity, and he always hurried through his work to get out of her presence. He knew better than to get involved with her. But one day, she caught him alone in the house and she went after him. He ran in fear, but in his haste he literally ran out of his clothes, and left them there in her hands. When he realized how she would then set him up, it was too late to do anything about it. Her husband, his boss, came home, listened to her lie, and threw him in prison for trying to rape his wife. Continue reading

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