January 28, 2008

The Productivity Cafe

Filed under: Professional Development, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 2:30 pm

Susan Sabo has an interesting blog at The Productivity Cafe. She recently wrote a positive review about my book The Fred Factor, but you’ll find lots of good, practical ideas on “efficiency and a better life” at her site.

January 27, 2008

Rush to Judgement

Filed under: Leadership, Professional Development — Mark Sanborn @ 6:20 pm

The pendulum continues swinging. Rarely does it stop in the middle, at the point Aristotle would have called the golden mean.

Many practices err to one side or the other. In the early 80’s Tom Peters and Bob Waterman suggested managers and leaders practice “ready, fire, aim.” Their advice was a backlash against snail-pace decision making and indecision paralyzed organizations.

The new badge of honor was decisiveness: decide fast and move quickly.

Of course that approach misses the golden mean.

I’ve come to believe that one of the greatest dangers of leaders in a complex environment is premature conclusion. Some decisions are best made after slow and sometimes even painstaking consideration. Other decisions need to be made and made quickly. The art is in discerning what kind of decision you need to make.

Operational decisions are often those that can be made quickly. Decisions involving strategy, significant potential gain or loss, and important relationships need to be made more deliberately. The greatest error you can make is deciding before you have the necessary information. While intuition is important–and I believe it does play a role in good decision-making–it should never replace due diligence. Personally, I’ve used the excuse of acting on intuition to replace the harder work of good decision making. The results haven’t always been pretty.

In a time-compressed world, we resist digging and sorting through the information necessary to make an informed and wise decision. Sometimes we use the mantra of ready, fire, aim and rush to judgment. When the stakes are high, reaching a premature conclusion can be costly.

January 14, 2008

Space and Place to Think

Filed under: Observations, Professional Development — Mark Sanborn @ 5:38 pm

For the past few days I’ve been in Mexico with my wife Darla. I spoke on Friday but we spent a couple extra days enjoying the location. I did some good thinking while we were there. The beauty of the area and the sound of the ocean invigorated me. Thinking is much harder to do without enough space and a good place to do it.
“Space” is about interrupting your typical schedule to think instead of letting it interrupt your thinking. Nobody has time for the important stuff; we make the time needed for the important stuff. Otherwise the unimportant fills up our days. It is the nature of the world we live in.

“Place” is important, too. You can think anywhere, but to think better thoughts find better places to think. I love mountains and I love the ocean, so I tend to do my best thinking in one of those places. More often than not I’m at Starbucks down the street from the office doing my thinking, but when I get the chance, I take advantage of inspiring places to think.

Make some space. Find a good place. Then think.

January 8, 2008

Preparing for Disaster

Filed under: Professional Development, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 10:40 am

In Flying magazine, author Peter Garrison wrote about an airplane crash that occurred while the pilot was trying to set a record: “I have come to think that the best way to plan a difficult undertaking like this [record-breaking attempt] is to assume in advance that it has failed and then try to understand the reasons why.”

Here’s the point: whatever you are getting ready for—corporate presentation, sales call, employee review, family outing—picture in your mind what it would look like if it totally failed. Then start mentally going through the wreckage looking for what happened and why. This kind of preparation becomes planning-in-reverse: by anticipating your computer dying in the midst of your sales presentation, you know ahead of time to plan to have a backup on hand—unplug the video projector cable from one computer, plug it into the backup (have it running beneath the podium or to the side) and you hardly skip a beat.

By projecting all the things that might go wrong you can prepare for them ahead of time. Preparation contains the power to avoid disasters and to assure success.

January 1, 2008

Happy New Year

Filed under: Observations, Professional Development, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 11:18 am

Here’s wishing you an extraordinary New Year filled with health, fulfilling relationships and wealth in many and diverse dimensions.

December 19, 2007

Give the Gift of Learning

Filed under: Professional Development, Success, Difference Makers — Mark Sanborn @ 9:13 am

In the U.S.:

Seventy percent of eight graders are not proficient in reading–and most will never catch up.

1.2 million students drop out of high school each year. That’s one every 26 seconds.

1/4 of high school freshman fail to graduate on time.

2/3 of jobs require college education.

(source: ED in ‘08)

One of the most important gifts you might give this holiday season is the gift of education.

Raising a Reader gets parents engaged in teaching their children to read.

Pro Literacy is the oldest non-government organization promoting literacy worldwide. Another excellent organization doing that work is Room to Read.

Closer to home, don’t just buy your child or grandchild a book; make time to read with them. If you give allowance, consider paying your child to read books of your choice and then giving you a book report.

Last night I gave my son Hunter an article on scramjet and ramjet aviation technology. I asked him to read it in exchange for $1 if he could answer some basic questions I asked him after he finished. It was fun for both of us and the best buck I spent yesterday.

One of the best ways to encourage learning is to model curiosity and a love for learning. Get reacquainted with your local public library or spend an hour browsing your neighborhood bookstore. Get up a little bit earlier or go to bed a little bit later and spend some time reading.

It is one of the best gifts you can give anyone, including yourself.

December 14, 2007

The Art of Self-Confidence Podcast

Filed under: Professional Development, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 10:29 am

Recently I did an interview with Anna Farmerly on the art of self-confidence. You can listen to the podcast here.

December 11, 2007


Filed under: Professional Development, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 11:11 am

I’ve been preparing to do a podcast with Anna Farmery at www.theengagingbrand.com in the U.K. on the topic of confidence. It dovetails nicely with the new book I’m finishing, The Encore Effect: How to Give a Remarkable Performance that Makes People Want More (Currency, January 2009).

Too little self-confidence results in timidity and too much in arrogance. The amounts aren’t absolute so one person’s healthy self-confidence might be interpreted by another as arrogance. It is good to remember what Lou Holtz and John Heisler said in The Fighting Spirit: “You’re never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you’re never as bad as they say when you lose.” A little modesty is a good thing for even the most competent professional.
What is confidence? I define it as competence coupled with certainty. It is foolish to think yourself competent if you’re not and of little value to be competent if you don’t believe you are.

Often there is magical thinking around confidence: just believe you can! Maybe not. You might believe you can ski a double diamond run, but if you haven’t developed expert skier skills you’ll find your positive thinking face first in the snow.

Interestingly the opposite is true: if you don’t think you can, you probably can’t. Having the skill set without the belief that you are capable doesn’t work much better than magical thinking. Someone once said that it isn’t what you are that holds you back; it’s who you think you’re not.
So where does competence come from? It comes from learning and practice. Natural talent can be a terrible thing if it prevents one from learning the basics. I’ve always believed that before you can break the rules you’ve got to know what the rules are.

A lack of confidence is often the result of an unwillingness to prepare by learning the basics and practicing them until mastered. We live in the age of the ATM and we want everything fast, including competence and mastery.

Here’s a way to instantly gain more confidence: prepare harder. Investing more time in learning, practice and preparation will increase the level of confidence you can reasonably possess.

Ultimately confidence comes from doing, whether that is practicing or performing. And here’s a myth to be debunked: we do things once we become confident. Nope. We become confident from doing things. If we do something and learn from it, a positive feedback loop is created.

A negative feedback loop results from attempting too much too soon. Confidence is acquired in tiny doses. Before you ski the double diamond you ski a few feet without falling on the kiddie hill. Then you ski a few more feet and eventually take the lift to the top of the kiddie hill…you get the idea.

Think about an area of your life where you lack the confidence you desire. Learn more about what you want to do, from books, courses or people who already know how to do it. Then practice the basics until you’ve achieved a level of competence. Apply that competence in “tiny doses” and learn from process.

As you do these things you’ll gradually gain the confidence you desire to ski down from the top of the hill.

December 6, 2007

‘Tis the Season to Quit Being Cynical

(The following is a requested reprint from The Fred Factor ezine 2006 www.fredfactor.com)

I’m probably preaching–or more accurately writing–to the converted. But my guess is that you might work with someone or know someone who thinks being a “Fred” is a corporate plot to extract more work for no more money, that there’s no reason to be a “Fred” or that the whole concept is dorky.

I’m no stranger to criticism or critics. When you speak and write books, some people like your work and others don’t. I don’t agree with everyone so I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.

What is a bit of a crazy-maker are the mean-spirited critics who aren’t content to disagree but who feel the need to demean those with a positive point of view. I had one Amazon reviewer suggest I’d written another book because I needed more money, and another suggest that using the principles of The Fred Factor at work would make people think a manager was an “uber-dork.” Speaking and writing is my profession (does the previously mentioned critic not go to work every day because he needs more money?), but fortunately, both are my passion. The message is more important than the messenger, and if I can provide good ideas and encourage listeners and readers, I count that a blessing, whether or not I get paid for it. And if encouraging excellence in your work and making a difference would make one an uber-dork, sign me up. That particular critic might disagree with slogans, pins and tee-shirts, but don’t throw the message out with the medium.

Someone once said that a cynic is a passionate person who doesn’t want to be disappointed again. I hope that is true, that underneath the skin of a cynic is a person who wants to believe in the good, right and praiseworthy things in life. Skepticism is fine by me because is says “Explain it to me. Show my some proof, some examples.” The skeptic doesn’t want to buy into anything without good cause, and that make sense.

The cynic isn’t open to being shown. Rather than being willing to consider, they stay on the offensive and attack what threatens his or her opinions or beliefs. And they deflect genuine dialogue with sarcasm and glib statements that make them sometimes seem clever but mostly flip.

“The Fred Factor” is a concept, a label, a phrase. It uses fun language (and if someone is opposed to a little levity, God help them) to express a serious point: nobody can prevent you from choosing to be extraordinary. You and I aren’t always encouraged, recognized or rewarded for our efforts, but that isn’t an excuse for not trying. Great sculptors in the Renaissance often spent hours on details that would never been seen by the viewing public. Why? Because the artist saw and believed that God would see, too. Those artists had a commitment to art and excellence that was as personal as it was public.

The Fred Factor is also about looking beyond one’s self as the measure of all things. Self-absorption can become pathological, and those who subscribe to the concept of The Fred Factor see themselves as being part of a large world where the feelings and well-being of others are important as well.

So why be a Fred? There are several reasons, and the first, in my mind, is because it is a better way to live. Philosophers have spent hundreds of years grappling with the question, “What is the good life and how do we live it?” Maslow believed that there might well be something higher on the hierarchy of needs than self-actualization, and that was self-transcendence. I have come to believe that we become self-actualized through self-transcendence, a paradox I’m not going to delve into here. Doing all you can to build meaningful relationships, make a positive difference and add value to your work and those around you—those are components, I believe, of the good life.

Another great reason to be a Fred goes back to a quote from Helen Keller I use frequently: Is life not a thousand times too short to bore ourselves? Living life like the real guy, Fred Shea, makes for an infinitely richer, more interesting and fulfilling lifestyle that going with the flow of mediocrity. There are personal benefits one enjoys from
practicing the principles of The Fred Factor.

I doubt if I’ve converted the true cynics, as I doubt there are many cynics reading this blog. Maybe there are a few. So what have I gained? Maybe you find yourself doubting from time to time, as I do, about whether your efforts are worth it. Is there really good reason to keep trying to make the ordinary extraordinary? Are the cynics possibly right? Why does it seem my best efforts and intentions are often met with resistance and criticism?

The Holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate the best and highest ideals of life and people of diverse faiths and beliefs pause for a time to celebrate the goodness to be found in the midst of adversity, struggle and even tragedy. My hope is that in the short time it took you to read this article, you’ve been validated and confirmed. I hope that you know that your efforts are appreciated, even if that appreciation isn’t always adequately expressed. I hope you know that the cynicism of another should never prevent your own optimism, and that the highest reward of doing good work and good works is always found in the doing itself. And I hope that you know that the resistance and struggle makes us stronger, and makes the accomplishment of the extraordinary even sweeter.

Just remember, not only is it the season to stop being cynical, it is, more importantly, the season to be hopeful and to be of larger service to others.

November 16, 2007

More from G.K. Chesterton

Filed under: Professional Development, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 10:57 am

“…thinking is a narrowing process. It leads to what people call dogma. A man who thinks hard about any subject for several years is in horrible danger of discovering the truth about it…”

This is a familiar quote you have probably heard before:

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, but found hard and left untried.”

“Think. Think hard.”

“Man has mastery of all things except himself.”

“Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable.”

And this last quote, particularly timely:

“Beware of luxury, the eternal enemy of Liberty.”

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