How Leadership Turning Points Can Change Your Direction

Make the Most of Leadership Moments

Turning points. Leadership moments. Whatever you call them, all of us have experiences that change us.

Bernie Swain has had a backstage pass into the lives of numerous public figures ranging from US presidents to business leaders to sports legends. As the founder of Washington Speakers Bureau, he has interacted with, listened to, and learned from many celebrities and leaders.

 

“The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it.” –Richard Bach

 

His new book, What Made Me Who I Am, takes us behind the scenes of these incredible lives to ask them about their turning points.

As we listen to their stories, what can we learn about our own lives?

What lessons of our own potential can be gleaned from these experiences?

 

Control Your Destiny

You open your book discussing turning points, those moments in life when everything changes. Your book is about these moments. Tell me about that moment in your life.

Funny thing about the turning points, they can be obscure and go unnoticed if we don’t pay attention. That happened to me. It is the lesson I learned.

Bernie SwainAs a graduate student, I’d worked as assistant director of a local community swimming pool. It was a good job, and the summer income was important to pay for graduate school. About once a week, usually a Friday or Saturday, we would keep the staff after closing and have a few beers. It wasn’t exactly allowed, but the director of the pool, who I had known since I was twelve, saw it as a morale booster and looked the other way. One night we decided to invite more friends than usual. About an hour into the party, a member of the board who lived nearby noticed the overhead pool lights and called the pool director. When he arrived, he closed down the party. I was fired the next day and replaced by the daughter of the board member, who had arrived home from college the day before.

Although I routinely dismissed the incident and had my share of laughs about it over the years, my wife Paula understood I was troubled by it. She knew I’d never really be happy unless my success or failure was in my own hands. “You will never be truly happy or confident in your future if you can’t make your own decisions and control your own destiny,” she told me.

That was all it took to undo a 15-year career on the verge of being a success; the power of passion.

 

“Follow your dreams. They know the way.” –Yohi Yamada

 

Imagine your life if you had lived your childhood dream and become a baseball player. What wisdom would that Bernie Swain be sharing? Do you think your life would have been as fulfilling?

I was happy with my career in athletics. Would I have loved being a baseball player? Yes, of course. But then what? Maybe I would have transferred my passion to doing something else, but maybe not. Life has a way of taking us to many forks in the road. Our lives are full of influences and defining moments, turning points. A mentor in high school put me on my career path, and one seemingly unimportant event at a summer swimming pool changed everything. All things considered, I found a passion that made me wake up every morning excited about a new day. And nothing is more important than that.

 

“All dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” –Walt Disney

 

Combine Passion with Honesty

Your incredible business had humble beginnings. Go back to that closet for a moment. Why was it that your agency took off and endured when so many competitors disappeared? What can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

Agencies like ours, even Hollywood agencies, don’t stay on top for long. In the lecture business, it is about 10 years. Why did we become No. 1 and remain there for the last 27 years? Honesty and trust! Whether it was because we mistakenly agreed to a handshake deal with our first speaker and then with all speakers, or we had a built-in desire to do things the right way, we were honest, hardworking and trustworthy. The lesson for other entrepreneurs? Find your passion and always do what, in your heart, you know is the right thing to do. Passion and honesty, it is a great combination.

 

Learn a Powerful Lesson from Robert Reich

You’ve interacted with some of the most successful people in the world for over 25 years—presidents, sports heroes, actors and authors, on and on. The book is full of their stories, a peek behind the curtain. Off the top of your head, is there one story that you consider a ‘must-read’? Why?What Made Me Who I Am

There are a number that I love, but probably the story of Robert Reich. 4”11” tall, he was bullied through his school years. Uninterested in current events and politics entering college, he devoted a life to equality and justice for others to honor the life of another boy who protected him and who was killed during the civil rights movement in the south.

“When I was a vulnerable child, Mickey protected me from harm. I, in turn, feel a responsibility to protect others. I was honored to know him, and I hope, in some small way, that my life’s work honors his idealism, his courage, and his sacrifice.”

It is an amazing story of a life dramatically changed.

 

Use Failures to Win

Failing is a turning point for many. When I talk about failure, who comes to mind? What did you take away from that?

In my book, I write this about Lou Holtz: “I’m not special, and I’m not particularly smart. I haven’t found any magical formula for success. But what I do know is, adversity is part of life, no matter who you are, what your age, and what you do. You will never outgrow or outlive it, but you can be motivated by it. As I have learned along the way, you have two choices in life: you either stay down or pick yourself up. In life and football, you can’t count on anyone else picking you up. Georgia or Michigan State isn’t going to call and say, ‘Coach, you don’t have a quarterback, let me send you one.’

Rarely can you find a truer statement. Almost every day in our first year could be described as a failure. We could have given up at any point. If you can find your true passion in life, and that takes some soul searching, you develop a never-give-up attitude. I never thought once about quitting. But that will not be true for entrepreneurs who lack real passion.

 

“Failure is good as long as it doesn’t become a habit.” –Michael Eisner

 

5 Common Traits of Successful People

Why We Play the Comparison Game

Will I Ever Catch Up?

He put his head in his hands.  We had only just sat down in a small café. It seemed that this was one time that I should not speak, so I let the silence drift between us mixing with the steam off my coffee mug.  My friend had asked for this meeting, but I didn’t know what he wanted.  The noises all around us dimmed when he finally looked up at me and explained. “Every time I start to feel like I am about to really achieve something, I don’t know what happens. I give up.”

I was surprised. He was successful. I’m not a psychologist, but it didn’t appear he was depressed so much as needing a boost of confidence.  Our conversation continued back and forth until a theme started to emerge.

My friend consistently compared himself to others who were, in his opinion, doing better, achieving more, and advancing faster.  He didn’t feel he could “catch up” to them.  The reality, of course, was that no one expected him to “catch up.”  He was doing well.  What was his real issue?

Comparing.

Recently, I heard that only 12% of women over 50 are satisfied with their bodies.  40% of men are dissatisfied with their appearance.  And the vast majority of us would change something about our physical appearance if we could.  We compare ourselves to airbrushed models and feel less attractive.

Why are we so discontent? Why do we unfairly compare ourselves to others?

There’s always someone richer, stronger, faster, smarter, or more talented, more polite, or more attractive. There are likely also people poorer, weaker, slower, less intelligent, with less talent, manners, and looks. Comparing ourselves to others can be debilitating in more ways than we realize.

 

“Leaders do not define success by the competition.” -Skip Prichard

 

Don’t Compare Up

When we look at someone else who has what we don’t have, we are “comparing up.” What does this do?  It robs us of joy.  It depresses us.  It makes us feel bad about ourselves, lowers our self-esteem. We may give up on our goals, thinking “Well, I could never compare to him” or “If she is that good, why should I even bother?”  We become less productive.  It slows us down.  We spend so much time comparing that we find we aren’t doing.  It invites envy, the insidious emotion, to a prominent place at the table of our mind.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” -Theodore Roosevelt

 

Don’t Compare Down

There are times we “compare down.”  We look at someone and feel sorry for him.  We hear about someone and think she doesn’t have what I have.  Whether it makes us feel better or superior, we have all had moments where we look at someone else as not as good as we are. While we pat ourselves on the back for being so brilliant, we actually are filling our mind with a cancerous attitude.  Arrogance creeps quietly into the room of our mind, an unnoticed intruder taking over.

 

“We’d achieve more if we chased our dreams instead of our competition.” -Simon Sinek

 

Shift the Focus

5 Simple Steps To Blow Your Productivity Through The Roof

This is a guest post by Tor Refsland. Tor decided to leave his six-figure job to follow his passion – to help online entrepreneurs free up more time, so they can do what they love. Want to become more productive? Download his free eBook and learn how to double your productivity in 7 days.

Have you ever experienced this?

You are sitting with your laptop late at night and you have had waaaay too many cups of coffee. You could probably have stopped with your cup number 5, since your body seems to have become temporarily immune to the invigorating effect of the caffeine.

This is NOT the way you wanted to spend your evening. However, you know that you didn`t have a choice. It was a choice about YOUR life and death.

You have procrastinated for so long, and while you were looking the other way, your neglected tasks formed an evil alliance to bring you down.

You know for a fact that if you can’t handle the ever-growing to do list tonight, you will drown.

Can you relate?

If so, no worries. I’ve been there, too.

Relax, there is still hope.

Let me show you the 5 simple steps to blow your productivity through the roof today.

 

“The big difference between successful people and people who aren’t is how they spend their time.” -Tor Refsland

 

 

1. Long-term goal setting

Step 1 is to have clarity and know where you want to go. This should be a long-term goal.

They say that successful people are good at making decisions that will bring them closer to their long-term goal, while people who are not successful make decisions that give them a quick reward.

Life and business are like chess.  A good chess player has the ability to think many moves ahead.

What is the best destination for your business and life?  Do you know what you want to achieve?

Find out and then set the correct goals.

Great, let`s move over to the next step…

 

2. Planning

Brian Tracy says that every minute spent in planning saves you 10 minutes in execution.

You should put all your tasks in your master to do list.

What does that mean?

It means that you should have ONE to do list. How many?

One.

 

“Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution.” -Brian Tracy

 

There are 3 methods when it comes to handling your to do list.

A. Plan your to do list one week in advance

B. Review your to do list the night before

C. Review your to do list first thing in the morning

You probably think that method A will take some time, and it does. However, it will make you crazy productive. This is for the hardcore people who want BIG results.

I would at least recommend you to use method B and C.

The big difference between successful people and people who aren’t is how they spend their time.

Needless to say, if you don’t already use a to do list, you should start now.

If you have many to do lists, start using one.

Okay, you get the importance of a to do list.

Then over to the…

 

3. 80/20 rule

15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership

Conscious Leadership

Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman and Kaley Warner Klemp have just released The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership.  It’s a practical leadership guide designed to help leaders become more conscious, take personal responsibility, and lead others in a win-win model.

If you need to pause, reflect more, and change your leadership style or behavior, this book will jumpstart your thinking.

 

Are You Above or Below the Line?

Personal responsibility and personal accountability are vitally important to success in any endeavor. You start the book with a simple but powerful model: Above the Line / Below the Line. Would you share that model with us?

The model is a simple black line.  At any moment a leader is either above the line or below the line.   When we are above the line, we are open, curious and committed to learning. When we’re below the line, we’re closed, defensive and committed to being right. What we suggest is that the first fundamental building block of conscious leadership is the ability to accurately locate yourself at any moment, asking, “Am I above or below the line?”

This sounds rather simple, but it actually requires a high degree of self-awareness.  Many leaders spend most of their time below the line.  In fact, it is the normal state.  Asking them if they’re below the line would be like asking a fish if it’s wet.  When leaders begin the journey to conscious leadership, they develop a greater and greater capacity to locate themselves accurately in any given moment.

 

“You are essentially who you create yourself to be and all that occurs in your life is the result of your own making.” -Stephen Richards

 

Many leaders spend most of their time below the line because we go there when we are threatened or when we are in a fight or flight reactivity and the goal is survival.  Our brains are hardwired to do this.  This is normal.  It is human.  The issue is that this reactive pattern occurs whether the threat is real or perceived, and when the perceived threat is to the survival of the ego, we go below the line to protect it.  Many ego-driven leaders experience a fairly constant threat to their ego.  Thus they live and lead from below the line.

When leaders are below the line, they are in a low-learning state and create cultures of fear and threat. This results in lower creativity, innovation, collaboration and connection. When they’re above the line, they are in a state of trust, and the result is a higher level of effectiveness.

So the first key of conscious leaders is to accurately locate themselves either above or below the line. If they’re below the line, the second key to conscious leadership is to shift back above the line. Leaders master reliable shift moves that take them back above the line.

 

“The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire not things we fear.” -Brian Tracy

 

The Dangers of Right

I have also written about the dangers of always being “right.” Why do so many of us have a strong desire to be right at all costs?

The reason we are so committed to being right at all costs and to proving that we are right is that the ego doesn’t believe it can survive unless it is right. Being wrong is ego death. Being right, and more importantly being seen as being right, becomes our highest goal.

What we see is that conscious leaders become more interested in learning than in proving to everyone, including themselves, that they are right. The more secure leaders are, the less they need to spend time explaining, justifying, defending and proving their rightness and the more time they spend learning through deep listening, curiosity and wonder. As leaders learn to lead more from curiosity and wonder, they discover that breakthrough ideas come their way regularly. Also, the more leaders get deeply interested in learning over being right, the more their teams and organizations do the same.

 

“Conscious leaders are more interested in learning than proving they are right.”

 

The Drama Triangle

Would you share the “victim-villain-hero” triangle?

When we’re below the line, we’re in drama.  All drama is driven by three roles: the victim, villain and hero.

VICTIM

When I’m a victim, I’m living as though I’m “the effect of” people, circumstances and conditions.  I locate the cause of my experience as something or someone outside of me. I’m upset because a supplier didn’t deliver or the markets are down or there is bad traffic. It could also be that I’m happy, but the cause of my happiness is the circumstances outside of me. Victims never take full responsibility for their lives.

VILLAIN

Villains blame. They blame others, the collective and themselves. They move through life finding fault.  Villains believe something is wrong and their goal is to figure out who caused it.

What’s Your Leadership Legacy?

 

Do you think about your leadership legacy?

What type of culture do you want to leave in your organization?

As a result of your leadership, what will remain long after you left?

 

Andrew Thorn is a business coach, consultant, and psychologist.  He has recently written Leading With Your Legacy In Mind.  I had the opportunity to ask him about his new book and leaving a leadership legacy.

 

The Importance of Legacy

Why did you decide to write about legacy?

My father passed away when he was 65 years old.  I was born when he was 30, so many of the important events of my life happened 30 years after they did for him.  When he died, I had an overwhelming sense that I was next in line.  This caused me to think about my legacy and the impact that I was making.  I asked myself if I was satisfied with my life, and the answer was no.  I began to make some changes and that included writing about the process of creating a legacy.

 

“Leadership is the act of making things better for others.” -Andrew Thorn

 

What is Leadership?

What’s your definition of leadership?

Leadership is the act of making things better for others.  When we live by this definition, all of us, regardless of our formal title or lack thereof, can engage in leading with our legacy in mind.

 

“Discussion is impossible with someone who claims not to seek the truth, but already to possess it.” -Romain Rolland

 

What is the “arc of leadership”?

The “arc of leadership” represents our own maturation as a leader.  It helps us remember that life is a circular experience and that it is difficult for us to see it as a whole.  When we pull out an arc, or a part of that circle, we can study it and understand it more effectively.  Each arc calls us into movement and improvement.

 

“The measure of a society is not only what it does but the quality of its aspirations.” -Wade Davis

 

Where To Spend Your Time

I’m interested in your view of balance.  Your chapter on this subject is called “From Balance to Focus”.  What does this mean?

A very lucky person, over the course of a 45 year career, will spend about 117,000 hours at work (average of 50 hours a week working), 131,000 hours sleeping (average of 8 hours a day sleeping), and 65,000 hours (average of 4 hours a day) taking care of personal responsibilities.  This scenario would leave the lucky person with a little more than 50,000 hours to use however he or she wants.

Unfortunately, most of us work longer, sleep less, encumber life with unnecessary personal responsibilities and then find ourselves too tired to make our free time matter.  Just by looking at the hours, we can see that there is no way to balance the number of hours between work and life.  We need to work to provide for our needs.  Instead of trying to balance the time, we must spend time focusing our efforts into meaningful work.Andrew Thorn

The time we spend at work is the time when we are most awake, most alert, most focused on what we want, most productive and most engaged.  Once we focus on where we want to work and how we will contribute what we know we must contribute, we find ourselves full of energy at the end of the work day, which in turn means that I can use my 50,000 hours more effectively, too.

 

How do you coach clients to understand ‘purpose’?

I think it is important that we understand that purpose is a moving target.  In other words, purpose is different during the different seasons of life.  Sometimes we hang on to a purpose for too long or we let it go too soon.  This is why we must be constantly evaluating what we find to be meaningful.  When we connect to meaning, our purposes come into focus, too.  When we can see purpose for what it is – the guiding force of why we do what we do, then we can begin to also know what to do.  I use one or two questions to connect my clients to purpose: (1) Why do I want to do this? & (2) If this were my last day, would I still be willing to do what I am about to do? Once these questions are answered, there are very few doubts about purpose.  I don’t want to make it any more complicated than this.

 

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” -John Quincy Adams

 

From Success to Significance

 

Let’s talk about one of the leadership arcs: moving from success to significance. How do you help coach someone in this area?