Archive for April, 2008

Action TNT

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

A few years ago I heard someone talk about the need for Action TNT, meaning action Today, Not Tomorrow. I think the tape was on procrastination and how to avoid it. Today I would like to talk about three strategies for taking action TNT:

Take initiative

Initiative is the first step towards achievement. Many people lag in life because of procrastination. In order to realize our true potential, we must learn to take initiative when it comes to pursuing personal goals and objectives. Initiative separates the committed from the pretenders, it is the link that connects dreams with results.

Navigate decisions

Many people freeze when it comes to decision-making. Making a clear-cut decision is one of the toughest things any one could do. Decision-making stems from embracing change. Knowing how to navigate change is therefore a core competence that should be grasped completely. Learn to make good decisions and you will accomplish great things in life.

Take risks

Risk-taking is one of the most feared competencies but it must be mastered because there can never be reward unless risks are taken. When it comes to risk-taking, our only fear should be the fear of not taking risks. Having an intuitive ability for stepping out and taking risks is the key to attaining results.

Let’s take action Today … Not Tomorrow!

The Power of Mental Vision

Friday, April 4th, 2008

After many years of research being done and business books being written, the jury is out on the idea of organizational vision: companies must have a vision. Over the past two or three decades many companies have done a lot in terms of developing their vision/mission statements along with core values that guide them towards that vision. Go to any company website and nine out of ten times you will find some form of a mission statement, vision statement, guiding philosophy or core values.

While it is commendable that many organizations have a vision to justify their existence, it is worth noting that most of these visions are short-range in nature. The vision enables them to get on track with their plans but it is not sufficient enough to take them into the future. Let me use the analogy of a train going through a tunnel. Physical vision (along with the train’s lights) enables the train operator or engine driver to see as he goes through the tunnel. An experienced driver, however, has the mental vision that enables him to see beyond the tunnel. I would also venture to use an example from the nation of South Africa. Nelson Mandela had the vision to take the people out of apartheid. Thabo Mbeki had the vision to take the country into reconciliation and a future of mutual existence. Actually, Mandela did initiate the reconciliation but it took Mbeki’s leadership to sustain it beyond the euphoria of excitement.

Here are some thoughts on how long-range vision can transform your business:

1. Provides a focus beyond “tomorrow”

Vision is great because it provides you with a general strategy for handling tomorrow. Beyond tomorrow though, you need to be able to handle “the future”. Tomorrow belongs to those organizations that have a vision of what is coming ahead. The future belongs to those organizations that can shape what is coming. We see what’s ahead through vision; but we shape what’s coming through long-range perspective.  

2. Ensures the continuity of the group or organization

Vision gives power to an organization’s mission. Long-range vision, on the other hand, breathes life into the organization’s mission. Any organization can make it a couple of years but it takes long-range thinking to survive a future that threatens the very life of organizations. Vision can sometimes guide an organization to it’s level of incompetence. The Swiss watch making companies for example, were overtaken by Japanese digital watch companies because they did not have long-range vision. They had vision, yes, but that alone could not take them into the future.  

3. Envisions potential pitfalls and their solutions 

Henry Ford is noted for saying that the masses could have any car they wanted so long as it was black in color. Ford had great vision for the automobile industry but he could not see beyond the tunnel. He could clearly see the light at the end of the tunnel but little did he know that it was the headlight of an on-coming train. Now, he had experience and should have been able to see beyond the tunnel. However, he didn’t. If organizations are going to make it into the future, they must have long-range vision, rather than just “a vision of tomorrow”. They must be on the cutting-edge of shaping the direction in which society is going rather than putting themselves in a place where they will have to play catch-up.

Regaining the Lost Art of Listening

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

Listening is perhaps one of the most basic social skills but few people take the time to master the process of listening. One wag once joked that ‘we are given two ears and one mouth so that we can listen more and talk less’. Today, I’d like to look at the art of listening by way of an acrostic of the word LISTEN. 

How to Increase Your Listen-Ability Skills

One of the most painful things for a speaker is the realization no one is listening until when the speaker makes a mistake. The joy of conversation (or public speaking) is usually crucified by the luxury of half-listeners. Regaining the art of listening necessiates an ability to LISTEN. Here’s how:

Look at the speaker and focus on her words – This might seem as a very simple and easy thing to do but it’s among the top, most challenging skills for many people. Last week I was talking to a friend at the Global Center in downtown Cincinnati and she told me that she has always had a hard time looking at people during conversation. This is someone who works at a place where she rubs shoulders with dignitaries from all over the world! Some people choose to look over the speaker’s head. Eye-contact is essential to communicate a listening attitude.  

Indicate understanding by nodding affirmatively – I once mentored a teenager who had a huge problem with accepting my ideas. This was a really nice young man who had been brought up on the north side of Omaha in Nebraska. What I noticed with him was that, as adults approached him to speak with him, he would immediately go into a mode in which he would shake his head from side to side and look down at his feet. After lots of coaching sessions, he began nodding positively and that created a lot of room for him to start accepting my feedback.

Spot any distracters and put them out of your mind – We live in a society in which so much demands our attention. I’ve been in meetings where, all of a sudden, I’ve noticed my mind drifting away to other things that I’d rather be doing (well, some of the time the content – or was it the speaker? – may have been boring.) But really, that’s no reason to zone-out a speaker and go to lala land (lala is a Swahili word for sleep). When this happens we must consciously choose to put any distracting thoughts completely out of our minds. That’s the key to concentration, the glue of listening. 

Try not to think of what you are going to say next – My wife has a great illustration she normally uses when coaching people on their listening skills. She talks about this funny commercial in which there’s a lady being spoken to. During the entire time she is eating Doritos and has zoned out the speaker. This has been a huge area of personal growth for me in my marriage. I thought I had learnt all I needed about it from my mom only to find that I was still raw on this habit after I got married. Nowadays I have learnt to gain power over my thoughts and focus on the speaker, thanks to the two most important women in my my life.  

Engage actively by participating on your turn – The art of listening goes hand in hand with demonstrating an understanding of the spoken word. Active engagement might mean responding in a concise manner or taking notes that enhance your grasp of the content. Listening is not a one-sided activity. It’s dialogue. As you engage in dialogue, you need to be able to monitor your internal conversations. Internal conversation should be focused on the speaker, not on what you are going to say next. Healthy listening skills come from being able to enage with the speaker. It’s about connectedness that comes from each party’s ability to play their roles effectively.

Note key points and make it a point to remember them – Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about an “Indian talking stick” that was given to him by Indian chiefs. According to Indian culture, listeners were not permitted to say anything until the speaker passed the talking stick to them. The talking stick was never passed around until the speaker felt completely understood. What a beautiful way to communicate the sacredness of listening! Actually, here’s a link to the video where Stephen Cover talks about the Indian Talking Stick. It’s a great concept worth grasping fully.

Let’s regain the art of listening. Better listening not only enhances your knowledge of the topic but also communicates respect to the speaker. The key to being a great listener is to LISTEN. As my mother used to say, “Listening is one thing; hearing is another”. Let’s listen to hear.

An April Fool’s Day Poem

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Great wit have they who succeed at pranking others,
They not only plan it with hindsight, foresight and insight;
But also with great vision and a sense of mission.

They jealously guard the prank and keep it a secret,
Knowing that the prank’s end is to liven up a life,
And the means to the end is the joke on the subject.

In being playful and malicious, the average pranker is mean,
By being practical and meaningful, the good pranker is caring, 
For being purposeful and masterful, the great pranker is wise.

Therefore prank away ye April Fools Day zealots,
Let your antics inspire happiness to the mundane,
May this day provide lots of glee to those who fall for the pranks. 

A poem by Herman J. Najoli. May not be reprinted or used in any manner whatsoever without express permission from the poet.