In 1946 an unknown author sat down at a desk to tell his story of overcoming unprecedented hardship and adversity. In nine days, he wrote a highly personal book that has sold over ten million copies, has been translated into 24 languages and is considered by the Library of Congress as one of the 100 most influential books in the United States. The author's name was Viktor Frankl, and his book was "Man's Search for Meaning."
In the book, Frankl recounted his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. He set out to articulate his psychotherapeutic process of survival. Written in 1946, just after the end of World War II, his story touched a deep nerve after the unprecedented loss of 85 million lives, or 3 percent of the world's population.
His book and premise strongly resonated for many. His admonition was to live an identity or purpose for life fully, a purpose that animates us and leaves us feeling positive. His readers related to the premise that success was rooted in consciously, intentionally and imaginatively living that purpose, and how what we imagine for our future shapes and determines that very same future.
Over the 31 years since I first read the book, I’ve come to realize from additional reading, researching and studying human performance that much of what Frankl wrote was helpful, but overly simplistic. He did not have access to or understand the science of neuroplasticity and how the brain works, as we do today.
What is irrefutable is that our psychological framework — our mindset, in current terminology — influences our success both personally and professionally. What I learned from "Man's Search for Meaning" is that in times of unprecedented hardship, fear enters our consciousness and influences our choices and reactions. I learned that our choices do matter and that beyond fear lies a deep desire for survival, success and significance.
Today, people are facing a legion of difficulties due to COVID-19, from feeling trapped, to fear and anxiety, to mourning the loss of loved ones, and everything in between, feelings similar to some of what Frankl experienced.
The Mindset that Pushes Through a Pandemic
There are restrictions on our freedom to congregate, shop, and socialize. For some dual-income parents, working from home while raising and educating children has become a form of punishment. As one mother said to me recently, quoting a line delivered by Peter Finch from the film "Network," "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore." She felt exhausted, overwhelmed and, as she said, "broken."
During a worldwide crisis, if you study high-performing individuals and teams, you’ll see that there are three critical mental insights that can impact our ability to positively influence our professional and personal results. As a leadership advisor and coach to entrepreneurs and executives, I’ve witnessed first-hand that the single greatest accelerator of high-performance is a person’s mindset — what happens in between their ears.
It's not the corporate strategy for managing the economic downturn. It's not your updated production schedule or new product mix. It’s not the market segments you’re pursuing. Success in these areas is important, but ultimately you won't fully realize success unless there is a significant focus and effort given to mindset training. When leaders and teams don’t train their mindset, performance is hampered by:
- Playing not to lose as opposed to playing to win
- Focusing on their self interests as opposed to a customer’s interests
- Maintaining the status quo in the face of uncertainty and apprehension
- Feeling overwhelmed and out of control
- Low levels of energy and vitality
I have three recommendations for fostering the mindset of high-performance during a worldwide pandemic.
1. Be Courageous
The word courage comes from the French word cœur, which means “heart." The current pandemic has robbed many people of hope and optimism for the future, and they perceive anxiety and apprehension as normal. The need now is for leaders to speak from the heart about what they love about their work and why they are optimistic about the future. This is not an exercise in being self-referential, but is an effort to role model perseverance that is rooted in leadership purpose.
As a leader, you are likely an advocate for having a company purpose or mission statement. Are you equally an advocate for each leader in your organization having their own individual leadership purpose? A purpose they have fallen in love with and are boldly pursuing daily?
One of my chief information officer clients crafted a three-word purpose statement. She said, “Our purpose is to 'enable customer success.'” This is from a technology leader with 156 employees and her purpose had nothing to do with technology. She spoke of her unwavering belief that by lifting up her employees to achieve their full potential and allowing them to achieve a level of unparalleled success at work, her customers would succeed beyond their wildest imagination. Her job was to enable employee success and she loved doing so.
Key Question: Can you articulate an idea you are equally in love with for your work?
2. Be Humble
We all too often have the wrong impression of the word humble. When we hear it, we might think of a wallflower who has low levels of self-esteem and believes and expects their life to be inconsequential. This leads us to wonder, is there any room whatsoever for humility when our business and personal lives are being transformed dramatically?
Humility is an asset when it comes to persevering through a pandemic. An authentic leader will courageously and humbly stand before employees and say, “I don’t have all the answers, and yes, the roads ahead are uncharted, and the path forward is not clear. But I am confident that you have deep reserves of insight, inspiration and innovation. I know that along with a willingness to experiment and take risks, by staying focused on customers and being and doing our very best, we will be successful.”
The key with humility, though, is sincerity and authenticity. Leaders cannot embrace the French novelist Jean Giradoux’s maxim, “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made.” No, now more than ever, people want an authentic leader, not one who is a know-it-all and tone deaf.
Key Question: Are you asking your team for suggestions as to how you can become a better leader?
3. Be Disciplined
This recommendation starts with you forgetting your goals and instead hyper-focusing on mastering a process with ruthless discipline.
The McDonald’s hamburger chain believed that if you ever had a problem, the creation of a replicable and repeatable process would solve the problem. They believed knowing each step in a successful process allowed you to look at your results and identify the area that needed attention. We do this with Lean, 6 Sigma, and the Toyota Production System, but seldom bring the same disciple to our leadership and talent development initiatives.
A client of mine knew her 25 years as a chief financial officer was an asset in her new role as CEO, as well as a liability. It was an asset in that she knew the financials backward and forward and could spot a variation between forecasted performance and actual performance in record time.
Her Achilles’ heel was prioritizing having the financials look good rather than prioritizing the growth of her organization. As the CEO of a financial institution she desired balance and compliance over customer success and growth. Once she saw this in her leadership feedback, she did the most courageous act any leader can do: She asked for help to grow her marketing leadership, and developed a relentless discipline in developing her strategic marketing skills.
Over three years she not only succeeded in embracing a whole new way of thinking, but also added an additional $45 million in assets to her portfolio. This was a 225 percent increase over her trailing three-year organic growth. Did she improve her skill set? Yes, but as she said, “Mindset training was the lead domino. Had I not trained my mindset first, I would never have grown my skill set.”
Key Question: Have you clarified the goal you have for your leadership during COVID-19 and articulated the three to five behaviors you will exhibit without fail?
The Next Chapter Begins with Your Mindset
To write the next chapter in your organization’s response to COVID-19, recognize that the lead domino to fall in your success or failure is your mindset. If you see fear, anxiety and uncertainty in others, commit first to elevating your mindset through a compelling and uplifting leadership purpose and then, with humility and discipline, lead others to elevate their mindset in service of a greater purpose, as my client did.
When you model the mindset and behaviors that exemplify your purpose, you encourage employees to follow your lead. In turn, you develop new products and services, sell current ones, manage costs and find the optimal balance of working in person and remotely.
Who knows? Maybe like Viktor Frankl, you will convert thousands of mindsets away from fear and uncertainty into adventure, opportunity and human flourishing.
What's holding your business back?
About the Author
Hugh Blane is the president of Claris Consulting and is the go-to expert for converting human potential into accelerated business results. His work centers on helping executives and entrepreneurs challenge assumptions, jettison complacency and catapult growth.
Hugh is the author of "7 Principles of Transformational Leadership: Create A Mindset of Passion, Innovation and Growth" and his clients include Sony Pictures, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Microsoft, Pepperdine University, KPMG and Costco. He publishes a top blog on leadership and mindset at clarisconsulting.net and is an in-demand speaker.
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