My Day with the Relief Bus

I’m taking a break from my normal blog to highlight a non-profit that I believe in, New York City Relief. They’re doing really great work with the homeless in New York and New Jersey.

NYC Relief is super effective in training and deploying volunteers. I just finished my fifth trip with them, and each experience has been worthwhile and fulfilling. Getting right into the mix to hear these people’s stories, lending a hand, and just showing some kindness has taught me a lot about the common needs we all have.

 Handing out socks, hygiene kits, and offering prayer

Handing out socks, hygiene kits, and offering prayer

 Making new friends - you definitely get back more than you give.

Making new friends - you definitely get back more than you give.

David is a Bahamian immigrant who works a security job, but arthritis in his ankle forces him to use crutches and he can no longer walk his rounds. He was thankful to get soup and bread to help cut costs so he can pay his (subsidized) rent. And he was grateful to receive prayer for his ankle, but mostly he was glad to just be able to tell his story to someone who was willing to connect with him and appreciate him.

Maria was one of several mothers who come to get bread, socks, and anything else we have to help her family. When I asked her if she would like us to pray for anything, it was all about the needs of others - not for herself. These women are doing their best to hold their families together against tough odds, and I have huge respect for them.

Shiv struggles with alcoholism. He hates it and wants to quit, but hasn’t beaten it yet. He’s currently living on the street because he’s had bad experiences in shelters. He has a family in LA that cares and prays for him. He really hopes things can turn around. The Relief Bus is able to direct him a number of services for housing healthcare, work, and addiction treatment.

It’s far too convenient for me to lump people into a category like “homeless,” especially in New York. But I try to remember that we’re all people, and we all need dignity and respect. Each one has a story, and very few chose the circumstances that landed them in their situations.

I count it a privilege to be used by God to share his love and care for each of the people He loves so much.

Here’s their home page https://newyorkcityrelief.org/
Here’s how to support them https://newyorkcityrelief.org/get-involved/

If you live in the greater NYC area, I highly recommend volunteering on the Relief Bus sometime soon. It’s well run, safe, and the experience will give you a new perspective on life.

The Two Maps Every Business Needs

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There’s an old Yiddish proverb, “Man plans and God laughs,” which summarizes the fact that life doesn’t always go as planned. Entrepreneurs and startup pioneers know this truth especially well. In fact, having led several startups myself, I’ve come to expect that the path to success will almost never be what I had originally planned. That introduces a quandary into my planning process - since I know that the plan won’t ultimately work out, why should I even try to make a detailed plan? Granted, that sounds silly, but for someone who isn’t a natural planner to begin with, it’s caused me a good amount of angst. But somewhere along the way, I discovered a metaphor that really helped me make sense of things: effective planning requires both a Treasure Map and a Road Map approach.

Treasure Map

Think of the treasure maps you’ve seen in fictional stories. They’re sketchy, not drawn to scale, show a circuitous route from landmark to landmark, and sometimes have hidden clues along the way. When you follow a treasure map, you’re in for an adventure, and it’s not for the faint of heart or those who get hung up on details. And when the going gets tough, it’s the allure of discovering the treasure that helps the explorers persevere. I can’t think of a more fitting metaphor for the journey of growing an early-stage company. Even though there are general success principles to follow, the path doesn’t come with clear instructions - it’s a journey with only vague milestones for guidance, and plenty of learning opportunities and plot twists along the way. The treasure map approach has some real limitations when it comes to planning. When it comes to execution, your team needs a solid plan with action steps, timelines, and measurable goals. A treasure map provides none of those.

Road Map

A road map approach reflects a very different mentality. Think of the maps app on your smartphone. It calculates the fastest, most direct route possible with step by step, turn by turn, directions. It tells you exactly what to do, and when to do it. Your expectation is efficiency, accuracy, and no surprises. And when things get confusing, it serves as a reference guide for the team to keep executing on the plan. When it comes to operational planning and execution, a road map mentality works well. Seeing the end from the beginning helps the workers plot incremental steps for success. Budgets, timelines, and resource planning all contribute to ensuring the plan runs as smoothly as possible. However, over-reliance on the road map approach isn’t wise for early-stage companies. Your team can get lost in the details and lose sight of the big picture. And when a major disruption comes (and one will – count on it), the plan will need to be modified and the previous efforts that went into planning the details get wasted.

True Story

Take the example of one of my startups to see how these dynamics play out. We were the first commercial anti-spyware company back in the early 2000s, and we built the company from zero to $16 million in revenue in just three short years. Sounds great, but we had to make some major pivots along the way. Our team knew the anti-virus industry players very well, so we thought that working with them would be the obvious path to success, but that wasn’t the case. Neither the vendors nor their end users wanted to admit that their existing AV products didn’t catch spyware trojans, so our positioning strategy quickly hit a brick wall. Ultimately we found a different pathway to success (contact me if you want the details), and we wound up getting acquired for a healthy multiple by an industry giant. Now, if our team had only used a road map approach, we would have given up when we hit those dead ends, because they looked like an apparent failure. The treasure map mentality allowed us to pick up some fresh clues along the way and follow a non- obvious path. If we only had a visionary treasure map mentality, we wouldn’t have executed well enough to drive up the revenue so quickly. Our chances of getting acquired would have been greatly decreased.

Getting Practical

The reality is that you need a high-level vision and you need tight execution. It’s not an either/or scenario; it’s both/and. So here’s my recommendation the next time your team has a planning session. First, lay out your treasure map the way you think it will work out over the long haul (multiple years). Identify your big landmarks along the way, and define what the treasure is at the end of the journey. (Tip: this exercise is great if you use non-traditional, visual methods to build that map – dream big and have fun!).

Second, identify the next landmark/milestone on the treasure map. That might be the next product ship date, when you acquire a certain # of customers, or simply the next calendar quarter. Whatever it is, don’t let it extend beyond three to six months.

Third, map out a detailed execution plan (your road map) between the planning session and that milestone. Consider expenses, realistic revenue projections, resources needed, timelines, and use best practices project planning. Don’t plan beyond the stated Milestone.

Now, go execute according to the road map. And stick to the plan. New opportunities will arise. Disruptions will come. You might get bored. It doesn’t matter - stick with the plan. Unless there’s a real situation that threatens the very viability of your entire company (very rare), everyone sticks with the plan.

When you reach the milestone (or even if you missed it), pause and do your planning again. Debrief with your key stakeholders. What part of the road map worked? What didn’t? What did we learn? What do we need to change? What do we need to keep on doing?

Now go back to the treasure map. View the answers to the debriefing questions in the previous step as if they are the clues that you needed to gather along the way in order to discover your next landmark. Get agreement on what the next landmark should be, and repeat the cycle all over again.

Next Steps / Challenge to Action

In the end, the maps are more than just guidance tools - they reflect different mentalities. Knowing which mentality to adopt for which purposes will go a long way in charting your path and leading your team to success. I hope you found this helpful. Let me know what’s worked for you – I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Brokering "Ah-ha" moments

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One of the best parts of coaching is helping clients discover new ways of thinking.  There are moments during a session when a brilliant flash of understanding breaks in on their mind, and they suddenly see things from a completely different vantage point. People use different terms to describe this phenomenon such as “revelation,” “epiphany,” or even “prophetic.”

No matter what term you use, it’s become one of my favorite aspects of coaching. Especially when my client is the one producing the “ah-ha” moment on their own and I’m just the facilitator.

After I reflected on my many coaching engagements, I noticed five different patterns of ways these tend to occur.

  1. When my client is stuck in a certain situation and I’m able to suggest a new perspective that they hadn’t considered before. That opens up new ways of thinking which rapidly spawns fresh insights on how to get unstuck. Mind blown!

  2. After listening to all the component parts of a situation, sometimes I can connect the dots in a different way than my client had been associating them. Same facts + new relationships between the facts = new outcomes.

  3. At times I’m an editor. As a neutral party I can help them selectively delete what isn’t critical as they sort through an issue. By the time we’re done only the essential factors remain, and the path forward becomes crystal clear.

  4. Retelling the narrative of their past.  Past events don’t have intrinsic power - it’s your narrative of those events (the story and meaning that you ascribe to them) that holds the power.   I have a gift to help people consider alternative explanations, and at times it’s truly transformational.

  5. My favorite of all these has to be when I get to call out someone’s destiny.  Clients know when that moment connects because it reverberates in their soul. They get that sense of “This is what I was born for - my purpose in life.” In the midst of that clarity, peripheral issues quickly take a back seat and it becomes obvious what needs to take priority as they move forward.

In reality, these moments don’t just happen in isolation. They usually sneak up unannounced in the midst of a coaching engagement. But when they come, they literally have the power to change a life.

Just another reason I decided to become a coach.

How about you?  Was there a time when an “Ah-ha” moment changed the way you think?  Tell us about it below.

Three Ways to get More Focus and Discipline

I am NOT naturally gifted in either focus or discipline (just ask my wife).  So why did I decide to blog about them? First of all, I have huge appreciation for people who are strong in them. And second, there are important life lessons you can learn when you have to operate in your areas of weakness.

In this blog I talk about ways to stop beating yourself up for what you’re not, and find other strategies to help supplement your weaknesses. These principles work for any area where you may lack natural talent. I hope they help you as you watch the short video below.

Five Mental Hacks to Help You Delegate Better

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I've recently coached several clients through some barriers they have when it comes to delegating.  It's interesting how the same issues come up over and over again across different settings and with different people.  So I thought I'd share some of the insights that I've picked up along the way.

One particularly significant shift happened along the lines of issue #5 in this week's video blog.  Despite logic, encouragement, and setting multiple deadlines my client just could not let go of a certain role he was filling.  So instead, we devised a new role and new title for him that would bring him into the next phase of his life.  He agreed he didn't have the energy to do both, so as he embraced his new role he willingly let go of the old one, and only then was he happy to delegate it to someone else.

I hope the insights in this video give you a new way of looking at things, especially where you might be stuck holding on to things that you should hand off to someone else.

How about you?  Do you struggle with any of the five issues in the video? How about one that's not on the list?  Please share any insights you've gotten so the rest of us can benefit from your experiences.

Blessings on you.

How to get your ideas unstuck

Does this scenario sound familiar?  "I have a great idea, and a vague picture of how to make it happen, but it’s not crystal clear to me.  I’m fuzzy on the details.  So I’m going to think about it some more until I can get more clarity."  Then one, three, or even five years later you’re still thinking about the same idea and haven’t done anything about it.

That’s me.  And that happens far more often that I’d like to admit.  Here’s why...

To stay inspired, download the "Action Begets Clarity" poster here

Success In Every Season

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Lately, I find myself looking forward to the end of Summer and the beginning of Fall.  Manhattan is an odd culture - the place pretty much shuts down over the summer.  Or at least it slows way down.  Lots of people leave for months at a time to escape the crowded city craziness that you learn to both love and hate.

So summer is not what you would call a “productive” season business-wise.  People aren’t setting aggressive goals, they are harder to reach due to travel, and they don’t make many spending decisions.  

When I was in IT sales, Summer was always the lowest revenue quarter.  We would often get frustrated because the leaders setting revenue projections didn’t take into account seasonal variations, so it looked like we underperformed during the summer.  Every.  Single.  Year. 

Thankfully, over time the CEO finally saw the pattern and learned to adjust expectations accordingly.  And that right there illustrates an important key to satisfaction -  know what season you’re in, and make realistic goals that consider the unique variations.

Notice I didn’t say LOWER you expectations.  Instead, I suggest a SHIFT.  If you know that your business cycle slows down in summer, then take advantage of that time to shore up critical systems, marketing materials, and customer service processes.   If you go to a lot of industry conferences in the Spring, then combine your travel with visits to key customers.

Things get a lot easier when you learn to work with the rhythms and season of life.  Those variations are a gift.  But if you fight against them expecting consistent performance all the time, you’ll be constantly frustrated.  And I don’t want you to be frustrated.

So what about you?  Is there a certain period each year that you’ve come to dread?  Write it down. What’s unique about that season?  What is it trying to tell you?  Now ask yourself - how have your expectations been fighting against the natural rhythm?  And finally, how can you adjust your expectations and activities to leverage that season to your advantage?

Bonus tip: this works in all areas of life - not just business.

I wish you well.

True Humility

When your talent makes you stand out
   and they notice you
   and it’s awkward
   because you don’t conform to their average-ness
   and it triggers their insecurity
   and they cut you down

Do you hide your brilliance
   or at least tone it down a notch or two
   so that you appear above average (which is OK)
   but not exceptional
   because that would be prideful
   or arrogant?

Have you been so conditioned by Average
   that you automatically bully yourself
   without even thinking about it
   and tell yourself the comfortable lie
   that you’re just being Humble
   by suppressing the exceptional you?

Because if you really shine
   others may get jealous
   you’ll have critics
   your convenient friends might leave
   or you might publicly trip
   or have to face your own insecurities

Do you see how this is still all about you?
   It’s self-centered
   negative, yes, but still self-centered
   so let’s call it what it is
   an imposter
   False Humility

True Humility takes guts
   to embrace the exceptional you
   and let it shine
   and face criticism
   and ignore your internal bully
   and pick yourself

But then you’re on the hook
   to actually do something
   excuses taken away
   hard work required
   maybe that’s why it was easier to hide
   but that was before

Now you can get to work
   doing what matters
   making a difference
   being an example
   pushing yourself to higher levels
   and being truly humble

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The #1 Thing To Boost Your Career Profile

Watch this short clip first...

That’s such a watchable movie scene because: a) it’s Sandra Bullock!  And b) It pokes fun at the safe answers that contestants can give at beauty pageants.  They’re all trying to sound profound, but they just parrot each other and lose all meaning in the process.  

Unfortunately, the majority of professionals do something similar when it comes to their career positioning.

In this week's vlog I'll show you why this backfires and what you can do about it.  
(Shout out to Jim Longo for the idea)