Driving Yourself, Your Team, and Your Organization to a Positive Future
Laura Goodrich (Author)
Publication date: 02/07/2011
Bestseller over 25,000+ copies sold
You could be getting more of what you want—more new ideas, more teamwork in your department, and a more positive attitude in the company. I believe that people want to succeed in their jobs, in their relationships, and throughout their communities. I believe that people want to build the lives they want and be a part of something productive and positive. Too often, it doesn’t work out that way.
Through my experiences in workplace dynamics, change, and the future, I have learned one overriding truth: You get more of whatever you focus on. Let me repeat: You get more of whatever you focus on. I call it Seeing Red Cars because the metaphor is one that everyone can relate to. Here is the premise:
Say you recently bought your dream car—custom wheels, full chrome bumpers, and it’s red. Driving it home for the first time, you start noticing something. It seems like there are a lot of red cars out there. The next day, what do you notice? There are definitely more red cars on the road. By the end of the first week, you’re thinking, “Is everyone driving a red car?” You’re seeing red cars because that’s what you’re focused on.
Or how about this: It’s every golfer’s nightmare. You’re standing at the signature hole, elevated T to a large green, a short par 3, only 130 yards over water— lots of water. You take out your pitching wedge and stare at the water. You take a last look at your ball and you’re thinking, “Don’t hit it in the water. Don’t hit it in the water!” Finally, you hit the ball. Where does it go? Splat—straight into the water.
One more example to make the point: One of your coworkers is really getting on your nerves. To make matters worse, you keep running into this person in every meeting, in the hallway, at lunch, in the parking lot. You can’t escape.
Who’s putting all these thoughts of “red cars,” “don’t hit it in the water,” and “I can’t get away from this person” into your head? You are, of course. It’s what you’re focused on. And remember what I said: Whether good or bad, you always get more of what you focus on.
Even when someone’s intentions are genuinely positive, their actual behaviors can come across as negative without their knowledge. Here is an example:
Several years ago, I received a call from a client in desperate need of answers (we’ll call him Ted). Ted was managing a high-profile project. The stakes were high, and the project was off track; timelines were slipping, budgets were busting, and the dynamics of the group were strained. He proceeded to describe his observations. Team members were avoiding him at all costs. In meetings, tensions were so high that he didn’t know what was worse: the angry outbursts or the deafening silence that followed. People were blaming others, and without conscious intention, they were coming to meetings late or not at all. Ted was chasing the excuses without success and was at his wit’s end. We decided I would shadow him to see if we could flush out the culprit for the unproductive behaviors.
I followed Ted for a day. I stood next to him through his team one-to-ones and meetings large and small. It didn’t take long to see what was going on. I watched him begin each conversation and meeting with statements like these: “You know, we don’t want to miss this timeline, we don’t want to seem uncooperative, we don’t want to go over budget, we don’t want to fail.” When I share this story, people always ask, “Was he clueless? What was wrong with him?” To this I say, “There was nothing wrong with him. He was doing something that was unconscious. He had the best intentions for the team and the project. He had seen projects fail and was committed to avoiding the pitfalls. He had a laundry list of things he did not want to have happen, and he was quick to make others aware of them. He thought he was being helpful.”
In actuality, his team worked hard. As a result, they had missed family gatherings and their kids’ games and had taken little time to rest and rejuvenate. When Ted began each interaction with a reminder of what he did not want to happen, he inadvertently sucked the energy, motivation, and spirit out of each person.
I talked to Ted about the Seeing Red Cars mind-set: Focus on what you do want to happen. Once he became aware, he suddenly got it. He met with each team member to share his learning. The discussion was telling, as they described how his focus had made them feel frustrated, unappreciated, and unmotivated.
Together, Ted and his team members wrote personal and project “I want” statements (an intentional action step from Seeing Red Cars). He coached the team to share their “I want” statements, the status of each, and their strategy for moving the project along in one-to-one and project meetings. Team members were asked to align their professional “I want” statements with those of the project, and before long, they were back on track, working collaboratively, and producing the daily, weekly, and monthly actions needed to succeed.
As they adopted a positive-outcomes mind-set at both the individual and team levels, it eventually spread to other areas of the company and affected the division’s overall performance.
Focusing on what we don’t want has a reach far greater than we realize. It is our natural tendency, and it’s been going on a long time.
Do you remember third-grade reading class? Most people I talk to remember the same thing. You’re sitting with your group at the reading table, and everyone has to take turns reading. Pretty soon it’s your turn. Chances are, while your classmates were reading, you weren’t even listening. You were mentally counting how many more students before it’s your turn. Your fear builds, your heart pounds, your hands tremble, and you can’t stop thinking how hard it is. Finally, it’s your turn. One agonizing word at a time, you finally get through the paragraph. And you make it through the day, and you make it through third grade. And it doesn’t ever really go away.
Now you’ve moved from the classroom to the conference room. They’re not your classmates, they’re your colleagues. You’re all supposed to give your reports. And you’re doing it again—wondering which direction they’re going to go around the table. You’re still focused on not wanting to make a mistake, on not wanting to look foolish, and your heart pounds. Why does this happen? Why do we spend time and energy dealing with fear and obstacles instead of taking action to move in the right direction? It’s so simple we can recognize it in others, and yet it’s so subtle we don’t see it in ourselves. That’s the problem. We don’t realize that we’re focused on what we don’t want.
Raising your consciousness will help you begin moving in the opposite direction. One small shift makes a big difference. It may sound easy, but it’s not. The hard work is focusing on what you want to happen and not on what you are trying to avoid.
Similar to the Law of Attraction, start by making a commitment to focus your thoughts on what you want, not on what you don’t want. Write down specifically what you want. Make a contract with yourself.
Now picture it in your mind. The more vividly you can picture the desired outcome, with every detail, the better. Many people find and display pictures that illustrate their desires. They find it very motivational and effective.
Identify pictures that depict what you want. I’m not talking about material things. I’m referring to things like successful projects, growth and professional development, new skills, and an amazing family unit. What do these look like to you?
Focus on the goal. More important than the words you say to others are the words you say to yourself.
Put these intentions into action. Become aware of what you’re focusing on, and focus on what you can control instead of on what you can’t. Practice and be persistent.
I am a host on a Twin Cities television show called Life to the Max, produced by the Lifetouch Corporation (the K–12 school portrait photography and yearbook company). On the show, I tell the stories of people with special talents, people who persevere when it would be easier to quit, and people who have the self-discipline to put in the time. Renowned painter Jeffrey Hurinenko is one of those people.
In the interview, I asked Jeff what it takes to be as good as he is. He said, “You can have all the talent in the world. You can study art all day long. But if you want to get really good, you’ve got to be willing to put in the miles.” He calls it “brush mileage.” You have to close yourself off from others and put in the time with a brush and canvas.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, the author discusses the fact that people who have achieved greatness—whether in sports, music, or business—have clocked 10,000 hours of brush mileage or sweat equity to achieve success. Be persistent and practice.
All the while you are focusing on what you want and taking actions toward your goals, celebrate your successes. For many of us, our projects are long. Celebrating when they are completed could literally mean years. A sales executive once wrote me a note that it was this teaching point he most appreciated, and he is now a lot better at practicing it. His sales process is drawn out and requires input from multiple entities within his organization. He said that breaking the long, drawn-out process into milestones and celebrating along the way really keeps him going.
It Takes Awareness
It is very easy to slip back into focusing on what you don’t want. To turn things around, you have to catch yourself when your thoughts, actions, and words don’t line up. To illustrate:
No one would say: “What I want is to engage in a conversation and say something offensive so that the other person says something that is equally or even more offensive. I’ll then respond in kind and storm away from the conversation steaming mad.”
We would never say that, and yet it happens.
Let’s say the same person has created an “I want” statement with a mental and emotional image to support that statement.
The “I want” statement is: “I want to effectively manage conversations so that I bring out the best in others and create trusted and open communication.”
This person has thought of a mental image of herself and what she is thinking and feeling when she is engaged in an effective conversation, and she can recall the image, her inner feelings, and the associated thought process at any time. When she is in a conversation and happens to say something the other person perceives as offensive, she immediately recalls this image. Suddenly, she responds in a creative way that brings out the best in the other person and creates trusted and open communication. Without the guide of the “I want” statement and its mental and emotional image, these moments all too often head south.
I have had so many clients report a dramatic improvement in conversations and relationships, both personally and professionally, with “I want” statements and visualization of what they want. Additionally, once you see it clearly in your mind, you’ll naturally begin taking action toward what you want.
How Does This Apply to the Business World?
Companies can control the mind-set from which problems, challenges, and opportunities are communicated to the workforce. Here is an example of what often happens when a major change is occurring in an organization.
Acme Manufacturing has been slowly trending downward. Orders have been falling over the past few quarters. Mike, its chief financial officer, alerts CEO Jerry of the problem. It’s not Mike’s fault, of course, but the indicators of problems were more obvious from his vantage point. Jerry convenes an emergency meeting with his key leadership in which the need for change is made clear. After the news is out on the table, there is a period of time when the leaders simply try to get their bearings. After pulling themselves together, they begin to consider possible solutions. Once they identify the best course of action, they establish a strategy to support it. After much debate and planning, the day comes to reveal the circumstances and proposed change to the masses.
At that point, Jerry and his executive staff have been discussing the process for months. They have had plenty of time to think through the nuances and ramifications of the change, particularly as it relates to their own roles and responsibilities.
Jerry makes a big company-wide presentation with the hopes that everyone will see the light, they’ll grab hold of the new direction, and life will be sweet. People listen as long as they hear something that has the potential to really have an impact on their world. As soon as something is said that has direct personal implications, they redirect their attention inward and begin focusing on it. More specifically, they focus on what they fear and what they hope to avoid through the process. They don’t hear anything else Jerry says.
Jerry completes his presentation and steps down from the stage with high hopes. Instead, he is bombarded with expressions that show fear and questions. The resistance is obvious, and both sides of the equation are confused and, frankly, kind of mad. Jerry and his executive staff think, “Hey, everything we are proposing is for the greater good. Can’t you see this?” Truth be told, they can’t, not yet, and for some, not ever.
Jerry and his senior leaders let the moment pass with the hope that things will improve with time. Instead, they get worse. People begin talking and hashing out the details. Questions come up and are answered with assumptions rather than facts. The plot thickens. The leaders close their doors because the conversations aren’t fun and they quickly tire of the repetitive nature of the questions. They think, “My gosh, how many times have I heard this question? I already addressed this in the big presentation, but they weren’t listening.” As I said, they had retreated inside their own heads to consider the ramifications of item 1 on a list of 20. So the leaders are left to deal with the aftershock. They have their own concerns and would love to offer their honest two cents, but they gut it out for the sake of the organization.
Carol is a division vice president for National Widget Corporation. The depressed economic environment forced Carol to make the difficult decision to close an entire branch of the business. A meeting of all employees was convened. Carol began by showing the Seeing Red Cars film. When the lights were turned back on, she spoke candidly about her disappointment in having to make the decision and how she knew it was disappointing for everyone. Then she asked for their help. Carol told attendees to break into small groups, each with a leader, and record the “I wants” of their group in light of this change.
When the participants had arrived, they had such thoughts as “I don’t want to lose my job” foremost in their minds. Once they were given the opportunity to have honest dialogue and discuss their feelings in a productive way, statements like this emerged: “I want to develop an opportunity for myself either here or elsewhere that makes use of my skills and talents” and “We want to contribute to realigning people and resources when this division closes to make the company even stronger.”
The “I wants” set the tone toward a positive outlook, and a very productive session followed. Once people realized they could contribute their ideas and their thoughts were being heard, they relaxed. Their body language visibly changed. It proved to be a very powerful format with a positive outcome.
In the days following the meeting, Carol received an outpouring of e-mail thanking her for her leadership through the difficulty of closing the branch. Seeing Red Cars united management and employees and led them to proactive decision-making in a time of crisis.
The need for change Acme Manufacturing and National Widget Corporation faced is now the current dynamic in which we all live. Rapid marketplace changes can quickly affect the demand for your organization’s products and services. The realization that an organization needs to change may come from financial folks, as in the Acme Manufacturing example, or from sources such as exit interviews, employee climate surveys, or customer feedback. It may come from new innovations that create new opportunities. Regardless of the source, it is important to not ignore the signals.
The economic downturn has changed the business landscape, and many say it will never be the same again. Most organizations will be forced to change. All of this uncertainty simply exacerbates our natural tendency to focus on what we don’t want. It is critically important for individuals, teams, and organizations to maintain focus on what they want, especially in light of unforeseen changes. Those who are able to respond to change creatively and innovatively will have the clear advantage over those who react to change with avoidance and fear.
Now is the time to rock up onto our toes, clearly define what we want, and take definitive actions toward it. There is no time like the present. The reality is that one thing leads to another, whether it is positive or negative. It takes conscious effort and persistence to make sure that the thoughts and behaviors being spread are positive. Small successes and large achievements all start in the same way. Somebody focuses on what they want, and by doing so, they begin the journey of making it happen.
It isn’t easy. In my work with clients over the years, I found myself scratching my head countless times when the need for change had been clearly identified. The team realized that if it remained on its current course, the end destination would not be one that anyone would choose, given an option. With this reality, a new direction was introduced. In many cases, there was no other viable option. I would think, “Why would you object to the only hope of survival or a positive outcome?” The direction that was being recommended may have been right or it may have been wrong, but it was clearly better than ignoring the signals that the team was in serious trouble, right? People still dug in their heels. Curious, I thought.
Core to the Seeing Red Cars positive outcome mind-set is an unwavering focus despite obstacles and criticism. This mind-set must begin with you and then spread to your team and organization. The following story from the Seeing Red Cars film is a wonderful example of the tremendous potential of a singular, unwavering focus on a goal. Imagine what could be accomplished with a whole work team of Cliff Youngs.
In 1983, Cliff Young decided to run the Sydney-to-Melbourne Ultra Marathon Race. The six-day, 875-kilometer run is considered to be the world’s toughest race. That’s more than 500 miles! Only the most elite runners are up to the challenge.
Ready to go, Young, a 61-year-old farmer, is wearing a sweater and galoshes. When the marathon starts, the runners leave Young and his galoshes behind. The crowds laugh because he appears to be shuffling his feet instead of running correctly. Mockingly, it is called the “Young Shuffle.” But because he never read a book on racing and never talked to another runner, at night, when everyone else is sleeping, he shuffles right by them, nonstop for five and a half days. Young won that race. He broke the record by nine hours. He knew what he wanted, focused on that, and kept running.
When people try new approaches, they are often mocked until the new approaches are proven to work. They need to have the courage to press on and not be deterred by others’ comments or snickers. Since Cliff Young’s success, the Young shuffle has been adopted by other ultramarathon runners because it expends less energy. Young’s story is one of dedication and determination and a clear example of achieving success through focusing on what you want.
You know what your options are: more of what you don’t want or more of what you want. It’s time to make the right choice. Focus on what you really do want. It’s waiting out there for you.
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