I know this because I work with leaders around the world, high powered CEOs and massively successful people seeking to put their Time, Talent and Treasure to work in the world in ways which positively changes the game on a massive scale.
Historically, operating within that space of paradox, contradiction, and capital ‘P’ Philosophical mindset is the driver for most of human innovation. See what works, recognize what doesn’t, buck the trends, and fill the societal gaps with an idea to fashion a more meaningful environment. The key, however, is fulfilling that environment in a positive manner.
As such, here’s the first piece of advice I can give you: you don’t have to choose between being wildly successful and having integrity – just like you don’t have to choose between your health and being a good parent.
Taking it a step further, you do not have to choose between delivering incredible outcomes that address a major social need, and running an organization that consistently makes money.
If we just put the idea of “doing good” into a small box, and see it as the role of social enterprises, charities, or the government, then we will never have a chance of operating at the level needed to crack the big systemic problems the world is facing today.
We must acknowledge that all of us are buying products and services every day, and that is ok. We all have furniture, clothing, skincare, and services of all kinds. So as a result, we need businesses producing and operating in more intentional ways throughout all of these facets of commerce.
The truth is, business is an incredibly powerful tool for positive change in the world.
Facilitating that change, though, requires us as business owners to become more conscious of that truth, and to become both excited about what we can do in the world, and the importance of our role within the framework of that world. Those of us who are conscious of, and intentional within, our roles should be the ones making decisions about where we allocate that capital and shape the impact it has in the world.
When we as business owners make these mindset shifts, and begin to run our organizations in this way, amazing things happen. One such change is when you suddenly realize that you don’t have to wait to make a difference. In fact, you can make a difference right now.
Too often when we have an approach that says: “Okay, when the business gets to a certain size or a certain profitability, or I sell it, or I have paid off my mortgage…” Most of the time, this line of thinking is subject to only external factors. In other words, “I can do more good if ‘X’ happens.” It’s a valid thought process, but there is so much more at play.
Rather than having an approach that sees “doing good” as being external to your business, I’m asking you to see “doing good” as a result of your business.
No, you don’t have to be a social enterprise, or a charity. Just do what you’re doing, operate in the lane where you’re in flow, and use your brilliance. Here’s the kicker: you can do all of this AND you can do it in a way that is thoughtful.
First off: consider the materials you use; how you ship your products; how you package them; and all of the other components which produce a physical product for your business.
When you consider the veracity of these factors, you’ll begin to see the massive ripple effects from all of those decisions you make on a broader scale.
Best yet, there does not have to be a neat line between what your business is doing and how that directly impacts large societal issues like homelessness or education – that line of logic is far too simplistic.
For example, if you are making tangible products, you could dive into areas like your supply chain. Are you making products in another country where it’s cheap, but you also choose not to ask any questions about the conditions of those workers? Is it because you would prefer to close your eyes to it and not take responsibility because it might not actually sit well with you when you take a more intentional approach to doing good inside your business? Some may argue this, but simply making the product cheaper may no longer be enough to warrant such a choice.
Moreover, where are you spending money? How are you making decisions in those backend components of how your business operates and produces something?
Careful analysis of even the most simple practices can engender positive consequences for any business – even those which at first glance may seem irrelevant to the world economy.
Rest assured, your business is already having an impact on the world. The problem is that it just may not be a very good one! Either way, even if you’re not conscious of your areas of opportunity, it’s still happening — whether you want to admit it or not.
When you embrace your various inherent human paradoxes, you can tap into the creative tension and come up with new, innovative angles to unlock options you previously never even saw – let alone thought were possible.
Extraordinary leaders like you are unleashed in ways that are aligned with your true inner self. The more you can tap into that self, the more impactful you will be. As you develop this richer insight, and understanding of yourself, you will also catch yourself quicker when you fall out of alignment or when your shadow sides emerge.
While I think you’re extraordinary, I also know you’re human. You are not one-dimensional, but you are also not perfect.
Let’s own our brilliance AND our Cbrokenness through that lens. Rather than shy away from the messy middle where we all exist, let’s step more fully into it.
Your contradictions are not something to figure out, compromise, or resolve. They are, instead, what makes you unique and they are an avenue through which you can embrace your unique brilliance.
We’re being bombarded by a world that is bland, mediocre, and everyone looks the same. We’re told that success takes a limited and restrictive number of forms. We’re told what certain types of marketing, businesses, roles, or positions need to look like. Your job, though, is to show up fully cloaked in the uniqueness that is only you, and bring the full expression of who you are.
That very expression is how you will have the most impact in the world. Instead of draining you of life, and leading you down the road to burnout and resentment, this paradox is a life-giving force that actually brings excitement and energy.
Your power is tapping back into the beautiful realization and acceptance that there’s two sides to every coin: our strengths can be our weaknesses. Contradictions. Paradox.
Your contradictions can help you begin to really tune into the world in a different way, and thereby prevent you from being reactive or willing to jump from a fundamentalist approach which swings to the extremes of our logical (and illogical) spectrum.
Your contradictions can allow you to say, “Ah, what’s at play here? Is this a situation where I have to sit with my brokenness and my brilliance at the same time? Or is this a situation where I need to look at this scenario, and play it out from both perspectives of what would otherwise be seen as two contradictory approaches? If that’s the case, can I then come back to the idea of innovation and that juxtaposition of two previously unconnected things?” When you’ve looked at it from both parts of who you deeply are, it is at that point you can truly integrate them.
No one else looks at the world in the same way as you. That is a good thing. So embrace your paradoxes, because it is your differentiator.
The ancients understood very well that a key to being able to create into the future was a very clear understanding of the past. Ancient orators would work very hard at building up what they called “Memory Palaces”. These Memory Palaces were figurative banks of information made up of images, little devices, metaphors, and stories which could be mined to shape powerful stories or formulate powerful arguments in the moment.
Today you can begin to build your own Memory Palace from which you can draw upon. Your first step is to explore your past for the clues and cues which will make you successful, powerful, and impactful in the future. To do this, we need to have an understanding of two simple concepts: Flow and Anti-Flow.
Research has identified common characteristics of people who exist in flow most of the time. These include:
Anti-flow is most often identified through experiences of boredom, apathy, and anxiety.
We may have those more available to us as memories, and it may seem strange to focus on such a negative aspect of experiences we would surely want to avoid.
But they are important as part of this stage of LOOKING BACK because they can inform and guide our decisions by providing very clear insight into what we need to avoid.
Research shows that if our level of ability is much lower than the task at hand requires, we experience anxiety, worry and frustration. If we have a much higher-level ability than what the task at hand demands, then boredom kicks in. As such, when both the abilities and the requirements are of a lower level, we feel apathy.
This dissonance and identifying where on that scale we are is important because boredom, apathy, and anxiety, are key features of anti-flow.
With this in mind, to operate in a state of flow, we must know ourselves well enough to be able to anticipate situations, tasks, roles, and responsibilities that push us into that place of dissonance and result in either anxiety, boredom, or apathy.
Wherever possible we need to design these things out of our lives and stay true to who we are, and what we truly value.
Core values are the small number of values, usually somewhere between two and five, that describe behavioral traits which are inherent in your organization. These values do not change overtime and already exist.
Core values are not simply matters of convenience, but are ideals for which you as an organization would be willing to suffer or take a hit.
Aspirational values, on the other hand, are the characteristics that you want to have.
In other words, aspirational values are traits you do not currently possess, but understand that they are part of your plan as you look into your future strategy as either an individual or an organization. In trying to facilitate your aspirational values, you also understand that they are the values which are prerequisite of your future success.
A critical step in your future success is to not name your current aspirational values as core values. Should you make this mistake, you run the risk of manufacturing distrust where it needn’t be. In other words, if someone hears you referring to an aspirational value as a core value, but does not see them in how you behave, you undermine your trustworthiness and integrity in the eyes of that person.
Recently I was involved with a group who were very vocal about diversity being a core value and a pillar of their function as an organization. They spoke about it openly and often at first, and made initial moves to attempt to demonstrate the important position it would play in the company. Additionally, they discussed another deeply held value: the way in which leaders and entrepreneurs needed to have the strength of character to cope with criticism. Not only that, but they need to be able to discern when to take that criticism and feedback on board, and when to continue on regardless of the criticism.
Yet, when critical milestones or opportunities to speak up and provide a platform for diversity emerged overtime, the company was either silent, or slow to act. What’s more, as their team grew, the diversity did not, and people were received with hostility and defensiveness when they questioned the blatant contradiction to what they believed to be one of the company’s core values.
Interestingly, the same played out in relation to the commentary around leaders and entrepreneurs needing to engage with feedback. While on a surface level many opportunities were provided for surveys and feedback, customers were often met again with hostility, defensiveness and a complete inability (or unwillingness) to engage in meaningful conversation.
The impact of these contradictions on the company, and the numbers of customers lost as a result, were far worse than what should have been the case. The situation worsened simply because these two areas had been presented as core values as
opposed to what they actually were: aspirational values. Due to the gap of company truth from physical reality, there was a large and jarring disconnect for customers which provoked a strong social, as well as financial, backlash.
Here’s the underlying lesson: if the company had never mentioned diversity as being so central to their function, they may have received some feedback or commentary on how they could improve when they failed to prioritize it. You could be certain, though, that they would not have been judged as harshly. Furthermore, if they had not been so vocal about the importance of learning to take feedback and criticism, then they would not have been held to such a high standard when they failed to listen and engage with feedback they did not want to accept.
By claiming these things as core values, when they were in fact aspirational values at best, the company undermined their integrity. They, therefore, lost the trust of those who interacted with them and thereby suffered far more than what was necessary.
Everybody has an opinion about what you should do and how you should live. There’s no shortage of loud voices imposing their views and values on you.
Why would you want to be so vulnerable as to admit when you don’t know the answer, make a mistake, or reveal that you are struggling?
Here’s why: you are already an established leader; you have a track record; and people know that you deliver. So, stop trying to prove something. Sit confidently in that knowledge and now start to think about how you can up-level by showing up in a different way.
Embrace this different way which allows you to be more authentically yourself, and at the same time, permits others to learn from your mistakes. Philosophically, it may sound antithetical to your success, but your success is defined by nothing more than your success in the eyes of your company. More succinctly, the outside vision of your success is as a result of your success and nothing else. Colleagues, employees, and partners do not see your faults, and sometimes, may mythologize your presence by putting you on a pedestal to which they cannot relate. By admitting your faults, or mistakes, this does not chip your overall armor. Instead, your choice to be authentic helps them realize that they are not the only people struggling with certain issues or challenges.
Being authentic like this requires you to let go of the scarcity mindset which worries that there’s not enough to go around. I promise you do not have to grab every win for yourself because no one will get the better of you. Your success is already determined by your success, remember?
The more practical choice is to create an environment and/or culture which expands and creates mutual benefit rather than a culture where there is only one pie, and someone having a slice means less for everyone else.
Looking around opens us up to being more conscious of those around us and our impact on them. Without beginning to look around, you risk getting stuck only focusing on yourself or having goals which only benefit you.
From the perspective of creating a positive impact in the world, it’s always important to look at the context in which we find ourselves operating.
These are three steps you can take to inform your practice of LOOKING AROUND:
1. What do you care about contributing to in a positive way through your efforts?
Either positively drawn to or fighting against in the sense of an injustice you want to correct.
2. What do you have control over / decision making rights over that provides you with a lever to pull to influence this
issue or area?
3. Do you already have the skills, experience, resources to contribute? If not, who else do you need or what do you need to learn, or acquire in order to contribute in the ways you want to?
If you’re more drawn to the positive side of what you want to be part of in the world, it may be that your explorations of the times when you’re in flow hold some clues for you.
If what comes to mind are the things you’re fighting against or the aspects of injustice that really get you mad then there may be hints in your moments of anti-flow that start to be useful here.
So, can you answer in a broad sense what it is you want to be part of in the world?
It is important to look inside your business itself rather than simply seeing the business as a tool to make money and donate to a cause. I want you to ask yourself about how you could integrate “doing good” into your core business?
Could you change your hiring practices, your leave entitlements, or the conditions of your workers?
Could you change your bank or financial institutions to ones that align more with issues you care about, or are more closely connected to the community in which you work?
Are there areas of your supply chain to which you have turned a blind eye because you wanted to reduce costs and not be burdened by the guilt of asking pertinent questions concerning the process? Are you afraid of trying to ensure either fair pay, or humane conditions, of those producing the materials you use?
Are there other areas where you are treating the negative impacts you are creating – either directly or indirectly – through the decisions you make, and the way you operate your business, as nothing more than externalities?
Perhaps you are engaging in this kind of work. Perhaps you’re not. Either way, you need to take a full assessment of yourself and accept the answer simply for what it is.
Remember, you are full of layers, questions and paradoxes. Just as you are multidimensional and nuanced as a human, so is your business just as multidimensional and nuanced.
I don’t want you as an individual to be one-dimensional and make as much money as you can, regardless of how you make it, and then “one day” when you “have enough” (whatever that means!) to finally give back.
Equally I don’t want you to operate like that in your business. Those who claim business’ sole purpose is profit or shareholder value maximization are a far more recent breed and neither represent the roots of business or its future.
If that comment sparks your interest, or feels like an outrageous notion, you may want to read Roger Martin’s book Fixing the Game for a simple explanation where he goes so far as to say that “Our theories of shareholder value maximization and stock-based compensation have the ability to destroy our economy and rot out the core of American capitalism.”
The truth is, by bringing good “in-house”, by doing good consciously INSIDE your business, ensuring that even if all you ever did was break even you would have made the world a better place by your business existing.
In doing that, you create the impact and legacy you want in the world, but you also set your business apart. You set it up to be more financially successful and more sustainable in the broadest sense of that word. This happens because of the reputation you create, the results you deliver, and the raving fans you produce.
To that end, you have different parts of your business which require intentional analysis. Pull those apart more consciously and see if you can shift how you are spending money or making decisions so as to be more aware of the impact you are having through those decisions.
You can then use that to focus on where you will get the most impact or leverage in your business. This focus can be your starting place to start to bring more “good” into your business and more meaning into your life.
If you decide that a Customer Focus is your first entry point, I want you to be unapologetic in your consciousness or attention on both sides of the equation.
Consider how you can create more value for your customers – how you can be doing good through your engagement with customers and the delivery of the outcomes they are seeking.
Consider equally, though, how you can be producing value for the business – having an eye on what that means for the sustainability, the financial security, and success of the business.
If you are taking a Team Focus approach, be unapologetic in thinking about the win-win that it creates.
Consider the positive impact it will have on your staff if you begin to think more consciously about each of those decisions you’re making.
Consider equally, though, the ways that being more conscious of those categories can actually derisk your business, and not only save you money, but make you money. If you do this, you will suddenly have a team who can more actively and energetically be driving sales, and bring revenue into your business.
Many people tell me that there is an underlying discomfort or question for them around whether it’s even possible to have both an impactful legacy AND feel fulfilled at the same time. They’re worried that they are asking for too much, or maybe even being naïve.
I hear you and understand if you’re asking questions of the same tenor.
I can positively say you’re not asking for too much.
In fact, a thoughtful approach to designing your legacy can actually increase how impactful you are in the world. The process itself creates the space for some beautiful self-discovery that will be life-giving for you in far-reaching ways.
The unspoken, and often unquestioned, sense that generosity, and contribution need to be selfless is often underlined by a tone of martyrdom or self-flagellation. This fool-idealistic crusade needs to be replaced. Reactionary giving, without thoughtful or informed decision-making, can have massive negative unintended consequences.
Good intentions are NOT good enough.
Seeing legacy, or the act of philanthropy, as an outlet for guilt is neither healthy, nor necessary.
If we unpack the beliefs and mindset blocks behind your discomfort, we can create a win-win where you are both more fulfilled and more impactful.
A double-sided approach to legacy is the opposite of selfish or naïve. It is instead the most effective way to bring the level of thoughtfulness, reflection, and accountability to the privileged position in which you find yourself.
Your final impact is the sum of all your experimentation, iteration, and refinement as you seek out what works for you. It’s all about understanding your business, the context of your business, and thinking differently about how you could operate as a business. Once you begin this process, you can have that really strong sense of pride and comfort in what you are creating.
As you step into those spaces, and you become that millionaire, ultra-high-networth individual, or that seven figure CEO, you will own that role. Yet, you will not only own the role but you’ll wear that with pride because you know your evolution has brought your team with you and/or you created an incredible product that actually supports other communities of craftspeople making your products. Let’s design businesses like that and then be unapologetic about the growth that comes with that.
You can think differently about how you operate in the world.
You can behave differently.
You can make different decisions from the place where you can create the flow of impact that you want.
You can bring doing good back inside your business.
You don’t have to choose integrity or success.
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