Leading Concepts Group
Leading Concepts Group

How Clearly Can You See Your Moonshot?

“My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon.” — Mizuta Masahide

I am not a runner. I am not even a jogger. I am more of a stomper – the perfect expression of mass, awkwardly working step by step to escape the pull of the earth, in increments of 10-15 miles per week.

At the beginning of my mid-life crises I decided to train for a half marathon, a race of just over thirteen miles. This distance represented a moonshot to me, a jump in a running experience so big it was difficult to imagine even finishing. Not sure where to start, I presumed an increase in weekly mileage was in order, but to what? To 20 miles per week? Double to 30? I am happy to say I figured out the necessary training needs and did complete the race without major trauma or physical damage. But I was surprised by my eventual weekly mileage, which tripled to 45 per week. As difficult as that was, it occurred to me it was easier going from 15 to 45 miles per week, then from zero to 15.

What made it seem as if, once past the original push, the bigger the goal the easier it became to achieve?

Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, explains mental models as “deeply held internal images of how the world works, images that limit us to familiar ways of thinking and acting.” My familiar way of thinking and acting was an invisible pull on my initiative, working like gravity to keep me in a comfortable and familiar place. My age told me I was too old, my weight told me I was too fat, my job told me I was too busy, my ego told me I was too slow, and my history told me I have limits. Five formidable critics, all of my own making, and all in my head. There was something freeing about reaching subsequent levels of mileage that made it reasonable to consider going farther. But looking back, the hardest battle was getting past the collection of reasons I collected for staying right where I was.

So how can we break free of the kinds of thinking that limit our initiative?

Moonshots can be oddly specific – we’ll put a man on the moon by the end of the decade; we’ll double our revenues in three years; I’ll triple my training mileage. But what constrains is ambiguous and characterized by a lack of awareness about what supports our belief systems. Moonshots must be specific to focus resources and effort. Constraints operate below our normal level of consciousness, making them vulnerable to being structured by unchallenged assumptions unique to us.  To mitigate this vulnerability, I recommend the following methodology:

First, Release every assumption. Gravity does not require our cooperation to be a force – it holds us, we accept it as is, manage it, and don’t take it personally.  But assumptions are what we hold, and they require our cooperation. Remember the five critics I described earlier? All of them are the product of assumptions. They exist because I give them permission to occupy space which could otherwise be available to new ways to see myself and the world.

Second, Receive with intention. Once we release unchallenged assumptions we are free to pull back the elements of them which can serve us. For example, I may not be too fat to run, but I do understand losing weight will help me run faster. Once we internalize the idea that we have freedom to choose what we truly need, we are willing to accept information from wherever it may come.

Finally, Deliver our best. We are always delivering. Our reputations precede us; others anticipate how we will act or what we will say; we express who we are in every deed. The key is to choose and own what we deliver, and to it in a way that expresses our personal integrity.

Releasing what we do not need and receiving what serves us well, inclines us toward delivering our best.  

Awareness and reflection of our mental models requires courage because we may find the need to burn them down to give us a better view of our moonshot.

Jess Villegas, CEO, Business Consultant, Leadership and Management Mentor

Do You Seek Validation For Food or Fuel?

Do You Seek Validation For Food or Fuel?

Validation as a feedback mechanism is a great way to signal us when we are off-track toward a desired result. Unfortunately, most people use it as emotional food, a short–term satisfying of the ego until it is time to find the next meal.

Many years ago, I was concerned my son’s recreational basketball team might not have a coach, so I reluctantly agreed to take the job. I was reluctant because I was intimidated at how seriously other coaches went about building their teams. I rationalized while I was busy working for a living, they spent entire days plotting to get the best players specifically to humiliate me. Coaches familiar with this anxiety label it “coaches stacking their teams.” I decided not to get caught in a similar trap and focus on the kids having fun and learning the game.

We did not have a good season, only winning one of ten games. But I did get to spend more time with my son and the parents seemed appreciative of my effort. I even developed a reputation for being a good coach, a nice bit of validation, so I decided to do it again. The following season we had a much better record, winning half of our games. My reputation as a good coach continued to grow. In our third season, everything came together. We lost only one game and won two playoff games.

After a playoff win, the opposing coach shook my hand and complimented me on my team, sending me off on a day-dream about how special I was. In three seasons, I had taken a group of inexperienced players and built them into a competitive team. I started calculating my chances at being named coach of the year. I wondered if the fame from the award would help me recruit bigger and better players for future teams. My daydream ended abruptly when I overheard the coach tell a parent “coaches like him love to stack their teams!” In an instant, the coach easily took away the validation he had just given me.

That did not feel good, but what went wrong? Wasn’t I trying to do the right thing? Didn’t I have good intentions? Wasn’t my plan of teaching the kids to play basketball validated in the end?

The challenge with validation is it is significantly grounded in ego, and it works the entire spectrum of personal aggrandizement to personal diminishment. If my goal is to build the best team so others can see how great I am, ego will egg me on. If my fear is “I am not good-enough to compete with other coaches,” ego will confirm it. If my intention is to teach kids to play basketball but in the process, gain a little recognition, ego will encourage me to go for more.

I lost sight of the reason I chose to coach – the kids needed one and I was capable enough to fill the need. Beyond that, I genuinely enjoy seeing kids learn and develop new skills – joy is what fueled me when I had to rush through traffic to run practices, or explain to kids how to handle loss, or mentor them to be respectful of others in victory. All the joy dissipated when I started seeking more and more recognition, all of which is temporal in nature.

Validation as fuel gets us over the ups and downs of the roads we navigate, and it sustains us even when recognition is sparse. Validation as food means everyone else decides when we eat.

Jess Villegas – CEO / Business Consultant, Leadership & Management Mentor

What Crime Dramas Teach Us About Leadership

What do crime dramas and sports documentaries have in common, and how does it apply to leadership?

When people talk about television you’ll often hear them say things like, if it is not perpetuating the end of western civilization, it is a least a mind-numbing, complete waste of time. I used to think the same thing.   Admittedly however, there are two genres – crime dramas and sports documentaries – I find consistently compelling. Why? Because they provide an excellent template for a little practiced, yet critically important aspect of leadership – event forensics.

While these genres are distinctly different, where they converge is in the archaeological unpacking of events. Crime dramas like CSI, short for Crime Scene Investigators, leave you on the edge of your seat pulling together clues. Sports documentaries like “How the Yankees Won the World Series”, start by knowing the end of the story but then provide a fresh, new perspective. In both instances, I appreciate the hard work necessary to uncover information which produces a satisfying end-of-the-story, and I always have a sense of satisfaction seeing hard work rewarded.

So how does this apply to leadership?

The problem in many organizations is they, when confronted with a challenge, generally gravitate to the easiest and quickest answers. Imagine if Ted Danson or Sela Ward decided the first, obvious answer was the best one – about a 10-minute program at best. Patiently sorting through the forensics to get all the facts and a full picture is what we expect CSIs to do. Is it any less important for an organization to do the same?

Exploring the confluence of factors leading to an event is challenging because there is always something hidden from us. In “Seeing Systems”, Barry Oshry explains the dynamic of System Blindness, a constraint in which we see the part but not the whole, or we see the present but not the past. To see what is in our blind spot we need the cooperation of others in our organizations. Another challenge is, while a TV show has a definite end, businesses run a show which never ends. Failure requires correction. One success demands another. A change in the business environment calls for thoughtful reaction. There is always need for another answer, which means there is always need for organizational CSIs.

Organizational CSIs are hard to come by. Typical demands on formal leadership do not give them the time to be this for the organization. They need Informal Leaders to handle this important responsibility, and they need the rest of us to join this mutually beneficial effort.

So, what can the rest of us do and how can we make a difference with such limited influence?

Formal leadership does have disproportionate influence on the organization, but operating from a more informal place within it does not mean limited influence. However, Informal Leaders do need tools for breaking free of the habits of limited thinking.

  1. They must Release their assumptions about who is responsible for affecting change in the organization – everyone can contribute.
  2. They must seek and Receive information which is unfamiliar, ambiguous, and exist in our blind-spots, outside of our view.
  3. Finally, they must have the courage to Deliver a clear accounting of their discoveries, along with their best ideas on a solution.

These are the tools of a formidable archaeologist and an organizational CSI.

Jess Villegas, CEO, Business Consultant, Leadership & Management Mentor