The Greatest

The phrase “greatest of all time” and its acronym G.O.A.T. have enjoyed a lot of publicity in recent years. This is especially true with social media where athletes get labeled with the title based on their prowess on the field or court. All I would have to do is tweet a picture of Michael Jordan along with a goat emoji and you would know exactly what I was suggesting. It leads to spirited debate and certainly brings out our passions and biases. It does, though, beg the question of whether such suggestions and debates are healthy.

Let’s start with what I know without question or debate, Jesus is the greatest teacher of all time. He transformed people who lived during His time on earth with His radical teachings, and over two-thousand years later believers around the world still follow his lessons. On nearly thirty occasions in the bible Jesus was referred to as “Teacher.” Even Jesus’ enemies called him “Teacher” (Mark 12:14). He used the techniques of sermons, conversations, and parables to translate really complicated ideas into easy-to-understand lessons. He used common everyday situations to teach spiritual truths.  His style was warm, compassionate, vulnerable, and humble. And He never put Himself before His message.

Something else I know is that the greatest teacher of all time gave us the greatest lesson of all time – which is to love. Love God and love others. There couldn’t be a simpler lesson to understand than go forth and love others. Yet simple isn’t easy. And I catch myself many times a day not loving others. It might look like judging, envy, or neglect, but it certainly isn’t love. Perhaps that is why God put the idea of Chief Experience Officer (CXO) 1 in my heart? For me, it is a simple construct to help me be the person I aspire to be – the person God wants me to be.

It is interesting to compare the concept of G.O.A.T. to the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). Imagine we are all brought before the Lord and He separates us “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” We would be grouped with the sheep because of the good works we did. We would be grouped with the goats because, well, of the opposite. And imagine the sheep are blessed by God the Father, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” In other words the sheep demonstrated the greatest lesson of all time, they loved others. And the goats would ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?” And Jesus instructs them saying, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”

It is interesting that in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats it is the sheep who are the greatest, which is to say they treated others with kindness, respect, and serving them as though they were Christ Himself. So while fun to think about whom the greatest athlete of all time is, or rock star, or actor, being the G.O.A.T. should also be a reminder to us all that the most important thing we are called to be great at is loving God and others.

1I Am CXO, Now What? A Job Description For Living A Life Of Purpose And Meaning, WestBow Press, 2017

What I Learned About Making Dreams Come True

As the end of 2017 draws near, I find myself looking back on the year that was. I had my fair share of triumphs, disappointments, and opportunities. Without question, this will always be remembered as a special year because I achieved a major life goal. In April, I released my first book (titled “I Am CXO, Now What? A Job Description for Living a Life of Purpose and Meaning”) and checked off a big box on my list of accomplishments I hoped to complete…one day. Since then, I have had the opportunity to talk about my book and its message with several different audiences including people of faith, business leaders, and high school students. What has struck me is just as eager as listeners are to hear about what it means to be a CXO, they are equally enthused to learn how I achieved my goal. I found that people are hungry to hear stories of inspiration and receive affirmation that dreams can indeed become reality.

It is hard to put into words. I thought the notion “you can do anything you set your mind to” didn’t apply to me. I thought that was for the other guy. But I have come to appreciate I, too, can share in life’s grandest adventures. I can make what seems unreachable attainable. This was the dream after all; publishing a book. Not selling thousands of books or becoming a famous author. And I had absolutely zero prior experience or expertise to rely on. But I had the conviction to follow my heart. And so, I want to share with you what becoming a published author has taught me about accomplishing your goals – for I know they live in your heart too.

Have the Right Mindset

First and foremost, I needed to change my mindset. You see, I have wanted to write a book for many years. Well, truth be told, I didn’t want to write a book – I wanted to have a completed, fully authored book with my name on it. I wanted to be an author; I didn’t want to write a book. I have never liked the process of writing (yet here I am writing a blog) and had many starts and stops over the last decade.

To get over the psychological hurdle, I needed to shift from seeing an end point to embracing the journey. I wrestled with knowing versus learning, and had to move from finding joy in knowing how to do something to getting joy from learning how to do something. I needed to embrace getting there rather than being there. Allow me to give you another example. In addition to always wanting to write a book, I had also wanted to know how to play the guitar. I had tried to learn a few times over the years and found it to be too hard and gave up. I couldn’t play the guitar. Finally, I needed to adjust my mindset and believe there is joy in learning how to play the guitar. Now, about a year and a half after beginning a concerted effort to learn to play, I still don’t know how to play the guitar. However, I am learning and find enjoyment in the process.

What goals do you have? Let’s say, for example, your goal is to earn a MBA. You should focus on the individual classes, personal development, and connections you make along the way rather than on the final credentials hanging in a frame on the wall which will likely be a few years and thousands of dollars down the road.

Set Milestones

Achieving your most wild and exciting life goals requires having a plan. Instill intermittent milestones where you can celebrate success along the way. This creates discipline by addressing two things: it makes the challenge seem less daunting, and it renews your commitment to forge on. For me, I ultimately decided I wanted to give it a try and whether I succeeded or failed, at least I gave it a shot.

I chose to begin in autumn knowing that it would soon be winter and I would be writing at a time of year when it is too cold and snowy for my liking. I challenged myself to have the writing done by spring. My first milestone was to have a completed manuscript – not the final draft, but a completed manuscript from first chapter to last. My second milestone was to have a few trusted advisors read the manuscript and provide feedback. Then I attained confirmation from the publisher they would accept the manuscript, I added the foreword and some illustrations, and so on and so forth. Each milestone of the journey was affirming. I learned to appreciate the process of writing a book and managing the publishing steps.

If your goal is to run a marathon, concentrate your efforts on form, routine, and gradually building your way up to 26.2 miles. Perhaps complete a 5k and then a half marathon first, and celebrate those successes. Work on improving your time even if you haven’t increased your distance. If you only see yourself as a “marathoner,” you may give up a few miles in because the challenge seems too daunting. As Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.”

Eliminate Your Greatest De-motivator

I mentioned earlier that I had a number of starts and stops over the last decade or so. The biggest deterrent for me was the act of plunking away at the keyboard and putting thoughts to page. This killed my motivation to write. Finally, I installed a dictation app on my phone. I could speak my thoughts and ideas, anytime it was convenient, and the app would convert it to a document. I only needed to then edit, shuffle paragraphs around, add details, and polish it up. From there, I was off to the races.

What is the greatest factor demotivating you from working towards your goals? If you can name it then you can eliminate it. Reflect on this and be sure you have gotten to the heart of the matter. This is a little different than the common philosophy of doing the least desirable task first. I suggest you find a way to remove it, abolish it, destroy it. Once you do, remaining tasks begin to build momentum.

Use Your Network

One of the more joyous outcomes I realized from working towards my goal was learning how many people in my network wanted to see me succeed. I expected that writing a book would be a solitary activity left to me and me alone. I learned for me to succeed I needed the help of others – and plenty of others were ready to offer their help. There are people you know who would be happy to help you, too. There are people who want to see you succeed.

For example, I got help with tasks like selecting a publisher, editing, photography, and marketing. I am confident if you stop to think about it you will find that there are people you know who can help you based on their experience and expertise. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Not only can these connections help you with elements of your goal you are not experienced in, they will be some of your greatest cheerleaders and can serve as accountability partners to keep you on track.

Overcome Your Fears

Fear of failure is something I have wrestled with most of my life, as many people do. This fear generally fuels me into action rather than paralyzing me, so I don’t worry about it too much. In this case, I had lingering self-doubt about whether or not a publisher would take on the project. I wondered if anyone would read the book. I worried about readers finding grammar errors. I had angst over what my family and friends would have to say about it. Eventually, I found the courage I needed to put myself out there, embrace vulnerability, and allow readers to learn about what is in my heart. I decided that the book did not need to be perfect, it merely needed to be authentically me.

And then came another, and perhaps more important, fear. I needed to overcome the fear of succeeding. I needed to be vulnerable enough to accept success and failure with equal amounts of grace. I needed to get comfortable with having my name on the cover of a book, with having my name show up in online search results, and with the attention I would get from people who learned I had written a book. I have never been one to self-promote or seek attention. Authoring a book has taken me out of my comfort zone. I continue to remind myself that it is not about me; it is about the message of the book and trying to help others. What about you? What if you actually earn that MBA or finish that marathon? How will you respond to the achievement? And is that response standing in your way?

We all have hopes, dreams, and aspirations. What is one of the most wild and exciting goals on your list? What are you doing to prepare to attain it? I am confident with the right perspective, discipline, courage, and a little help from your friends you can do anything you want to. And in the unlikely event you do not achieve your goal, I am sure you will at least be happy you tried. No regrets!

(Part II) Core Competence, CXO Style

In my last blog post, I wrote about the six core competencies preferred of a Chief Experience Officer (CXO). They are: approachability, positivity, authenticity, vulnerability, humility, and generosity. I suggested these six behavioral skills, technical skills, attributes, or attitudes will assist CXOs in carrying out the principal duties required of the role.

I asked the readers to participate in a brief online poll to identify which of the six competencies they had to work the hardest at on order to demonstrate consistently. The results of the survey showed that the most common competency identified was authenticity (40%). Now, as promised, I want to provide development resources to help us grow in that area.

First, let’s start with a reminder of what authenticity is. To be authentic means to be exposed, void of pretense, and genuine. When you are authentic you are true to you own personality, spirit, and character. Naturally, the opposite of all those things would be inauthentic. Authenticity can be a little hard to define, but I am confident you know it when you see it. We gravitate towards authentic people because we can trust and understand them. Thus, our defense mechanism is lowered and comfort level increases around authentic people. Second, I want to acknowledge survey respondents for their self-awareness. We cannot make strides towards being more authentic if we are not self-aware. By simply selecting authenticity from the list shows those respondents have self-awareness in acknowledging their room for improvement – that is a good foundation to start.

To be authentic, one must know thyself. We, as thinking and reasoning humans, must take time to understand our drivers, natural tendencies, preferences, values, beliefs, and biases. Without knowing our authentic self, we cannot hold our selves accountable to being that person. The challenge comes from trying to be your authentic self despite external influences and judgement.

To examine this, further, I solicited the help of Jim Love. Jim is a public speaker focusing on authentic leadership. Here is a summary of a short interview I had with Jim.

Q. Why is it so hard for people to be authentic? 

A. Especially today, there are so many forces that don’t support authenticity. People tend to rely on the opinions of others for their own self-worth. In a world where folks are defined by their next Instagram like and which version of the iPhone they own, it’s difficult to demonstrate who you truly are. “Heart-to-heart” conversations take a backseat to reading Twitter updates on your phone. It’s very easy to get caught up in the world and not focus on your authentic self.

Q. What would you recommend to someone to grow their authenticity?

A. The most important recommendation I have for someone to grow in their authenticity is to decide right now that they accept themselves and love themselves. That might sound weird (and perhaps boastful), but the minute you decide to love yourself and your style is the same minute you become a more effective, authentic leader. Decide that you are awesome just the way you are. With that acceptance in mind, you can begin seeking opportunities to develop your strengths. Become better at what you’re already good at doing. You will feel more confident, vibrant and, in turn, your authenticity will shine through. Hold that mindset and let it dictate your thoughts and actions.

 

To build on Jim’s recommendation, here is a list of additional things we can do to grow our authenticity. I present them to you in the form of a list; anyone who knows me can attest that lists are authentically me. Good luck as you become more authentically you.

  1. Lead with your values. Reflect on and identify what your top 3-5 core values are (find examples at Values.com). Having a defined, finite list will help you with accountability. Allow those values to guide your decision making, interpersonal behaviors, goal setting, and moral dilemmas.
  2. Appreciate the insignificance of collecting stuff. Whether the stuff is cars, clothes, awards, or promotions, in the end it is all insignificant when not aligned to our authentic self. Do you use the stuff to help you accomplish a goal or fulfill a purpose? Or do you use the stuff to impress others?
  3. Build relationships. Connecting with people is deeply at the core of authenticity. You will show your authenticity, and people will know your authenticity, by the quality of the relationship. You will get to know people beyond just casual small talk and engage in genuine discussion that sparks and emotional connection.
  4. Examine your motivation. Are you driven by image and what others think of you? Do you have a bigger house than you can afford to impress others? Do you promote your accomplishments on social media to make your colleagues jealous? Positive intent yields positive thoughts, which yield positive actions.
  5. Be mindful of whose language you are using? Some of the most inauthentic people I know often use others’ lingo. In the workplace, I call it “consultant speak.” These are one-liners, jargon, catch-phrases, and clichés such as “stay in your swim lane.” Which, as is often used in the workplace, has nothing to do with swimming. And the most common catch-phrases tend to change as someone introduces a new one into a culture (oftentimes consultants), and then others adopt it and still more go with the crowd.
  6. Say what you mean, in a polite way. It is okay to have an opinion or preference and share it. Some people shy away from authenticity for fear of being too bold, brash, or direct. So long as it is done in a polite and courteous way you can and should share your genuine feelings. As Stephen Covey said, “If two people have the same opinion, one is unnecessary.”
  7. Freely show emotion. Some people are cautious to show their emotions for how it will appear to others. It humanizes you when others know that you care and have feelings. Express your passion, show your love, and openly accept a hug when someone offers one to you.
  8. Let your work speak for itself. Be mindful of the conversations you are having and how often you recite your resume to others. If you are intelligent, experienced, and qualified others will know it. You may have “been there done that,” but without the requisite humility and self-assurance it just sounds like you are trying to promote yourself.
  9. Forgive yourself and admit your shortcomings. No one is perfect and we should stop trying to be. Apologize when you make a mistake, it will build your credibility rather than break it down. Are you your most harsh critic? Forgive yourself and take tender loving care of your own health and well-being
  10. Connect with something bigger than yourself. The fuel that can keep you forging ahead and maintaining your authenticity, even at the toughest of times, could just be your belief that you are a part of something bigger. This could be a cause that is important to you, a community of friends and family, or religion/spirituality. In all cases, you take the attention away from yourself and focus on serving others and a greater purpose.

Core Competence, CXO Style

Take our CXO competency poll, powered by dANIMATED, LLC.
When I think about the roles I participate in – whether it be parent, husband, author, speaker, golfer, or guitarist – I am intrinsically motivated to do them well. I have a desire to achieve proficiency. Each is a work in progress and I strive to improve each day. For me to get better and excel in my roles, I must possess or develop certain attributes or skills. For example, I need patience to be an effective father and perseverance to advance as a guitar player. The same is true for us in our workplaces. For us to meet our organizations’ expectations for our role, we should be able to perform various tasks and skills at a target level. These tasks and skills are often referred to as competencies, and collectively they make up a success profile. But when we are mismatched with the profile, or not given opportunities to develop and grow our competency, we struggle to meet expectations and fall short of achieving proficiency.

The global people and organizational advisory firm Korn Ferry explains it this way, “Like the periodic table of elements, it depends on what you want to make. Water is two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen (H2O). The make-up of salt is NaCl (sodium + chloride). What is the make-up of a successful general manager, department head, or specialized individual contributor? This is where the practice of success profiling and competency modeling come into play.” I love that image; one part this, two parts that, and you can make the profile for effectiveness in any given role. Take my earlier example of being a guitarist and the necessary competency of perseverance. You could argue that perseverance is important to success at every and anything, and you might be right. But a part of competency modeling is to prioritize which elements are the most essential to getting the desired outcome from the role. Guitar players must have the discipline to practice, the persistence to fight through the initial pain in your fingertips, and the drive to learn new techniques; all which mandate perseverance. Mix in fine motor dexterity and you get an even more proficient guitarist; while  interpersonal skills may not be as essential to a guitar player. And perseverance may not be as important to my role as author or speaker if I am not first competent in written communication and presentation skills. Alas, getting the mix of elements right is critical or your NaCl wont taste like salt.

In my book, “I Am CXO, Now What?”, I spell out six competencies (elements) ideal for reaching high performance as a Chief Experience Officer. If you are not familiar with it, I summarize the role of CXO as delivering exemplary, life-changing experiences to others. Or to say it another way, a CXO strives to give positive experiences to others who interact with him or her. In this blog, I aim to define each of the six core competencies for a CXO. The competencies may be a behavioral skill, technical skill, attribute, or attitude, and will assist CXOs in carrying out the principal duties required of the role. For example, one of the principal duties of a CXO is to sacrifice your time, money, or effort for the sake of someone else. We are better equipped to do so when we possess the competencies of humility and generosity. And while there may be many other attributes and skills that would contribute to being a proficient CXO, I have prioritized these six as most important. And they afford us a finite number of measurable and achievable targets to focus on.

As you review the descriptions I assigned to each competency, I urge you to reflect on which come most easily to you and which you need to work the hardest at in order to demonstrate it consistently. That isn’t to say you can’t or don’t achieve that competency, it may just take more work for you or isn’t a natural tendency. In no particular order, here is the success profile for a CXO.

Chief Experience Officer Core Competencies

Approachability
  • Accessible and easy to talk to
  • Sensitive to the interpersonal anxieties of others
  • Puts others at ease
  • Knows how or when to be warm and gracious
Positivity
  • An attitude of optimism and hopefulness
  • Sees possibilities and opportunities
  • Sees the good in others
Authenticity
  • Pure, exposed, and genuine
  • True to your own personality, spirit, and character
  • Void of pretense
  • Self-aware
Vulnerability
  • Embracing emotional exposure and uncertainty
  • Openness to differing ideas, opinions, and cultural norms
  • Allowing others into your heart
Humility
  • Courteously respectful of others
  • Self-restraint and gentleness
  • Openness to having your mind changed
  • Putting others first
Generosity
  • Sacrificing time, money, or energy for others
  • Kindhearted and boundless
  • Belief that gifts are meant to be shared

How about you? Do you find yourself having to stretch and work harder to demonstrate one of these competencies more so than the others? Be honest with yourself; there is no benefit to being disingenuous here. Keep in mind, past mistakes and room for improvement don’t preclude you from being a CXO. In fact, they only heighten your potential for success. Please participate in the anonymous online poll and assess which competency you need to work the hardest at in order to demonstrate is consistently. I will be collecting data until the end of September and analyzing trends. Then, in a future blog, I will provide development ideas and resources for how individuals can increase their competence in the area most commonly identified.

The “Made in” Mindset

I started writing a blog about what I thought was a clever analogy for how we should conduct ourselves, and it began like this:

Check the “Made in” label of your favorite shirt, bath towel, or summer sandals and you will find words that read Made in China, Made in America, Made in Vietnam, or other similar designation. “Made in” labels show that a product is all or virtually all made in said country. The labels influence buying decisions, symbolize pride, and contribute to consumers’ overall perception of that country.

Imagine if you had your own “Made in” label that was placed (literally or figuratively) on everything you did indicating it was all or virtually all done by you. This “label” would give family, friends, co-workers, and community members an impression of you, your character, and your work ethic. How would that impact your actions?

I built a bird house tower for my wife several years ago that still stands in our backyard today. It gets a lot of attention, both from the birds who fight for vacancy and guests who wonder where we got it. I am happy to say, “I made it.” I have no problem imagining a label attached to it stating, “Made by Dan.” I value humility too much to actually do it, but you get my point. I am proud of the product and when we are pleased with our work the more comfortable we are branding it as our own. But what about the actions we are not so proud of? What if the bird house looked like a hideous mess? I suspect over the course of our lives we all have taken measures to hide from actions we are embarrassed by.

I try to carry this way of thinking over into other areas of my life. Whether I am in a meeting at work, cleaning the bathroom at home, raising my children, or talking with a friend, I imagine placing a “Made in” label on that task or interaction testifying to my doing it. And if I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that action being attached to my brand then I shouldn’t do it. I am not successful at it all the time, but it serves as a good remember for me to be my best self.

This is where I temporarily stopped writing the blog-or typing, to be accurate. It hit me; what I thought was a clever concept to stay aligned with the person I aspire to be, existed. We literally have a “Made in” label attached to something many of us use every day; it is called a username or profile. Numerous times a day we are sharing thoughts, feelings, actions, and beliefs using the platforms of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, and more. Each post is attached to our label proclaiming “Made by Insert Name Here.” And, sadly, it doesn’t keep us from posting rude and inappropriate content we shouldn’t be proud of. So that leaves me wondering, “Where do we go from here?” How do we lesson the insolence when not even the public shame of people knowing what we say or do stops us from doing it?

After a brief stint of despair I return to my original blog idea. I return with steadfast resolve to promote positive, honorable behaviors. I believe it is time well invested. It seems to be, at least in my opinion, there is less civility and kindness today. There are many studies readily available online that affirm my opinion. And there are so many theories as to the reasons and contributing factors it overwhelms me. Frankly, I do not feel the need to put my finger on the cause; I acknowledge there are many and with varying levels of credibility. However, what I am hopeful for is as a people we can agree that there is a problem and we need to get better. I am hopeful we can concede, regardless the rationalized origin, we are a part of the problem and the solution begins within each one of us.

Our oldest and greatest examples show us we are supposed to be a loving and gentle people; to extend mercy and compassion to all. Easier said than done, I admit. Why is it so hard for us? I would argue one of the greatest factors getting in our way is a lack of humility.

To be humble is to remember it is not all about you. Self-righteousness and hedonism don’t prevail in the long-term. Part of the trouble is that humility is a poorly defined word in our current culture. Humility is viewed as “meekness” or having a “low view of one’s importance.” The fact of the matter is authentic humility comes from a place of strength and maturity. It doesn’t mean you think less of yourself. From a biblical perspective, humbleness is a quality of being courteously respectful of others. Humility means you are sufficiently independent to meet someone more than half way; it acknowledges the dignity and worth of all humans. The attribute of humility is precisely what we need to exist in effective nations, cities, marriages, and friendships. Just because we can literally tell the world exactly how we feel or what we accomplished in any given moment doesn’t mean we should. Modesty prevails.

It is too easy to get caught up in a comparison-based world where the loudest voice wins. We need to be reminded that it matters how we treat people. We need a reminder that to try thy best is a virtue. And so I submit the following paradoxical challenge: to act in such a way you would be proud to attach a label to every task or interaction action stating “I Did This.” And then, of course, to never do so.

To learn more about humility, being kind to others, and responding to the call to be the best person you can be check out my book I Am CXO, Now What? (WestBow Press 2017).