A powerful way to think about improving entrepreneurial performance.
A Conversation With Friends
This post is inspired by a conversation I had with a group of my closest friends. We were sitting together, 6 of us, and one person asked a question: “How do you know when your behavior is negatively affecting the performance of a project or your company? How do you see the behavior, and how do you fix it”? The question was designed to prompt ‘experience share’; a kind of story telling where one entrepreneur shares a story of their direct experience in a similar situation and the solution they used to fix it.
Everyone Has a Performance Ceiling
The question instantly prompted a thought in my head: we all have a ceiling. We have it, whether we like it or not, and the ultimate path towards growth and a more fulfilling life is to move past the barriers within us and raise the limits of what we can achieve.
I know where my ceiling is. I can measure it by the size of my company, the amount of revenue I bring in, and the number of people I employ. I also know when I’m operating near or at my ceiling: everything starts to feel incredibly stressful, like I’m out of my league, and performance starts to suffer across the board. Firstly my own performance suffers, and soon it’s the performance of the others around me.
How many times have you heard someone say “I just can’t seem to get past [X]”. That’s their ceiling. In college, some students never seem to be able to get a grade above a certain level; in sport, some athletes can no longer improve their key metric; in business, some entrepreneurs can never grow their company past a certain size.
The good news is that the ceiling can be lifted. Learning how to do it is a meta-skill that can accelerate growth and excellence in all aspects of our lives. The most successful entrepreneurs I know are constantly on a search for this kind of growth. It’s also incredibly hard. Lifting the ceiling requires fundamental changes to the way we think, at a subconscious level. To change our behavior we must change our beliefs.
How Do You See Unhelpful Behavior?
Let’s start with this question: how do you see an unhelpful behavior, one that is destructive to company performance? I think there are two simple symptoms: either nothing happens, or someone will complain.
Nothing happening is an entrepreneur’s worst nightmare. You launch a product, no-one buys it. You introduce a new initiative to your staff, no-one picks it up. You ask someone to do something, they ignore you. Ouch. No action, and no feedback. These moments hurt, and yet they’re an incredibly powerful signal that something is going wrong.
Let’s say you do get a response, but it’s not the response you want. Instead, you get a complaint, a sullen look on someone’s face, or they flatly tell you they think what you’re doing it’s bullshit. Ouch again, but another powerful signal.
In both cases, these are powerful signals that a behavior needs to change – our behavior, not necessarily someone else’s – and most importantly, that underneath that behavior is a belief which is not helping to get the results we want.
Behaviors are the Slaves of Beliefs
I won a project a few years ago for a major client. The client had seen my personal work and liked the approach I had used to solve their problem. They asked me to do more work for them, much more, but it was impossible to deliver on their requests by myself. I had to bring in other team members, many of which were incredibly intelligent and qualified individuals, much more so than I.
However I held a set of beliefs: “The client has asked for what I did. They want it that way. It has to be at that standard. They asked for more ‘me’. And as I am the most knowledgeable about the project I should be making the decisions”. This lead me to take on a “command and control” leadership style. I wanted to keep the project standard very high and kept a close eye on every detail. Soon enough my team started to criticize me for micromanaging and squashing ideas. Not only ideas, but innovation generally. Not good.
It was pretty obvious that my beliefs about that project was leading me to behave in a way that was destructive to our performance. My leadership style was a slave to my beliefs. It wasn’t good, and people were telling me.
I have countless other examples of the link between belief and behavior. We can all think of them, both negative and positive examples. Recently I heard a friend say “My Power is My Networking” – and that belief leads him to be an avid networker. Another frequently says “Loose Lips Sink Ships” – and his executive team is very discrete when they’re working on important projects.
If you have the time, this video is incredible. It’s of an interview by Scott Gerber of John Paul DeJoria (founder of Paul Mitchell) about why he doesn’t use email or a computer. Curious idea this, no email or computer. JPD says “I choose not to have email or ever turn a computer on … I do this out of choice … I would rather make a phone call and communicate with you the way you deserve. It comes down to this, Pay Attention to the Vital Few, Ignore the Trivial Many”.
What an incredibly powerful belief! Look how many times JPD mentions the phrase, and how powerfully it drives his behavior – from hiring, to meeting design to relationship building. It also affects the behavior of his team. They don’t dare bother him unless it’s important. This belief is clearly driving behavior that is working for him.
Unhelpful Beliefs Must Be Replaced by More Powerful Ones
The principle of the Johari Window is a great way to think about this.
(Johari Window, Copyright Alan Chapman 2003, www.businessballs.com)
It’s inside the “Blind” and “Unknown” quadrants that our unhelpful beliefs can hide from us, those same beliefs that drive us to behave in a way that keeps us from lifting our ceiling. To raise the ceiling, these beliefs need to be found and replaced by more powerful ones.
I no longer believe in Command and Control leadership. I believe it is ineffective in almost every business situation. However, identifying a unhelpful belief without replacing it with a more powerful one is the same as tearing up an old map and leaving yourself with none. Behavior cannot change until a more powerful belief is found to replace the unhelpful one.
Luckily, I have come across a more powerful belief. It’s the idea of a leadership style based on Coaching and Challenging. Instead of directing employees, this style suggests coaching them into their best possible performance and challenging them to improve when the circumstances suggest. This approach is an evolution beyond the idea of Command and Control with a substantially higher ceiling. In fact, I also believe that leadership behavior has a multiplier effect – that leadership behavior has exponential influence on the behavior of other people in a company. I was highly motivated to change my behavior because I believe every improvement in leadership has an exponential effect on organizational performance.
In my personal experience, adopting these more powerful beliefs has fundamentally transformed my behavior. The potential to raise our ceilings, to Level Up, is available to everyone. Powerful beliefs are around us everywhere, begging to be adopted.
The Secret to Changing Beliefs is Rebuilding The Evidence
This idea is at the core of many personal development teachings. Tony Robbins is a huge proponent of changing beliefs to improve performance. Much of the Neuro Linguistic Programming (or NLP) movement addresses the idea of helpful and unhelpful beliefs. Modern psychology, particularly the field of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, uses the idea of helpful/unhelpful beliefs to address anxiety and depression. The principle is well proven.
For entrepreneurs, the challenge is to find the hidden beliefs that are affecting our behavior and unwind the evidence we have attached to them through our years of experience. We’ve worked hard to build up our belief system so changing them can be hard. That’s why we get stuck underneath a ceiling: the belief system we have worked hard to build keeps us there. The trick is to think back, retell the story of an event, and attach new evidence to the belief. If you hate cold calling, instead of telling yourself about the 49 rejections you got, remember the 1 valuable new relationship. When the story of those 50 calls shifts from “49 rejections” to “1 new relationship”, the belief changes to “every time I make 50 calls I get 1 incredible new contact”.
Adjusted Evidence = New Belief = New Behavior.
An Exercise Amongst Friends
If you have a group of friends you trust with intimate discussions, or even one friend, exploring beliefs together can be an easy way to find the blind spots and look for more powerful beliefs. The simple process of sitting with a true friend, who is willing to truly listen and help you to peer into the blind part of your Johari Window, can be a powerful way to raise the ceiling. All they have to do is ask “why”: “Why are you behaving that way? Why do you believe that?” If you ask why enough times and you’ll get to the deep part of your core where your true beliefs live. Together, you can identify or share significantly more powerful beliefs to replace the old ones.
In that place, there’s a little button waiting for you to press it.
It says “Lift Ceiling”.
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