Smallest Viable Breakthrough

Seth Godin, in his workshop, asked us to write on my smallest viable breakthrough. I realize the subject is potentially complex, but the idea is simple…

I wonder, what is your smallest viable breakthrough that you aren’t passing on to others. Seth says this is the first step to moving beyond writer’s block. So, here is mine!

My smallest viable breakthrough is the basis for my book – pre-crisis leadership.

The smallest viable breakthrough is the construct of building capacity to prevent or prepare for a future crisis, the capacity to learn and grow during discomfort or disequilibrium. It is the capacity to face small obstacles and resistance every day so we are prepared to face big challenges in the future.

In the simplest pre-crisis metaphor, I go to the gym to increase my physical (and mental/emotional) capacity to take on load. And, I do that by showing up and moving weight beyond what is comfortable. I don’t need to push a lot – Steven Kotler says 4% discomfort (from a Google team study). I can’t bench 400 pounds and if I tried, I would be in crisis! However, I start with a challenging weight to do 5, 10, 15 reps… Then, over time, my capacity expands. It grows by showing up consistently. It grows by recovering (reflecting, rejuvenating, etc). It grows from appropriate nutrition and sleep. Then, I believe my capacity is enough to overcome that physical crisis in the future; whether a chronic disease, avoiding an injury, or living viably to 100 years old.

Pre-Crisis leadership recognizes the things I/we are doing (or aren’t doing) that will lead to crisis. Upon this recognition, stepping into discomfort builds capacity. Over time, if and when crisis arrives, I have the capacity to navigate it, potentially protect and serve others, and turn it into an opportunity.

This is my smallest viable breakthrough – (soon to be a NY Times Best Seller)

Turning Pro

In my creatives workshop class, we discussed the difference between being a professional (consistently producing market desired content), an amateur (producing whatever and whenever I am called), and a hack (producing for the sake of being paid).

As I think about it …

I like being an amateur creative. I can show up when I want, give as much energy as I want, and check out whenever I want. Nobody expects greatness, so I won’t let anyone down.

When people ask what I do, I say “I manage my family office (as a professional) and I coach leadership on the side (as an amateur).” Because I’m passionate about coaching, I often do it without pay; and justify that it is my calling. (Literally, the definition of an amateur!)

My passion, purpose, meaning, talents, skills have all grown around coaching, teaching, consulting leadership (and leading of course). It is what my soul wants to do!

Seth Godwin asks “When are you going to turn from being an amateur to a professional?”

And I remember my commitment to flying jets. From about freshman year in college until I retired, every action thought, and feeling was about advancing my capacity as a military officer and fighter pilot. I was inspired and dedicated to fly, fight, and win. I was in Flow. I was a Professional.

So, my answer to Seth? “I will turn pro when I stop playing from comfort and create like my life depends upon it.”

And, my life depends on it!

It is time to turn Pro again!

Leadership is Dangerous

11 Jun 2021

Although this topic is not aligned or timed with my blog series; I had a coaching call with a friend who had just received painful feedback regarding his leadership style. He had been driving a transformation change, set extremely high and impacting goals, and making progress on the issue. He thought he had done a good job collaborating and listening to all the stakeholders involved.

However, constituents started expressing their concerns about his “style” and spreading discontent. They didn’t feel heard or supported. I can’t comment on this, since I am two degrees removed, but I do take the information as important data. And the data reminds us that:

Leadership is dangerous.

If leadership is about realigning that which isn’t working; and if a system is currently in status quo, then introducing change is most-often received negatively; especially for each constituent who has something to lose (which is probably all of them, even if they agree with its need). We also know that some form of disequilibrium or pain always precedes meaningful change. Psychologists show that fear and loss are three times stronger a motivational force than the promise of gain.

Understanding these realities requires leaders to be careful and they should pay attention to “political” discontent, maneuvering or subterfuge. A good stakeholder review, from a place of empathy and curiosity could be accomplished, mapping each member’s values, loyalties and losses.

If not done quickly, this discontent may grow; ultimately subverting the leader’s agenda, and potentially assassinating the leader altogether (metaphorically we hope).

Stakeholders of the work might remove the leader through firing, moving, or even promoting them away. They may undercut them with gossip or by growing false truths. Many times, the constituents might even believe in the change; but undercut it nonetheless. Generating too much pain and discomfort might push the system to actually assassinate the leader; as we’ve seen in the case of Martin Luther King or Robert Kennedy.

So, I wonder, what is happening with my client? Does he have a personality conflict or challenge with some of the stakeholders? Or, more insidiously, is the constituents feeling the heat of his transformational agenda and are fearful of its impact on them? Regardless, he must pay attention to the data and honor this potential political maneuvering if he wants to really make progress on the issue. And, in his case, the stakes are really high; people’s economic futures are at risk.

Bottom Line: “Leadership is Dangerous!”