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Schneider's World: The invisible gauntlet

Friday, August 31, 2012 - 11:59
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I was talking to my coach this morning about the recent progress we’ve made in achieving a couple of critical yet formerly elusive goals.

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Like anyone tasked with the difficult and often risky business of achieving results without the benefit of hands-on involvement, authority or control, his excitement about the progress we’ve made was tempered with his insatiable curiosity and at least a modicum of concern about the ever present possibility of falling backward into the abyss.

We’ve been together for a long time— long enough to know each other pretty well. Or, at least, long enough to foster and embrace that illusion. We’ve been through a lot, and that’s no illusion.

We started working together so long ago I don’t remember not talking to Paul every Thursday morning. If I’m not mistaken, it was more than seven years ago just after my father’s heart surgery. It was the result of my simply realizing that between driving back and forth to three hospitals over a 10-month period (many times, twice a day) that I really needed help focusing on our business. But, really, it was much more than that.

You see, the hard part isn’t knowing what to do.

Most of us know what to do, or at least what needs to be done, almost instinctively. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that if I showed up at your shop and we sat down to talk about your business and what needed to be done in order to get you to the next level of your success, you could come up with three or four critical “To Do’s” right off the top of your head.

The hard part isn’t knowing: the hard part is doing. And a coach’s job is the hardest job of all: trying to get others to do what they need to do, what they have to do, simply by helping them believe in themselves, the task itself, its importance, and, of course, its possibility.

Not so easy to do when success often requires challenging belief systems that have been in place, reinforced and holding each of us hostage for a lifetime.

I guess that’s why it came as no surprise that one of Paul’s first questions this morning was, “Whose belief system was challenged in order to achieve the successes you’ve just recognized?” with “And, why did it take so long?” silently implied in the pregnant pause that followed.

“Whose belief system was challenged?”

My initial reaction was anger. (Sorry, Paul.) I think that’s the way most of us react when we feel threatened. 

The first thing that generally goes through your mind when something like this happens is, “Who are you to ask a question like that? You weren’t here. You don’t know how hard it is to keep all these balls in the air and still make the targets we’ve established. It’s impossible!”

Then reason takes over, and you realize it’s not impossible for two very important reasons. First, you just did it. And, second, a bunch of other shop owners just like you with an almost identical set of impossible challenges has been doing it and, in many cases, doing it better for years.

The bottom line is that everyone’s belief system was challenged in order to achieve the breakthrough we just enjoyed, because no one person, no matter how hard they worked or how diligent their effort, could ever have done it alone.

Everyone had to believe it was important. Everyone had to believe it was necessary. Everyone had to believe it was possible, and everyone had to believe we not only could do it, but that we had to do it, were going to do it and that we were going to do it now.

I say everyone, because success in a business like ours is a “team sport.” It requires everyone to pull in the same direction, everyone to work together to achieve a set of mutually beneficial and agreed upon goals and objectives. But, just as certainly as that is true, it is equally certain that it was my belief system that had been challenged. It was my belief system that had to change before anyone in my organization would ever feel the need or the desire to join me.

I had to fill myself with the kind of contagious confidence that shatters doubt and despair so others could catch it.

You can look anywhere you want to: under the desk, in a corner of the office or outside in the shop. But, in the end, leadership – and, that’s what belief shattering is all about – begins with a leader and if it’s your company, that leader had better be you.

Successful people force themselves to do those things that people who are not successful are either unwilling or unable to do.

Successful coaches help successful people accomplish their success by throwing down a gauntlet: sometimes obvious and visible, other times invisible, that cannot be ignored.

Whose belief system was challenged? Mine. And the results were more than worth the discomfort.

Now, the only question is, when was the last time one of your belief systems was challenged?

If you can’t remember, it’s been too long.

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