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Wednesday
Aug252010

The Boiled Frog

You may have heard of this term. I know it conjures up an image you might find on a menu in a strange land but it is actually a well known analogy having to do with how small gradual changes can accumulate and sneak up on us. Before we know it we're asking ourselves, "How did I get here?" The lesson of the Boiled Frog is this: If you put a frog in warm water it will jump out because it still has the strength in its legs to do so. If, however, you put the frog in warm water and s-l-o-w-l-y turn up the heat, its leg muscles will grow too weak to save itself.

In their book, Executive Stamina, father and son team Marty and Joshua Seldman discuss the traps, and ways to avoid or get out of them, that face executives. Many of them echo the theme of my past articles in that it is about how executives think about their responsibilities, their priorities, their values, etc. that drives them to make choices that can slowly over time boil their strength and endurance until they can no longer get themselves out of that state let alone deal effectively while in it.
 
But where does one begin when you feel the heat rising? When you don't feel like you have the strength to jump out of the boiling water? You begin where it always begins...with your values. What do you care about? The idea here is to achieve alignment and congruency between your personal values and life and your professional values and life. When there is a disconnect, priorities of family, relationships and commitments start to slide off the plate and you find yourself apologizing more and more and the receivers of your apologies find that it means less and less.
 
Pick up this book and do yourself, your family, your career, your team and your organization a favor and go through it. Don't wait until you are feeling the temperature rising...get ahead of it. Take the time to reflect on what your priorities are in all facets of your life and how you can give appropriate time to them by thinking differently about how to do so. For example, how about bundling them together? Do you wish you exercised more, hung out with your kids and your spouse, spent more time in that beautiful park down the street? Grab your bikes and make a family outing--exercise, family time and seeing the park all in one shot. They also address how to advance your career, protect your calendar and how important it is to get clarity around what is expected of you in all areas of your life. This helps you with the "I can do that" syndrome which can end up as "How am I gonna do that?"
 
One of the walls executives also run into is taking on more than they can do. This requires a reality check. One thing humans are very poor at doing is accurately assessing how much time something they say yes to is going to take. "Could you please be a coach of the soccer team?" Sure! "We would love to have you serve on our board of directors?" Would love to! Couple that with not knowing how to say a positive no or delegate and you are on your way to creating a span of time during which your kids will have no recollection of you in their lives when they think back. Blank. Nada. Zip.  I know. This happened with my father and I. (I am glad to report that he made a massive career change in his mid-40's because of this growing chasm in our family, and was able to be more present as well as more satisfied in his job. Today, we have a very close and abiding relationship.) You don't have to leave your job, but you do have to get your priorities straight, know when and how to say no and make definitive decisions you stick to.
 
Another area that the Seldmans talk about how to get from where you are to a better place. They talk about setting minimums. These are goals that you know you can commit to and meet. Many people, and you know who you are, set these fantastic goals and expect to go from never doing something to doing it 4 times a week. Take getting home on time, for example. You make a bold statement and drive a stake in the ground declaring, "I'm going to be home and eat with my family 4 nights a week and turn my blackberry off." Right, how many times have you done that in the last year? Uh, zero? Let's get real. Start small. You can always do more but seek to consistently meet your minimums first for 30 consecutive days. Then adjust up. Remember you're going to be setting minimums in several areas of your life so make sure you can follow through. This teaches the brain to build new neural connections as you make decisions throughout the day that will support your ability to keep to your commitments. Most importantly, it will make you (and others) feel good that you are keeping your commitments.
 
At this point, you also need to be aware of what Joshua and Marty call "shifts and drifts". These are flags that tell you when you're slowly moving away from your goals (drifts-think boiled frog) and when things around you-events, relationships, industry- shift. This requires you to respond and think about how these changes are potentially going to impact your values and priorities and what you choose to do about them.
 
The idea behind what I'm saying here, and so are the Seldmans, is to build a reliable framework to use to help you sort out life and all the things that come with it. To help you maintain that alignment, authenticity and quality. It's not a one and done thing either. Just like business owners must create a business plan that doesn't mean they don't keep revisiting it to see if it's still relevant and working for them or if it require some tweaks. Our external world and internal experiences of dealing with that world are always in flux and therefore it is a great idea to have a way to pull off the road once in a while and see if all systems are still functioning well or are we beginning to overheat. Check out this book and let me know what you think.


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    The Boiled Frog - Blog - Karla Robertson - The Executive's NeuroCoach
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