Don’t Be A Victim Of Circumstances

As an executive coach it’s profoundly interesting to me how the way we express ourselves either provides venues for improvement or constricts us, by blinding us to existing options. Most of us, when faced with aspects outside our control tend to express ourselves by shifting responsibility to these very aspects. Let me give you a familiar example to illustrate this point.

You’re sitting in a meeting and someone arrives late. The person (let’s call him Jack) enters the room and promptly excuses himself: “Sorry for being late. Traffic was terrible.” (or “My previous meeting ran over and I couldn’t leave.”)

Whose fault is it that Jack arrived late? The traffic, of course.

Whose fault is it NOT? Not Jack’s, of course.

Given such conditions, when will Jack stop being late? When there’s no traffic, of course.

What control does Jack have over the traffic? None whatsoever.

So, whenever we use an excuse like this, we position ourselves as innocent victims of circumstances. What usually blindsides us is that our excuses are usually true. There really was heavy traffic, or the previous meeting really ran over. We usually use such arguments because they exonerate us from the consequences of the occurrence. But there’s a steep price that we pay whenever we use such arguments.

The price we pay for using arguments that exonerate us from guilt is our ability to intervene, to change the outcome of the situation. As Fred Kofman says, “the price we pay for innocence is impotence”. We remain impotent in the face of these external circumstances. In fact, there will always be things that we do not control (like the heavy traffic), but it is within our grasp to decide how we shall respond to these circumstances. We can choose our behavior.

How will you choose to respond to such circumstances? Who will you choose to be? Will you be a victim or will you be an active participant in your personal and professional life?

When we arrive late at a meeting, it’s not really because of the traffic (although there might have been traffic). It’s because we made a choice to sleep in those extra minutes, or because we chose to take route A instead of route B, or because we chose that it was worth it to spend those extra minutes with our kids in the morning. That’s ok! But it is a choice. Owning up to those choices is what makes us alive, responsible and valuable.

So, what might be a better way of expressing ourselves in such situations?

Well, in the above example of arriving late to a meeting, here are some possibilities.

“Sorry for being late! I didn’t account for the heavy traffic.” or “My previous meeting was running late and I decided to spend a few extra minutes in there to make sure we closed the issue.”

What’s so different with these expressions? There is a subject in those sentences. We’re owning the responsibility, and we’re also allowing ourselves to be a part of the solution. Here’s how we become part of the solution.

“My previous meeting was running late and I decided to spend a few extra minutes in there to make sure we closed the issue. So If you can stay a few minutes longer, I’ll be happy to address all your questions. If not, I’ll be available to schedule a follow-up meeting at your convenience”. This doesn’t guarantee that our customer or our coworker will agree to it, but we’ll be responsible for our choices, our actions and for whatever comes out of them – both good and bad.

Further reading:


New Article: Finding Happiness In The Things You Do


“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

– John Lennon

We all want to be happy in life. This means different things to each of us. One thing, however, we all have in common. No one can be truly happy routinely doing things they don’t like doing or they’re not good at.

Most of us are driven by challenging things. When we attain proficiency in something indolence often sets in and we end up doing things we no longer enjoy out of habit or simply because we’re terribly good at doing them. This can be a serious blocker to personal and professional growth. How can we “unblock” ourselves? How can we pursue happiness in the things we do?

Continue to the full article.

New Article: Getting started with Porter’s Generic Strategies

In 1985, in his book Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance, Michael Porter, outlined a set of generic strategies that could be applied to all products or services. Porter called these generic strategies "Cost Leadership" , "Differentiation" and "Focus".

Cost Leadership corresponds to the “no frills” experience, like the low-cost airline carriers, who choose the cost leadership strategy to achieve competitive advantage.

Differentiation, on the other hand, corresponds to the luxury providers, like Rolls Royce or Ferrari or Gucci, Armani or Prada. These companies provide uniquely desirable products or services to their customers.

Focus is all about market segmentation by offering a specialized product or service in a niche market.

  • What are the major differences between strategies?
  • How can you choose the right one for your company?
  • What approach would you follow?
  • Can you choose more than one approach?

The Art Of Delegation

Check out the new article on Delegation in the articles section.

Topics discussed in the article include:

  • The Importance of delegation as a leadership tool
  • Common blockers to delegation
  • Choosing what to delegate and to whom
  • How to delegate effectively and productively
  • The inherent value of delegation for the individuals and the organization

Share your own thoughts and experiences on this article. How do you handle delegation? How do you choose someone to delegate work to? How do you reward a successful job?

The Eisenhower Method

I’ve published a new document with my ideas and experience on the Eisenhower Method of task prioritization and how I use it to leverage David Allen’s GTD framework.

Feel free to comment and provide feedback and your own views or experiences on the subject.

Stress Management 101

We’re living through tough times. Unemployment is rising worldwide, many companies are doing massive layoffs, some are being bought off and others are simply going out of business. Those who are still in business are struggling to ensure quarterly growth to stockholders. This situation creates an increasing pressure upon corporate employees, so being effective in managing stress is quickly becoming a fundamental trait – one that no one can afford to do without.

So, what do I mean by “managing stress” ?

First of all, I don’t think that all stress is bad. The right amount of stress can help us find the drive to address those big issues and achieve bold goals. However, when stress reaches toxic levels we might find ourselves utterly incapable of tackling even the simplest daily task. The thing about stress is that we usually tend to ignore it until it’s too late and our stress level is already toxic – damaging self-esteem, draining energy and eroding relationships. It’s fundamental to recognize signs of stress and actively engage them. The table below contains a few examples I’ve compiled from several sources.

Affecting your normal physical condition

Affecting your normal mental abilities

Affecting your normal interactions with others

  • Anxiety (pounding heart, elevated blood pressure, sweating)
  • Muscle tension or headaches
  • Sleep disturbances (can’t sleep, sleep too much, unusual sleeping hours)
  • Skin rashes
  • Stomach problems
  • Forgetfulness
  • Trembling or other tics (i.e. muscular spasms, eye twitching)
  • Changes in eating patterns (eating too much or too little)
  • Drinking more alcohol
  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Increased smoking
  • Lack of concentration
  • Low productivity
  • Indecisiveness
  • Mind racing or going blank
  • Resistance to change
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Irritability and impatience
  • Envy
  • Apathy or loss of interest in your work
  • Social withdrawal
  • Aggressive driving

Table 1: Signs of stress

Of course, different people worry about different things and deal with stress in different ways, but we usually become stressful due to a feeling of lack of control. To some people control comes in the form of meticulous planning. To others it’s just the opposite. Besides the feeling of lack of control, stress is also usually amplified by premature worrying, that is, worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet. Ever felt like this?

We all know that bad things really do happen (even to nice people). But we still have to make sure that, no matter what we’re worried about, we do so proportionately to the situation in question. If the situation warrants a high degree of concern then we can use this additional stress to tackle the issue at hand in a productive and effective manner.

Although stress is not exclusive to the workplace, it happens that most of our lives and, consequently, our human interactions happen in the workplace. As such, workplace stress has become a serious concern among several international health organizations.

Workplace stress is commonly defined as the harmful physical and emotional response that can erupt when there is a conflict between what is demanded of someone and the level of control that person has over when and how to meet those expectations.

Workplace stress often occurs when the demands of the job and the working environment on a person exceed their capacity to meet them.

There are many situations that factor into this, acting as stressors in the workplace. Typically, the “pressure to perform” means an increasing effort to meet rising expectations with no increase (or even a decrease) in job satisfaction.

This relentless requirement to work at optimum performance takes its toll in the organization producing low job satisfaction, reduced efficiency, among other consequences. At the individual employee level consequences include absenteeism, poor decision-making, indifference, lack of motivation and creativity and, in more extreme cases, illness, alcoholism or other addictions.

Impact of stress in job satisfaction

Figure 1: Effort to meet expectations vs job satisfaction over time

Additionally, stress that the person is experiencing at home (marital difficulties, financial problems) also adds to the equation and, as I’ve mentioned previously (see “Balancing Work and Personal Life”), we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a stable personal life in our work performance.

So, understanding the nature of work related stress (particularly it’s symptoms) is a first step. This awareness can trigger the realization that we might be needing a break to step back, look at the big picture, assess and weigh our options and determine a course of action that steers us away from toxically stressful situations.


Decision Process

Before making a decision, first decide on how to decide.

We often tend to forget many of the tools or frameworks available to us when we have to make decisions. We end up procrastinating decisions just because we haven’t defined what the decision making process is.

I was recently reminded of this point as I sat in a meeting where no one could reach a decision because it had to be consensual, so everyone ended up discussing small and irrelevant details that added absolutely nothing to the topic at hand and consensus was reached only after a lengthy and mostly unproductive discussion. Have you ever been on a meeting like this?

After the meeting I had to ask myself why was it necessary for the decision to be consensual? Was it that relevant for everyone involved? I don’t think so. Was there any other way to make a decision and move on? I believe there was.

Situations like this often happen because there is no clear understanding about how decisions are to be made. So, before you have to make a decision first decide on how you’re going to decide. There are basically four ways to make a decision:

Commanding – Having all the information you need you make the decision yourself and communicate what it is. You find this decision making process in law enforcement and in the military, for instance.

Consulting – You need additional information so you consult whomever you need to get it. After having all the information the responsibility of making the decision is still yours and yours alone.

Consensus – The topic is relevant to everyone involved so everyone has to agree before moving forward. This model is usually the most time consuming of the four.

Voting – The quintessential democratic method. Everyone votes on the topic and a decision is reached based on the ballot (there are many ways to tally the votes).

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