Michelle Lowbridge is the UK’s leading energy expert for personal and business success and bestselling author of Wealthology® and The Agile CEO. In this in-depth article for SLOAN!, she shares invaluable advice and insider secrets on the seven ways you can become an Agile CEO.
Your success depends on your ability to adapt to your environment. That’s the very basis of Evolutionary Theory. I’m a Charles Darwin fan, to the extent that my son was called Darwin for the first 24 hours of his life. Every time we said his name, it sounded like ‘Darling’ with a speech impediment, so he’s now called Jackson.
Survival of the Fittest is not about being the strongest, biggest, or fastest. It’s not even about being the best at Cross Fit. It actually means survival of that which is the best ‘fit’ for its environment.
When the environment changes, the Fittest adapt, and they are the survivors. In business, everything can shift on a sixpence, inside sixty seconds. To succeed, you must be capable of making brilliant decisions – quickly. In short, you must be agile.
Here’s my quick-and-dirty guide: 7 ways you can become an Agile CEO – today.
1. Know That Everyone Must Win
Every era of humanity has cultural shifts where the mass population decides that something previously ignored is no longer acceptable. It used to be acceptable in the West to employ and marry children, and traffic slaves. It was ok to rape your wife, abuse your kids, and jail men for being homosexual. As we advance as a society, the overlooked becomes something the majority of the developed world disapproves of. And guess what?
The vast accumulation of wealth, without consideration for others, is on the list of activities that are no longer being ignored. The shift we’re experiencing now, the next phase of humanity, is about being conscious of the sort of human being you are. It’s about being decent. It’s about knowing at the end of every day, and at the end of your lifetime, that you consistently did right by other people – and by yourself.
Here’s the thing: It all begins with you. You have to adapt first, and the main thing required of you is the truth. Believe it or not, other people can handle the truth.
At the very centre of a true win/win is honesty. It requires all parties to be completely upfront about what they want as an outcome. This is not the time to get tangled up in which truth to tell, or how everything is all subjective. What is required of you is to firmly state your truth. Absolute transparency, and open communication, and nothing less will do.
You must then give full permission to the other parties to do the same. Without judgement, disapproval, or disbelief. Without declaring ‘they’re fecking crazy’ and marching out of the room (I know you only do this in your head, it’s still not helpful). You stay in the room. And then you find out why the other party wants what they want. You seek to understand exactly what is at the core of their demands.
When you understand someone’s reasons for wanting something, it opens up other options for providing it. If the deal on the table isn’t what you want, it’s quite possible that you can actually satisfy their demands by adjusting the deal to suit you both. It works the other way too – if you’ve been honest about why you want something, it gives the other party an opportunity to give it to you in a way you hadn’t been expecting.
Insider Secret: Neutralize
Get that monkey mind of yours into neutral. In negotiations, your primal brain is easily triggered into fear-mode. This makes it hard to be receptive and open to ideas, so you’re much less likely to hear what you need to know in order to create a genuine win-win. Silently repeat to yourself: neutral, neutral, neutral. It sends a rapid message to the subconscious brain to stand-down, and enables you to communicate much more effectively.
2. Get In The Trenches With Your Team
It’s really hard to be agile when you’re constantly looking over your shoulder. Picture an Olympic relay team. The gold medalists make their baton changes with only the tiniest of backwards glances. You’ve got to be able to trust your people – and that means they have to trust you. It’s easy to become isolated when you’re running a business, and it’s often a result of finding it difficult to set boundaries. Investing a small amount of time in understanding why you’re behaving in a certain way always pays massive dividends, so have a think about what’s going on with you.
There are five fears that managers have, which stop them effectively creating and communicating boundaries to their team:
1. Fear of losing authority.
2. Fear of caring too much.
3. Fear of not being able to solve the problem
4. Fear of not being able to communicate
5. Fear of not being thought of as wise
Have a look at these fears. Equip yourself with humour, and allow yourself to be honest. Which of these do you have? I guarantee you that you’re affected by at least one of them, probably more than three, and possibly all five. There’s no shame in it. You’re human, remember? Fear is a funny thing, when you pinpoint exactly what you’re afraid of, it stops being an elusive enemy. When you can see it, you can deal with it. You can rationalize it, you can address it, you can laugh at it and move forward.
Insider Secret: Keep Your Sense of Humour
It’s so easy to leave your ability to laugh at the door when you enter the office. The irony is, that doing so makes your job much harder. The higher you climb, the more serious you think you have to be. Human beings are fecking hilarious. Their behaviour is funny. Of course, it’s not wise to make fun of your employees or laugh at them, this isn’t about mocking anybody or having a joke at someone’s expense. It’s about being willing to laugh at yourself, to be human, to admit it when your ego is acting up. You’re a model for your employees – so stop trying to be perfect; the pressure is killing you, and creating a bad atmosphere for them.
3. Make Yourself Happy First
Did you know that keeping everyone else happy is an impossible task? I mean, I know you have a suspicion that that is true, but have you realised yet that it is, actually impossible? You cannot, physically, CANNOT make everyone else happy. Do you know why? Because you can’t actually make anyone happy.
Happiness is an inside job. It’s up to the individual to cultivate their own happiness. And until they do, nothing you do will make them happy. Sure, you might please them, for a few moments, a few days, maybe weeks, maybe even years. But you won’t make them happy. That’s not the way life works.
This is true in life, love – and business.
You must get clear on what you value. Then you must ruthlessly focus on it. A list of what’s essential to you becomes a filter through which you can quickly pour every decision. When you get a sharp insight into what needs to happen, you must make intentional, even aggressive, action towards your goals. That doesn’t mean being aggressive in your nature; it means being determined, and not allowing yourself to be thrown off track.
If this sounds like a terrible idea, you’re forgetting something: You are an inherently good person. You have kind intentions. You want the best for other people. Therefore, by default, when you go after what you want, the things that genuinely feel good to you will automatically be the things that benefit others. If you try and focus on everyone else first, you end up pleasing nobody. And then you wonder why you’re thinking about day-time drinking.
Insider Secret: Turn Detective
Ask yourself these three innocent-looking questions to really get to the truth of what you want: What have I given up on because it seems futile? What do I secretly hope is going to fail? What benefits am I secretly getting from not handling certain situations?
4. Take Responsibility For Your Own Baggage
If you want health, wealth, and happiness, you have to stop denying the truth: you are not just a brain in a meat-sack of a body. You’re a human, you’ve got feelings (it’s ok, I won’t tell anybody). Those feelings have been hurt in the past, shitty things have happened to you, and they’re now affecting how well you can function.
Think of it like this: every experience you have creates a story about how things work. When you come to take action, your brain scans your memory for relevant information that might be useful, and uses it to make your decision. This happens so fast you have no idea what most of the information is. Unfortunately, what your brain thinks is ‘useful’ is often not as helpful as you might hope.
That’s your baggage, and to put it down, you first need to realise that you’re hauling it around with you. You can either do this now; look inside yourself, admit things have gone wrong, and decide to sort it out. Or you can half-ass it, not really bother, carry on as you are, and get sicker and more miserable. I’ll tell you one absolute truth: Life will keep kicking you in the ass until you decide to have your moment of self-recognition.
But, I hear you cry, I have a company to run, I’ve got to focus on making money! I hear you. I know that. Did you know that your personal evolution is essential for your profit margins? If you’re not developing, how can you develop anything else?
Insider Secret: Reflect and Recognise
This is an opportunity to look deep within yourself, just by asking a few simple questions, and being truthful in your answers. When you do that, you trigger a healing process. When you learn the lesson that each piece of baggage represents, you can put it down. It’s that simple. You just have to be brave enough to sit still, be quiet, ask the question, and listen to your own answers.
Sit still, get quiet, close your eyes, and ask: “Who am I now?” Then ask: “What from my past is affecting me now?” When you’ve found a memory, ask: “What do I still need to learn from this experience?”
The most important thing, as always, is to arm yourself with truth, humour, and empathy. You’ve got to be kind to yourself to do this work.
5. Start With Love
In his TedTalk, Start with Why, Simon Sinek teaches the concept that the most powerful brands in the world are driven by why they do what they do. He gives the example of Apple – rather than being driven to build faster computers, they’re focused on thinking differently, and making things easy to use. Many companies use this approach to create a mission statement. Uber’s vision is “Transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere for everyone.” Google’s vision is “To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useable.”
There’s a huge trend amongst entrepreneurs right now to share their ‘vision’, their mission statement, their ‘why’. And in terms of marketing, it makes sense – customers connect to visions, and if they like the sound of yours, they’ll follow what you’re up to, and some day they might buy from you.
By all means, have a mission statement, and an appealing, shareable vision for your marketing. What I invite you to do, is go one step further. Cut right to the chase, and harness the full power of this approach. Don’t start with why. Start with love. Put love at the very centre of your mission, and make it the driving force behind everything you do. If you master this, every single decision will become much simpler. You will feel clear, agile, and you will always know the right thing to do. And when you operate that way, the only possible outcome is success.
I know what happens when you read this. If you’ve silenced the monkey enough, it might make you feel emotional. That’s because you know it’s true. And then the fears kick in:
- Fear of being laughed at
- Fear of being wrong
- Fear of people mocking me
- Fear of not being able to do what I want
Have a think about those now. Remember, if you identify the fear, and give it a name, you can deal with it. You can rationalise it, get some therapy to deal with it, speak to your coach about it, or just tell it to screw itself.
Here’s the good news: You don’t even have to tell anyone that you’re driven by love. Just start. Just be yourself. The core of you, underneath all the effort, anxiety, and bad temper, is really great. Start recalling all those lovely, natural qualities, that used to be enough, before you convinced yourself that you’re an imposter. Imagine if you could relax, smile, make jokes, engage with people and admire their talents, take time to listen, calm their fears, and give them some direction. How about finding out more about the people around you, how they grew up, what drives them, what they worry about, why they come to work every day, what they believe in. Without judgement, without agenda, just purely for the joy of showing someone some love and attention. Wouldn’t that be a great way to spend your time? Imagine if you just started doing it…
Insider Secret: Start With Love
List 10 things you appreciated that day about the 3 people closest to you. Every night for two weeks to make a difference… then keep doing it. Whatever you put your attention on encourages the brain to search for more evidence of it. So start focusing on how much there is to love about the people around you.
6. Optimise Your Environment
Do you want the secret to optimizing your optimization? Optimism. Often discounted as ‘wishful-thinking’, optimism has been given a bad rap by the positive-thinking brigade who cheerfully chant affirmations as they struggle through life without addressing their real problems. Make no mistake: there’s much more to optimism than that, and it’s a non-negotiable element of true success.
The root of ‘optimize’ is the Latin optimus; meaning ‘best’ – a condition or compromise that produces the best possible result. The root of ‘optimism’ is the Latin optimum; meaning ‘best thing’ – the most favourable. And the stem of these is the Latin op; meaning ‘power’, ‘ability to help’, ‘plenty’ and ‘wealth’.
It’s easy when you’re taking knocks, losing your best people, and facing cutbacks, to lose your sense of optimism. To see the ‘old’ you, who saw the best in things as an idealistic fool who didn’t know any better. You’re wrong. Before you became jaded, and a bit cynical, you were an optimist. And your optimism was actually creating the conditions that produced the best, most favourable, results.
To optimize, you start creating those conditions again, by safeguarding yourself, your environment, and your team, from chaos.
Chaos is anything that brings disorder or confusion. It’s your job to protect yourself and your people from these things. That means dealing with disruptive people in your personal life, and your professional life. It might mean finding a peaceful resolution by calling a truce with someone. It might mean giving yourself peace by removing their access to you, even temporarily. Make no mistake – those people who unsettle you, infuriate you, play ‘devil’s advocate’, make you doubt yourself, or seek to undermine you, have no place in an optimal environment. These people are parasites that are eating your profits, and it’s your job to find out why. A team is not a team if everyone isn’t playing for the same side, and shooting for the same goal. You must be completely honest with yourself about who doesn’t deliver. Who can’t execute at the level they need to, in order to be effective? Who is always equipped with excuses?
Insider Secret: Eliminate Chaos
Have the conversations you’ve been avoiding with each of the disrupters in your environment. It must be done with fairness, honesty – and optimism. Everyone has their own ‘stuff’ to deal with, and their own unique way of being human. It’s not just people that cause chaos. Poor systems must be dealt with. Who and what are the weak links in your chains of command, communication, and production? make a list of what you need to deal with. Everything from a pile of junk sitting on a desk, to a meeting that always runs late, to a supplier who doesn’t meet deadlines. Stop hiding from the truth, operate from your heart – and sort it out.
7. Take Responsibility For Not Giving Responsibility
Responsibility is often the burden that weighs heaviest on your CEO shoulders. You’re programmed to expect more responsibility every time you make more money. When you’re earning far more than your father did, or your grandfather, or your entire family put together, work becomes a desperate search for things to take responsibility for. Coupled with your body’s fight-flight response to stress, you’re now on constant high alert, looking around for problems and believing that it’s down to you – and only you – to find the solutions.
When this has been going on for some time, it might seem impossible to rectify. It’s not. It’s just a matter of regaining control, by recognising exactly how you’ve created the problem, and doing something about it. It can be a sickening feeling to address issues of responsibility, and to accept that you’ve contributed to things going badly. The funny thing is, you take responsibility most of the time, internally and externally, for everything, and give yourself a lot of grief in the process. The one area you avoid having a frank conversation about, is the one causing you the most stress: defining your exact responsibilities, and giving direct orders to others about theirs.
There are five fears that keep CEOs and entrepreneurs holding onto responsibility that isn’t their own:
- Fear of being perceived incorrectly
- Fear of making people sad
- Fear of not being accepted
- Fear of being hostile
- Fear of being bullied
When these fears are triggered it’s impossible to make brilliant, agile, aligned decisions, because you’re operating from a place of pessimism, negativity, and fear.
Insider Secret: Recalibrate Your Brain
Get your body, mind and energy into an agile state, rather than a fear-based one. Remember times when you were rebellious, relaxed, proud, and completely honest. Focus on the those memories, and turn up the sensations of being determined, calm, dignified, and truthful. You can download a free five-minute Mindset Adjuster audio of this process at www.michellelowbridge.com/agileceogift.
By taking a few minutes every day to recalibrate the brain, by focusing on experiences which reflect the best of life, rather than the worst, you can quickly rewire it. Your skull contains a remarkable piece of hardware. If you choose to take responsibility for the software it’s running, you can rapidly transform how your brain operates, optimise your performance, and not only create success – but also enjoy it.
The most important thing is to be clear on your intention: to recalibrate your mindset for success, brilliance, and agile decision-making – to be fully equipped for the day ahead, regardless of what occurs.
About Michelle Lowbridge
Michelle is an Author, Teacher and Leader on the art of unlocking human potential and is the UK’s leading energy expert for personal and business success. Her first book Wealthology®, was aimed at coaches who work with entrepreneurs, and was an enormous success. Her second book, The Agile CEO, is aimed at entrepreneurs and CEOS, with the aim of enabling them to reduce stress and make better decisions. Wealthology® is out in print in July 2017, and is also available on Kindle. The Agile CEO is out on Kindle now and in print later this year. For more information about Michelle, go to www.michellelowbridge.com