Louis C.K. on Positive Discomfort

It’s easy to start feeling content. Just ask any leader who has stopped being innovative. I prefer to take the Louis C.K. approach.

“You’ve got to embrace discomfort,” acclaimed comedian Louis C.K. recently said. “It’s the only way you can put yourself in situations where you can learn, and the only way you can keep your senses fresh once you’re there.”

Once a leader has reached a particular goal, there’s a natural tendency to relax. Initially, the break is intended to last a day or two so you can recharge your mental batteries.  A few days becomes a week, which becomes a month. Next thing you know, the quarter is over and you have nothing to show for it.

The only easy day was yesterday. – SEAL training motto

Louis C.K. tells a great story about when his all-white junior high underwent integration as a result of the civil rights movement. He wanted to get to know this group of people for whom he had no previous familiarity. So he began sitting with them at lunch. “It was awkward and scary, but I made a lot of black friends, and that was the only way to do it. It had to be uncomfortable…Sometimes discomfort is the only way through.”

Leaders need to test themselves daily. You need to push harder that you did yesterday. Test another limit. Do something out of your comfort zone that will stretch your mind and result in another opportunity to learn something new.

Seth Rogen on Flexibility

A common mistake amongst leaders is that in the midst of a project, they become rigid. That’s when Seth Rogen can step in to remind us of how important it is to remain flexible.

When writing his latest movie, Neighbors, Seth Rogen and his writing partner changed the plot of the movie with only three weeks before filming was to begin. They changed the entire focus of the movie because they were not satisfied. When asked why, Seth stated, “We really try to make it where it gets to the point where we can stand behind everything in it with 100 percent confidence. We’ve tried to punch every hole into it that we can. If it holds up, it holds water, as we always say.”

Leaders need to set the same high standards…and most do. The problem is that many get caught up in an idea or have lost sight of the goal. Others get so fixated on the deadline that they willingly cut corners. Either way, their success is hampered by an inability to change course.

The script becomes an ever-evolving thing. You can’t be afraid of making big-idea changes…Once an idea seems good, then you have to do it, and that’s what we do. Or, once an idea seems bad, you have to fix it. – Seth Rogen

According to Bill McBean’s new book, The Facts of Business Life, there are essentially five characteristics of great leaders, flexibility being the first. According to Bill, “leaders have to be able to change course; that is, first make sure their businesses will survive, and then find a new way to reach their goals.”

Not everything goes as planned. Priorities may change or someone on the team can have an epiphany that will potentially improve the output. As the leader, you need to be open to these ideas. It can be stressful to change the direction of a project at the last minute, but Seth Rogen stands behind every movie with 100% confidence. Can you make the same declaration about your work?

Chris Hardwick on Goal Attainment

Have you ever set a big goal, achieved it, and walked away feeling unfulfilled? Maybe you were too focused on the end and didn’t take the time to appreciate how you got there.

If this seems unusual, consider what Chris Hardwick, the host of the show At Midnight and founder of Nerdist.com, recently said on his podcast: “Good or bad you have to enjoy the process because the goal achievement, the attainment of the goal is so fleeting.”

When I asked a few success entrepreneurs about the dawn of their career, they spoke of the hard times, the bumps and setbacks they faced to get where they are – failed endeavors, botched decisions, unfortunate timing. You might think that reliving these disappointments would stir frustration. Instead, they recalled these times with fondness. In hindsight, these individuals enjoyed the process. Many even said that they would go back and do it again if they could.

You don’t really grow in the attainment moment, you grow during the process. — Chris Hardwick

Leaders often get so caught up in reaching the finish line that they lose sight of everything they did to get there. This is understandable; leaders, by nature, are driven to reach goals. Just consider that you spend little of your life realizing results. Most of your time is devoted to the preparation, learning, and incrementally struggle to conquer the challenges.

Take a breath to appreciate what’s happening right now. Carpe diem is an overused phrase, but that does not mean it’s inconsequential.  We need to celebrate the small wins along the way. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for those around you who need the encouragement.

Counting Crows on Change

There is no finish line. Leaders are competitive by nature, so this idea is unsettling, but it is the truth. Success is a moving target and complacency puts you that much farther behind everyone else.  The Counting Crows are a band that has exemplified this for almost 25 years.

If you’ve ever seen the Counting Crows in concert, it is quite an experience. While reminiscent, every song is distinctly different from the album. And if you heard them play it live last year, it’ll be different this year. In a recent interview, Adam Duritz, the lead singer, stated, “I’m sure they are very different now than they were twenty years ago, but they were different the first week of the first tour than they were the second week of the first tour. That’s a constant thing. We’ve never felt the need to play the song the way it was on the record. There’s no slavery to that.”

Too many leaders get stuck in the “that’s how I’ve always done it” approach. They find something that works and refuse to reexamine how time has affected its relevance. For instance, I worked with one CEO who started his weekly executive meetings at 8:00 every Monday morning. This was reasonable when he founded the company in 1985. Since then, it’s become national with people located all over the country. The Seattle office would prefer not to start at 5:00am Western time, but this CEO is not willing to change. The meeting has always started at 8:00am.

The record was just one moment, and I like it. It’s a moment that you try to capture in time… It’s more important to me to play it how you’re feeling than it is to try to recapture some exact moment that doesn’t really matter anyways. – Adam Duritz

Leadership’s decisions should not be changed on a whim. There simply needs to be a willingness to change, an openness to hearing feedback, and an intellectual curiosity to consider why things get done the way they do.

To keep yourself open to change, consider the advice from the Forbes article Throw Your Old Plan Away:

Learn new information.   Whether it’s learning about the latest industry trends or reading a blog about leadership, increasing knowledge sparks new ideas and keeps us in a change mode.

Build new relationships. As the saying goes, “A smart man learns from his own mistakes; a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” Being able to share experiences and insights with other educated peers will only make you better.

Create new feedback mechanisms for yourself.   You can’t evolve without receiving feedback from others. Create channels where people can give you their thoughts. Seek out input.

Leslie Knope on Energy

I am always struck by Leslie Knope’s work ethic. It’s not a motivation to get promoted or earn more money, it’s her determination to make a difference.

If you’ve never seen the show Parks and Rec, Leslie is an energetic, enthusiastic public official. She’s obsessed with her job and the city in which she serves. Her role models are regional directors for the U.S. Parks Department and she has a crush on Vice President Joe Biden. Yes, Leslie found her calling.

Leslie is surrounded by a team of people who are not quite as dedicated to the job, but they work hard. Why? Because Leslie’s enthusiasm is contagious. She pushes them to achieve big goals and pushed herself even more. She shows gratitude throughout the process and demonstrates her affection for them all while maintaining unreachably high standards.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to exhibit the same Leslie Knope-like energy. Working for her must be exhausting, but also incredibly rewarding. Our staff should feel that same self-gratification.

Leslie illustrates the need to be sincere. She could not keep up her arduous schedule without believing in what she’s doing whole hardily. In her book The Managed Heart, Arlie Russell Hochschild described the all-too-common condition where “appearing to love the job becomes part of the job.” If you’ve ever had a job you did not like (and who hasn’t), then you remember how tiring it is to fake excitement. So, if your work is not riveting, what can you get passionate about? The people? The organization’s mission?

A few other tips to renew your energy from the HBR article Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time include:

Live your core values. Don’t take shortcuts around your personal code of ethics; its demoralizing.

Fuel positive emotions in yourself and others. Regularly express appreciation to others in detailed, specific ways. This boosts their energy and, in return, yours.

Allocate time to what you consider to be important. Every waking hour may not be exciting, but you need to make your passion projects a priority.

People feed off your energy. It shows that you’re engaged, interested and enjoying what you do. Throw in some lofty expectations and a tinge of competence, and you’re modeling behaviors that others will want to emulate.