Why Perseverance Might Actually Be Hurting Your Career

This post originally appeared on the Leadership Forces Blog

Perseverance is a good thing. It is a value that drives us towards success and achievement helping us to overcome challenges along the way.

But it has the potential to trap us in mental prisons. Understand this and you’ll be able to spot where perseverance and determination can trip you up…

The Sunk Cost Fallacy

There is a misconception that we make rational decisions based on the future value of objects, investments and experiences.

The reality is that our decisions are tainted by the emotional investments that we accumulate. As we invest more into something, it becomes harder to walk away from it.

This describes something that economists refer to as the ‘sunk cost fallacy’. A sunk cost is something that can never be regained and the fallacy is that despite us never being able to regain it, we continue to ‘throw good money after bad.’

It is this type of trap that keeps us fighting wars that we cannot win.

Politicians cannot walk away from conflicts unless they can point to a clear outcome and prove that they somehow improved the situation. The human and financial cost must be ‘for something’ or it ends up being in vain. The problems come when these costs mount but a clear goal becomes harder to achieve. We get stuck, looking for something, anything to prove that ‘it was all worth it.’

It is this type of thinking that traps people in relationships that do not work for them. If you’ve been with someone for ten years, it can be difficult to just walk away. There is a sunk cost based on your time and emotional investment. Often people will view it as risky to walk away, even if they know that the other person simply isn’t right for them.

Avoiding Risk vs. Seeking Reward

In Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow, he explains how human evolution has hardwired us to avoid risk.

All decision-making involves some form of uncertainty about the future. We have to balance the risk and the reward in our minds before taking action. We like to think that we balance the scales evenly but the reality is that we are more anti-losing than we are pro-gaining.

We favour ‘avoiding loss’ rather than ‘seeking gain’.

This is hardwired into us by our evolution. Organisms that placed a higher priority on avoiding threats than on maximising opportunities tended to survive. This instinct was rewarded by survival and then passed on through the gene pool. The cumulative impact of this behaviour is that loss aversion is still a very powerful driver of human behaviour.

When I first started my own business, I delivered a number of talks at events that were put on by industry bodies. When the event was free to attend, turnout was usually 50% of the numbers that signed up. When the attendees had to pay, even if it was as little as £20, the attendance ratios shot up to around 70%. When I spoke to the organisers they said that the money didn’t generate a great deal of revenue, they charged because they wanted to create a commitment to attend. They were deliberately using ‘loss aversion’ to drive up attendance of their events.

It seems strange but when you realise our decision-making is driven by emotion, not logic, you can start to see why they chose to charge. Loss aversion is a powerful driver of human behaviour.

Can we use Loss Aversion to our Advantage?

In short, yes, I believe we can. If you understand this human bias, you can use it to influence others such as in the example above.

But you can also use it to drive yourself to persevere through difficult challenges.

I joined Royal Marines Officer Training in 2005. I am not going to talk about the entire 15 months worth of training in this article but I want to give you a sense for the type of people that get through the selection process. The number of people that applies varies annually but there are probably several hundred that walk into a recruitment centre saying that they want to join the Corps as Officers. Physical fitness, Leadership Potential, Medical and Academic tests whittle the numbers down over a six-day selection process. The top 60 that pass and get the highest scores join the Young Officer Batch in September every year. Around 30 finish the course.

It’s hard to generalise about the type of people that join. The organisation is truly an egalitarian elite – anyone can join provided you meet the standards. This means that we have a mix of graduates and non-graduates, public and state educated, working class and upper class lads.

But joining and ‘passing out’ are two different things. To pass the course you must be determined and you must be able to endure suffering. Why you join doesn’t really matter, it is why you stay that counts.

The point I am making here is that it was f**king hard to get in and even harder to get through it.

And I can safely say that I struggled through nearly all of it, from start to finish. I was rubbish in training. Slow to adapt and pick things up, I think every mistake or shortcut I took was noticed by the Training Team. I survived rather than thrived in training.

What got me through it prevented me from giving up was an exploitation of the sunk cost fallacy.

I rationalised that if I gave up in the first 20-30% of an activity, an exercise or even the whole course, I could not say that I had given it everything I had. I hadn’t done enough.

Once I had passed that 20-30% point in my head, I thought ‘if I give up now, everything I have done up until this point will be a waste of time, so I might as well finish it.’

This proved to be a good mental model that I used to get me through training and I suspect other people that were successful used similar techniques.

The sunk cost fallacy can drive us to persevere and endure suffering. It can help us to achieve great things that we never thought possible by delaying gratification.

Many people who achieve great success will exploit this mental model in some form or another to get where they want to go.

This works well provided it is CONSCIOUS and we are aware of what we are doing.

The challenge comes when the sunk cost fallacy drives our behaviour subconsciously. It has the potential to put us on autopilot without us even realising it.

I believe that this type of loss aversion is responsible for more human behaviour than we realise and it is one of the major factors that prevents us from embracing change.

Southern Rail Strikes – Loss Aversion and Skills Redundancy

The Southern Rail Train strikes are evidence of this type of thinking. Trains can be run almost entirely without people. The Singapore metro system and the DLR are examples that prove it can work. But that’s hard to accept that a job that you’ve been doing for 20 years can be done better by a machine and that is at the crux of this issue. Train drivers and conductors are just the first to suffer the unfortunate experience of ‘skills redundancy’.

Automation has suddenly made their skills irrelevant. That’s painful to accept when you’ve invested time in learning how to do something.

Pilots, Taxi and Truck Drivers will be next…

As I look at my seven month old son and wonder what he will do for a living, I honestly do not believe that he will have the opportunity to be a commercial pilot.

The cost of training a person to fly a plane is high – however you chose to measure it. And humans are not necessarily better at doing it than machines. The RAF will be the first to feel this.

Why train someone to be a fighter pilot when a drone can do the same job cheaper and with less risk?

Why would anyone want to put an individual’s life at risk and fly over enemy territory when I can get a machine to do it?

This applies even if we change the context from the air to the land.

Why would I want a person to defuse a bomb when I can get a machine to do it?

The risk equation changes when you take an individual’s life out of the picture.

If we don’t need fighter pilots, can we really justify needing commercial pilots? There will become a point where people will get comfortable with a machine driving or flying them. Once that happens, it will be pilots and drivers who go on strike – the train drivers will have lost that battle by then.

The Sunk Cost Fallacy creates Mental Prisons

The sunk cost fallacy drives us as individuals but it can also lead us to create prisons for ourselves.

A high proportion of people do not like what they do for a living. They spend 40-60hrs of their week ‘surviving’. Sometimes this is because they dislike that job but more often than not, it’s due to the influence of the people that they have to work for – their leaders – that make their jobs so unpleasant.

Despite this, they keep telling themselves that ‘it’s a good job, and they’re lucky to have it’. They keep going because they ‘don’t want to let other people down’. They ‘cannot afford to quit’ because their cost of living has risen to match their salary or they ‘can’t leave yet’ as they’ve only been there for six months.

These thoughts trap people into unhealthy patterns of behaviour.

This way of thinking forces people to work late and on weekends sacrificing time with their children and partners – time they can never get back.

Now there are times when you will need to push the peddle to the floor and work hard, sometimes even over a weekend. I accept that.

What I cannot accept is that this is necessary for three weekends out of four or that working from 8-11pm should become the new normal. This is unsustainable. It is the equivalent of trying to run the marathon at a sprinting pace. At some point, you will have to stop or something will break. We are not machines, despite what we might think, and we do have limits. We might not drop dead and collapse when we reach breaking point – although that does happen.

What actually happens is a slow decline in effectiveness.

You become good at smashing through tasks and getting things done but less good at challenging whether they should be done or searching for smarter ways of achieving the same result.

You maximise on efficiency whilst sacrificing effectiveness.

So how do you know when our decision-making is being affected by the sunk cost fallacy? How do we break out of the cycle?

The first thing you have to do is stop and reflect. Ask some questions.

  • Where am I now?
  • How long have I been working like this?
  • What is the impact on my health and the important relationships in my life?
  • Is the situation going to change – or am I going to have to?

If you had £100k and a gun to your head and you were being forced to place a bet, would you put the money on the situation changing or staying the same? That will give you the answer. You are being forced to think objectively – not hope.

Not many bosses are likely to have the balls to tell you to work less, you’re making them look good so many of them will try and reinforce this type of behaviour, unaware of the impact it may have on you in the long-term.

So if the situation isn’t going to change, you have to change your approach.

  • How am I going to behave differently?
  • Do I need to put up some boundaries or set some decision-points ahead of me?

If this situation has been unmanageable and you feel like you have been surviving – put in place some structures to help you regain control. Boundaries can help you regain control over the current situation. Decision-points force you into taking action.


Boundaries might be time-based. Make commitment to get home on time. If that’s not feasible every night, make a commitment to do something you enjoy for 2-3 nights a week. Get home early and read your children a story. Go swimming one evening. Do something for you.

Boundaries might be tech-based. Turn off your phone in the evenings and on weekends. Create a space where you cannot be interrupted. There is no such thing as an urgent email. If there was, I could email the fire department and tell them that my house was burning down.


Create decision points in the future. For example:

‘If this situation has not changed by (insert a date in the future), I will…. leave, renegotiate my contract, take a week to reflect on my options.’

Decision points are basically ‘if these conditions exist, I will do x, y, z’. They allow you to rationally consider the options in front of you and force you to chose a different path. It also makes it easier for a partner or close friend to hold you to account. If you’ve told them about this decision-point, they can follow up with you and ask what you did. If the answer is ‘nothing’, they can challenge you.

The quality of our lives are determined by the quality of our questions.

Tony Robbins

It might be helpful to think about where you want to be in the long-term and work back from there.

In episode 214 of the Tim Ferriss podcast, Debbie Millman talks about creating a remarkable life. She gets her students to write an essay in the first person on where they are in 5-10-20 years time.

  • Where are they sat?
  • What do they do for a living?
  • Where do they live?
  • Are they married – to the same person/someone different?
  • What are their plans going to be for this weekend?
  • Where did they go on their last holiday?

The clearer the picture, the clearer the end-state. You can now start to work towards this goal because you’ve clarified it. This can be a difficult thing to do because it will expose some of the sunk costs you’ve made. That relationship you know isn’t ever going to work or that promotion that will never materialize.

By clarifying the future, it makes it easier to make changes because you’re actively pursuing something you want.

If you don’t control where you are going and make proactive plans to get there, someone else will do it for you.

Like a ship without a course, you will go where the wind, current and tide take you rather than setting a course and sailing towards a clear destination.

You cannot spot the difference between an opportunity and a distraction if you do not have an end-state in mind. An opportunity can be defined as something that helps you get where you want to go. A distraction can be defined as anything else.

Creating a Remarkable Career

Let’s take one element – creating a remarkable and rewarding career. We spend 40+ hours a week working – why wouldn’t we invest some time in thinking about this in more  depth?

The endstate doesn’t need to be crystal clear from day one – that is unrealistic. Start small and spend a small amount of time each day working on this as a ‘side project’. No time for side projects? Create boundaries that will give you time.

Start by doing some self-analysis.

  • What are you good at?
  • What do you like doing?
  • What excites you?

Create a hypothesis about where you want to be in 10 years time.

  • Find someone who is in that job on LinkedIn.
  • Connect with them.
  • Ask them for a coffee.
  • Show them your self-analysis and ask ‘do people like me do well in your sector?’

If they do, great, you have some clarity on that direction and potentially a mentor to help guide you there.

If they don’t, then you’ve probably closed a door. Knowing what you don’t want to do is part of working out what you do want to do. This is time well spent. Repeat the above until the end-state becomes clear.

Practice what you Preach

In one of my jobs, I took our graduates through this process. I wanted them to take ownership of their careers. But when I took myself through the process, I realised I was not on the right path. It was time to make a change. I have since started my own business and have been going for over 18 months. It’s going well but it is very much feast or famine. I am lucky to have a very supportive wife who has been an absolute rock throughout!

But I have put in a decision-point for the end of the year.

If I cannot create a stable sales pipeline by that point then I will walk away from it. I don’t take a lot of leave and I am working exceptionally hard to build something of value but I know that I am asking a lot from both myself and my family. It is a bit like being back in Young Officer training… but without a stable salary or an end date.

There are many paths to ‘success’.

I enjoy developing leaders. If I can’t do that independently, I will just find a job where I can contribute towards the success of someone else’s organisation. I just need to ‘stay in the leadership development game’ whether that is working for myself or someone else, it doesn’t really matter provided I keep building on my leadership development experience either by leading others or helping to develop leaders.

When you think like this, it becomes liberating because you realise there is no downside. If I fail to make it work this time, there is nothing that says I won’t succeed in the future.

Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one.

Doc Brown – Back to the Future: Part III

Beware of the Perseverance Value

Our ability to persevere is noble and should be celebrated. It creates the conditions for us to achieve great things – often against the odds.

But it also has the ability to trap us in a prison we built ourselves.

It causes us to continue relationships that aren’t working, buy things that we don’t need and finish the meal when we are full.

Knowing when to quit is a skill – and I definitely haven’t got it mastered.

I am driven by the values of determination and perseverance which puts me at great risk of the sunk cost fallacy. 

But realising that – hopefully means I can watch out for it – and make sure it doesn’t put me on autopilot to a place I don’t want to go.

Thank you for reading to the end. It appears I really can’t write a short blog article! If you’ve enjoyed this, please feel free to share it – even if it gets one person out of a mental prison, it will be worth it. Thanks. Rod

About the Author  Roderic Yapp is the founder of Leadership Forces a partner of LearnLoft in London. He writes and speaks about all things leadership.  Check out his TED Talk “Double-Loop Learning: A Case Study From the Front Lines”.

Why It’s So Important to Lead By Example

I have been thinking about what it means to ‘lead by example’. It’s a relatively simple concept that was hammered into us as Royal Marines Officers. It makes the point that it’s not what you say, it’s what you do that counts. People follow the example you set through your behavior – not your words.

Demonstrate high standards – don’t preach them.

It’s one of the reasons why children of smokers are twice as likely to start smoking. It doesn’t matter what we say, what matters is the positive or negative example that we set.

But how do we do this in reality – how do we actually lead by example?

I think the first thing you have to do is be brutally honest with yourself. Ignore what you’re good at for now. What are your weaknesses? What behaviors do you have that are going to damage you or those around you in the long-term?

This should hurt a little bit… but it’s a pain that will make you stronger in the long-term. It hurts but it doesn’t ‘harm’.

If you’re struggling to think of some of your own weaknesses – ask someone to play a ‘critical friend’ and give you some feedback for improvement. What are the things that you do that are likely to have a negative impact over the long-term?

This is the first step. Understanding that there is you as a person and then there is your performance. The two are completely separate.

The truth is that you are a person, flawed in your own way just like everyone else.

That’s fine – ‘I’m okay, you’re okay.’

Your performance has nothing to do with you as an individual. Unless you can divorce your performance from your personality, it will be too painful to receive feedback and you’ll be on the slow path to self-development.

If you’re able to separate your performance and your personality – you’ll be able to take critical feedback and be able to adapt and improve faster.

The most unhelpful belief people can have is that they are not flawed in some way. We all are. The strongest and most successful know that they’re flawed – they just work on it.

Now you know what you’re weaknesses are, you can start to work on them. Look for moments where you slip-up and make mistakes. Try and catch yourself and ask yourself the following…

What if everyone behaved like this?

What is the long-term impact of this behavior?

This might work. It might not. But at least you’ve interrupted what was once an automatic decision-making process. Now, you’re deliberately making a choice about what you do next rather than following a set pattern of behavior.

Roderic Yapp is the CEO of Leadership Forces, a Leadership development partner of LearnLoft in England. Gain access to his expertise and learning content by signing up for the LearnLoft Leadership Library today.  The program can be deployed online or in-person.

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Why You Should Start Your Day at 9PM

We’ve all done it. You set the alarm for 6:00 AM with grand aspirations to get up and workout like a Navy Seal before eating a healthy breakfast and cracking on with your day.

Then the alarm goes off, it’s dark and cold outside, you’re tired – and those good intentions simply evaporate.

Recognize the pattern?

How could you improve the situation?

What if you woke up feeling better because you’ve had enough sleep?

This is why I think that the morning routine doesn’t start at 6:00AM; it actually starts the night before with the steps you take before you go to bed.

The single biggest productivity improvement I have made this year is moving my phone charger downstairs. This means that when I head upstairs to bed at around 9.30pm, I leave my phone downstairs. I deliberately cut myself off from the distractions of late night emails and the noise of social media.

There’s a saying they use at alcoholics anonymous:

‘If you don’t want to slip up, don’t go where it’s slippery’.

Although the phrase is meant to refer to bars and pubs, it could also be used to help you make any form of behavioral change. Think about AA in a different context. Think about them as ‘enablers of behavioral change’ – what can you learn from the principles they apply?

Think about the changes that you have tried to make but have failed.

What were the times and places that you found yourself in?

Chances are there will be a pattern – these are your ‘slippery places’.

If you were an alcoholic, these would be your bars and pubs. You might be able to go there again in the future but when you are trying to break the habit or change the behavior, you can increase the chances of success by avoiding these places in the short-term.

Leaving my phone downstairs has created the space for me to read. This is an extremely valuable activity that improves the quality of my thinking and writing.

If I ‘learn’ based solely on my daily experiences, I am a victim to whatever happens during my day. Reading allows me to be proactive and self-direct my learning.

I am currently reading ‘The Business of Excellence’ by Justin Hughes because I want to understand how a former Red Arrows pilot thinks and is applying his military experience to the world of business.

It’s valuable to understand how another veteran from a high performing team applies the lessons they’ve learnt in a different environment because it helps to shape my thinking and clarify the value of my experience in the Royal Marines.

Behavior change is hard.

It requires real ‘presence’ to understand what you’re good at, what you’re not good at and then guts to change it.

Understanding your ‘slippery places’ is just one more way in which you may be able to stack the deck in your favor and deliver a true sustainable change… and isn’t that the key to high performance?

Roderic Yapp is the CEO of Leadership Forces, a partner of LearnLoft in England and brain child of High Performance Leadership.  The program can be deployed online or in-person.

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Why Sales Leadership is So Hard

Sales is a tough career. From the moment you start, you’re judged on the numbers. There is no where to hide.

When you start out in sales, you’ve got to learn how to do it quickly or you’ll be looking for another career. Sales is ‘sink or swim’ and your numbers indicate whether your head is above or below the water.

On the flip-side, the rewards can be significant.

Senior Sales Executives tend to have Swiss watches and German cars. This is deliberate. There is an element of ‘work hard now, and you will reap the rewards later’ that organizations’ seek to reinforce.

This type of reinforcement works well.  ‘Work hard now and you it will pay off in the long-term’ appeals to resilient people – which is a key sales characteristic.

But what are the unintended consequences of creating this type of environment? What are the long-term impacts of creating this culture and what are the risks that we need to be aware of?

What gets measured gets done.

If a person is developed  in an environment where there is a focus on the numbers, the numbers will always be their primary concern. They will probably get good at managing them because they will realize that their daily tasks have an impact on those numbers. This type of behavior tends to create people who are focused on what they need to get done. They don’t tend to work collaboratively because collaboration slows them down.

But by this stage, they’re great salesmen, and they now rely on the bonus that they earn every month. So despite being in charge of a team, they will still be measured by a number.

This creates a problem because there is now a split in focus.

When the ‘going gets tough’ and the team are not hitting their targets, often the leader of the sales team will focus on what he understands and work hard to make up the shortfall. Often, this approach works although it comes at a cost to the leader in the form of stress.

But it doesn’t solve the problem. The problem will come back when the team has a difficult month.

The problem is that the sales team is under performing – and the leader doesn’t know how to solve it.  Selling and leading are two different skills. There is an assumption that just because you can do one, you can do the other.

In the Royal Marines, we were all taught to shoot. But the snipers weren’t always promoted to leadership roles. The reason for this is that just because you’re a good shot, doesn’t make you a great leader. In the same way – just because you can sell,  doesn’t mean you can lead.

Leadership is about ‘doing the doing’ but through other people. The conductor of the orchestra doesn’t play an instrument, he coordinates the team. In the same way, the best way to lead a Troop attack is to put your rifle away and coordinate the men. The impact you have is far greater when you coordinate and lead the team as opposed to trying to ‘do it all yourself’.

Sales Leadership is hard because salesmen have to go through this learning curve. They have stop doing what they have always done and learn how to influence and lead others to perform.This is easy to say but have you ever tried to learn a new and unfamiliar skill without being taught?

Imagine expecting one of your children to be able to ride a bike just because you gave them one.

Motivational talks, incentives, bonus structures are all a complete waste of time if the person hasn’t been taught the skill.

This is why Sales Leadership is so difficult. Sales leaders get promoted because they can sell. They get rewarded for doing the doing. But leadership is about doing less and leading by getting other people to perform – and few sales leaders get taught how to do that.

Roderic Yapp is the CEO of Leadership Forces, a partner of LearnLoft in England and brain child of High Performance Leadership.  The program can be deployed online or in-person.

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The Key Performance Indicators Great Leaders Measure

The old expression that still carries a lot of weight in the world of business.

‘What gets measured gets done’.

If you can measure something, you can work on it and you can improve it.

The problems come when you measure the wrong thing. It sounds like an amateur mistake but is surprisingly easy to do. Most management information focuses on historic performance.

In fact most organizations often concentrate on revenue, costs and profit as indicators of success. These are easy to establish and used by everyone – but they are historic indicators of past performance. Not many companies make use of ‘leading indicators,’ which provide insight into how we are likely to perform in the future.

When I worked in the nuclear industry, we had these incredible plants that would run for very long periods of time. We measured this and it wasn’t uncommon to see ‘plant online time’ up at 99.99% – pretty impressive!

But it was a lagging indicator of how well we had performed yesterday. Yes it was important but past measures do not predict future performance.

This is why leading indicators are so important. By the time I left the organization, we had started to focus on leading indicators. These included measures such as:

  • How many planned maintenance jobs did we miss last week?
  • How many pieces of equipment are performing beyond their expected life expectancy?

When these numbers started to creep up – we knew that we were exposing the ‘plant online’ KPI to more risk. Sometimes this would be acceptable and we’d accept that risk but it was managed because we had visibility of it.

To give you a completely different example, a Royal Marine in Afghanistan cleans his rifle every couple of days. He will clean it more often when he is out on patrol more frequently and less when he is not.

The reason he does this is because he needs that machine to deliver its required performance every single time he uses it. If it fails to fire because it is jammed with dust – the wrong people get killed.

It is part of the ‘Look after your equipment and it will look after you’ ethic that Marines are taught in training.

The same applies in business. If you’re organization is dependent upon assets or equipment to function correctly – spend some time working out what the ‘leading’ KPIs are and use them to drive your planning and behavior. Block time out of your schedule to go and check on the maintenance schedule. If you believe that it is important, then so will your people.

This example works in all business functions.

An organization’s revenue is often based upon a sales team’s ability to sell. Targets are created and sales managers are expected to hit them. Targets are not leading KPIs because they are not directly in control of the sales manager.

If the market is contracting, it doesn’t matter how good your sales manager is or how much you pay him. It is going to be harder for him to hit that target. He cannot control all the variables, so it is ridiculous to assume that he can.

Sometimes, sales managers do better than expected and outperform their target. So what do we do? We raise the bar assuming that he will be able to do it again. When he doesn’t we reprimand him – often for not ‘working hard enough’.

Instead of targets, these might be some good leading KPIs for a sales manager.

  • How many new people in our target market did you meet this week?
  • How many networking events/conferences did you attend?
  • How many sales training events did you attend this month?
  • How many pitches did you make to new clients?
    • Of those pitches – how many generated a polite response versus an immediate desire to buy the product?

These numbers are in his control – and if he focuses on these, he will sell. The difference is that he will not be at the whim of a market that expands and contracts.

Measuring people on things that they cannot control creates stress.

While an element of this is required to perform, most companies over-do it and push people too far towards ‘burn out’ where performance starts to decrease. When this happens, good people leave and the worst leaders will write them off saying that ‘they couldn’t hack the culture’.

You can even create KPIs to see how stressed your organization is. If you have a higher than average employee turnover or a sickness issue, you might well be pushing too hard.

The point here is that you need to be careful about what you measure – because what you measure will drive how people behave.

For example, if you drive people hard to make money but place no emphasis on values – they’ll make you money, but they might do it immorally/illegally

So, what are your leading KPIs? How are you planning your week  and your teams week to make sure that the important things get done?

Leading KPIs can be developed quickly and they might just revolutionize the performance of your business.

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3 Things Leaders Get Right to Ensure Alignment

When I left the Royal Marines, one of the biggest differences I noticed between the military and civilian world was how poorly leaders in the civilian world was at getting their teams aligned.


It was evident people tended to challenge their leader but didn’t proceed in alignment once a final decision had been made.  They held on to the fact that a decision was made that they didn’t agree with and then passed that on other employees or their team members.

Truth is when people leave the room, they need to be able to go back to their team and share the decision or idea with them as if they came up with it themselves. If those team members get the sense that their team lead is not happy with the decision, it will breed misalignment.

When we are debating an issue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I’ll like it or not. Disagreement, at this stage, stimulates me. But once a decision has been made, the debate ends. From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own.                  

Colin Powell

Colin Powell puts it well. The difference between challenge and alignment is all about timing. Once the decision has been made, loyalty means ‘selling the plan’ to your team as if you came up with it yourself.

The whole process of making decisions and reaching alignment can be made much easier if you have three things in place.

Purpose – Mission – Vision

1. Purpose

A purpose explains why the business/team exists. This is the underlying motive for why we are here. We use it to make sure that we attract people who are inspired and want to be a part of the higher cause that we are committing ourselves to. I wrote about this last week explaining how NATO ‘lock in’ a purpose to everything they do.

2. Mission

The mission is simply ‘what do you do and for whom’. It can be stated as ‘we do X for Y’. We provide (the following service or product) for (these people). This creates clarity around your target market or customers – whoever benefits from your service. If you don’t have this, how can you spot the difference between an opportunity and a distraction?

Everyone wants to get into tech, and I understand that because the industry is taking off and lots of people are making a lot of money in this area. But an app, for example, can cost around $150k so for many companies represents a significant investment.

Does it benefit the people that you serve? How do you know unless you have a clearly articulated mission? If you want your people to share good ideas that advance your organization, a mission is helpful in clarifying the boundaries for them.

3. Vision

The last element is the vision. This is simply a statement which dictates where you are going. It should be simple, clear and to the point. If it tries to be ‘too much’ it ends up meaning nothing.

What does your vision look like? Where is your organization going? If you want to know how well your vision is understood, ask your people.

If you ask five people and get five answers that are the same, your vision is simple enough to inform people’s decision-making. If you get five different answers, then it isn’t and by definition you will be suffering from an alignment problem.

When I started working at Urenco – the vision for the business was complex because it had too much detail. By the time I left, it had been simplified and was much clearer. I can remember it now ‘ Zero-One-Zero’.

Zero-Harm – ‘Everyone leaves the site in good health’

100% customer delivery – ‘Every order on spec, on time, in full’

Zero Unplanned Outages – ‘No unexpected plant breakdowns’

When you think about it, this captured the important messages – the three things that mattered. Safety – Customer Focus – Maintenance. If we stuck to those three priorities then we’d be successful as an organization.

If you have a purpose, a mission and a vision – you make it easier for the organization to align in one direction. You remove the opportunities for waste by creating boundaries and helping people focus on what is important.

Leaders create environments where people can be successful. These are the foundations for that success and they are why we decided to make them the foundations of the High Performance Leadership Program.

The Critical Foundation of High Performing Teams

This is a guest post written by Roderick Yapp:

A couple of months ago, I was sat in a meeting with someone who was looking to recruit people to their growing organization. We were talking about the type of people they were looking for and the fact that a service based business is heavily dependent upon the quality of its people.

We started to talk about ex-military candidates – at which point someone said ‘we want to attract them because they follow orders and do what they’re told…’

Once I had ‘corrected the individual’ on the fact that former servicemen don’t simply follow orders, I was left reflecting on the myth that still exists – that servicemen follow orders doing what they are told without challenge or pausing to think about the consequences of their actions.

It doesn’t work like that

People need a reason to do something – they need a purpose to support their actions. If they don’t have that, then they will never truly commit to doing something whole-heartedly. When the ‘going gets tough’ their enthusiasm and engagement will crumble…

Lessons from the Holocaust

Victor Frankl discovered this concept during the holocaust. A brilliant psychotherapist, he was imprisoned in Auschwitz by the Nazis during the second World War. Frankl details his account in the book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ which Tony Robbins  describes as arguably ‘the most important book ever written’.

Frankl explains that there is no universal meaning to life. Each individual has to find their own meaning – their own purpose for which to live. Without that, we struggle to find direction or commit ourselves in pursuit of a goal that is worthwhile.

During his four years in Auschwitz, Frankl was one of the few prisoners with medical training so he was placed in charge of the sick. He was able to predict with worrying accuracy when someone would die based on the moment they lost the will to live. He describes how cigarettes were used as an internal currency in the camp. The moment that someone started to smoke all of their cigarettes was the ‘beginning of the end’ for them.

They’d lost their will to live – they’d lost their purpose – smoking the cigarettes was one of the first behaviours that was symptomatic of that loss.

Frankl survived the war and created logotherapy (logos = meaning) – the central concept being that a person needs a purpose, a reason to live.

Simon Sinek built on this concept with his TEDx Talk using the Wright Brothers and Apple as examples to explain his point.

So how does this relate to the military?

How does the military ensure that it has a sense of purpose in everything it does?

It is written into our doctrine – our standard way of doing things. Every mission is required to have what is called ‘a unifying purpose’. A mission statement must include the phrase ‘in order to’

It is our mission to recapture this vessel in order to secure the safe release of the hostages.

It is our mission to conduct a patrol of the local area in order to reassure the local population.

It is our mission to provide a block to the south of Musa-Qala in order to prevent enemy reinforcements from reaching the town.

When you are taught how to write orders, you are taught that soldiers and marines need a purpose – a reason to do what you ask of them.

They’re no different from anyone else in that respect, they need to know why they are doing something – they don’t just do it because someone tells them to. They don’t do it because they are just following orders. When people simply follow orders, it usually leads to bad things happening because they don’t stop to think if it is the right thing to do.

Having a purpose is vital, both at an individual and at a team level. The military make sure that they provide a purpose in every mission statement – it wouldn’t be a mission statement without an ‘in order to’. This approach has been standardised across NATO because it is universal – it crosses cultural boundaries addressing the need we all have for a purpose behind our actions.

A Sense of Purpose is one of the Foundations of a High Performing Team

High Performing Teams are the reflection of Great Leadership

Maintaining the purpose as a central principle is vital to ensuring that when the going gets tough, people have a reason to keep going.

In our High Performance Leadership Program the first thing that we help leaders to create on the course is the teams purpose.

We help people to understand the concept and coach them to discover their own purpose – because without it, why should anyone follow you?

For more information on the High Performing Leadership programfor individuals and for organisations – please click the following link

First Published on the on the Leadership Forces Website.