Aviv Shahar Part 2 — Questions from Aviv’s New Book, Create New Futures

Paul Adams interviews Aviv Shahar

Welcome to Sound Financial Bites, where we help you with bite-sized pieces of financial and life knowledge to help you design and build a good life. I have Aviv Shahar back today for part two of the questions about his book, ‘Create New Futures’.

Aviv’s background is working with Fortune 100 companies and their leadership teams. He helps them focus and transform an entire section of the business that they may have been working on for many months or a year not being able to make headway or progress. Aviv is called into those companies internationally, from different divisions from across the world, and help those teams, sometimes in just a matter of days. He helps them get through a lot of the barriers that they had either within the company or within the team that they couldn’t get through on their own.

In our last interview, we talked with him about how people complain and how we can think differently when somebody is complaining to us. We also talked about how your present and your future can update your past. If you haven’t read that last interview, I would highly encourage you to go check it out here. Aviv, it’s so good to have you back again.

It’s great to be here with you, Paul.

In your book and in our one-on-one conversations, you talked about the idea of people being intentional in the way that they talk. How they communicate with people, and what we should do to be intentional, because I think that is key. I want to talk about what the automatic outcome is when people are unintentional about their conversations. I think it’s the kind of outcome most of them don’t notice. Could we start there? What’s happening for people when they’re not intentional, especially business owners and executives around the conversations they have?

My first response and thought about this, Paul, is that how can you be in a leadership position and not be intentional? There is a cognitive dissonance in the idea. You are leading, which means you’re there to create a new future. You cannot create a new future if you are careless and not intentional about your life, about your work, the team, the company, the endeavors, and the customers. These are all important elements of your life, and work, and cosmology, and you have to be intentional. I actually don’t see a lot of people that are not intentional. I see people that are seeking to have intentions that are not very effective.

This is what I would add that I think might be the differentiator. I’m not talking about people not being intentional at all. I mean those executives, and it could be water cooler conversation for them, it could be when they’re out having drinks after, the business owner when they’re just meaning to joke around with an employee. But, people end up having some conversations that are unintentional, even if they might be very, very intentional.

I go back thinking about when I interviewed you a while back — Conversation Is the Currency of Leadership. You were teaching our readers this idea that at the beginning of the day, they should think about every conversation they’re going to be in, what exchange is happening in that conversation, what positive outcomes could be there. I think those are the things I think we’re all used to, and I think most of our readers are in that space of trying to be intentional most of the time, and yet, it doesn’t happen all the time, and there’s an impact to it.

Well, exactly. You manage and you help people manage their money. I’ll ask you and your audience: are you ever careless about the way you manage your money? Sometimes, people are, but do you just throw it away? You probably would say, “No, absolutely not. I work hard to earn my money. Why would I throw it away?” So, why would you throw away an even more precious currency? Why would you throw away the currency of your time on Earth? And why would you throw away the currency of conversation? These are even more precious currencies than your money.

This is what I will point out, first of all, that when you show up to work every Monday morning, you have to know, be very clear about some things. First, what are the two or three big things you will work to achieve this week? Second, what’s the one or two important steps you will move towards those today? And how will you curate your time, and effort, and energy, and mental focus, and therefore your conversation to achieve these results? That’s what I essentially believe is the job of a leader.

While we were setting up, I had a small technical problem. You said something brilliant, which you tend to do, and I made a joke. But you were just flat, no laughing, nothing. I said, “Oh, that was supposed to be a joke,” and you just nodded, “Uh-huh.”

Here’s what I think is key about that and what I experienced. I was spending conversational currency unnecessarily on the joke to take the edge off the discomfort of the technical issue I was having. That happens a lot even to the most intentional executives. They may be saying something like a silly joke around the water cooler. Not that we shouldn’t have any unplanned things in our lives, but it’s only when you get around somebody real intentional like you, Aviv, that you find that you’re wasting some of the precious currency coming out of your mouth in the way of conversations.

I was going to ask if somebody is doing that, what are the things they’re likely to notice around them? Often, it’s like the wind: you can’t see it, you just see the tree blow. What are the things people should think about? Things they might not be being intentional with if they’re saying them in their lives.

Well, Paul, first of all, we are human beings. We like to banter, we like to joke. That’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes the best conversations and the conversations that lead to new breakthroughs are extemporaneous, and conversations that where you go with the flow and you allow yourself to assimilate new ideas.

But, the point we are making is you have to have the central thrust, and often the central inquiry that guides your work. It may be, “What are we doing today and what can we do this week to improve customer success?” Customers love it when they come to us, but we seem to not have the kind of follow-through and loyalty that we would love to have, and there isn’t the kind of customer retention that we would like to see.

If that’s an inquiry that you’re engaged in, then you become forensic and focused about it. You will engage your team and you will ask about what is going on and where the breakdown is in terms of the customer experience. It can be anything else that relates to the operational aspect of your business, or the value proposition of how you educate and train your customers to use your service. Whatever the case is, as long as you have the central clarity of what you are about and why customers engage with you, and therefore, what must you do to meet those expectations, you are in business.

My assertion, Paul, is that you’re in business for one of two reasons. Generally, we are, all of us, wherever we are, whatever business we are in, we are in business because of one of two reasons. The first reason is because your customers find you to be mission critical, and mission critical is defined as they cannot fulfill and actualize their purpose without your contribution. That means you’re mission critical.

Now, not everybody is in a niche or in a service where you’re mission critical. Actually, a consultant would often not be mission critical unless you are dealing really with the supply channels, or a critical piece in the value flow of that operation, you will be hard-pressed to be what is purely defined as mission critical.

If you can’t be mission critical, you are in business for a second reason, which is you create overwhelming value. What does it mean? How do I define creating overwhelming value? Overwhelming value means you help your customers achieve what they’re trying to achieve faster, better, more effectively with greater grace, makes them happier, whatever better is for them and how it relates to your service. But, you do this in a meaningful way that, therefore, qualify you and them to say, “You are creating, for me, overwhelming value, and that’s why I will spend my hard-earned money to use your service.”

I essentially view those relationships as sacred agreements. You make contractual agreements with people that you will make them better as a result of using your service. When I say sacred, what I mean is you are committed and dedicated to deliver their promise. That must guide your effort and your work, and you have to be intentional about it. That doesn’t mean you can’t be humorous, and light, and happy, and joking, but you never lose sight. You never lose the focus of what you are here to do and the value that you’re here to deliver. If you lose that focus and you’re not engaged in the way that you are called to be engaged, then to your question, you will see that the energy drops, the focus drops, and people are engaged with all sorts of peripheral tasks that are not necessarily designed to add the transformative value that you initially promised.

As I hear that idea of the sacred promise between you and whoever the customer is, if you’re an executive right now with — from Amazon, or Microsoft, or Univar for example— they’re also in that same commitment to their employer that they are handling something, they need to be intentional about that, and they need to continue to work toward that ending, keeping that commitment to the company.

You said something about the conversational currency and being present to what they all are. I’ve gotten some requests to do a post specifically on my entire morning routine because of how I treat the first couple of hours in my day now. But, I took something from what you said, Aviv, and I now hand-write my entire day schedule even though it’s already existing virtually for me. I think about the outcome that’s going to best serve that person that I can somehow influence in that conversation. Before that, I had a hard time trying to really get beyond scrolling through my day with my thumb, and instead sitting down and actually rewriting my calendar for the day puts me in enough pause to actually think about all the conversations.

Right. Let me make three comments about this, because this is right there in the lane of being intentional. When you write, you are actually engaging a different brain circuitry than when you just read. If you wrote it and spoke it out loud, you will engage even another brain circuitry. If you were kinetic, and were jogging, or walking, or doing any physical exertion and practice, and still were speaking out loud your intentions and your focus, then for some, that’s the way that you really get into gear.

You often see in some of the movies where they try to depict the perfect athlete, or like with Usain Bolt and how he jokes around before the race. But, there he is very focused when he is preparing to start the 100- or 200-meter dash. What you then have in that, whether it’s natural, the baseball movie where he shuts out the noise, to a degree, you have to do that every day at work. You have to shut out the noise, because there are so many devices, alerts, digital noise, and other kind of psychological and political noise. Unless you show up for your day with high-voltage focus about why the people in your world, your customers, your family, your community will be better off today because you have lived that day and created a contribution, unless you’re very clear, you are not likely to create the kind of impact that you can. And unless you show up for any team meetings, or any one-on-one conversations with that kind of presence, you will do okay, but you will be perhaps at the 6 out of 10, or 6 and a half or 7 out of 10. But you want to be the 8, 9 or 9.9 out of 10 that you can be.

Obviously, we can’t live every day at 9.9 out of 10. If you just landed from an international flight, you need a day to recover. We all need to have down days. We all need to have days where we bounce back, or bounce forward as I like to say. But, if you are at 6 out of 10, and you are not present as you can be because you let the noise distract you, you’re missing a huge opportunity. Your morning routine when you’re most fresh is how you bring forward the kind of focus that your sacred contract and your customers expect you to.

That was gold. You could write another book about those last couple of minutes. I think this is a perfect segue. It cuts us nicely over to this idea of the debrief, which you cover in the book. This idea came from when you were running missions in the Israeli Air Force as a fighter pilot and training fighter pilots. I have even used it with my wife in the last six months when something hasn’t gone the way we’d like it to. I think my past practice would have been to step past it and not come back to it. But whatever it is — miscoordination about picking up the kids for example — what I would do now is once we’re past the emotional charge, I circle back in less than 24 hours and say, “What could we have done better? What would have made that work?”. It is doing amazing things for our marriage, and I’m seeing the same things in business. Although the work ‘debrief’ is a popular term for this, it’s actually deeper than that. I want you to take it from there, because I don’t think I can do justice for the way you talk about debriefing.

Let me first address the business side and then maybe make a comment about relationship and marriage, which deserves a whole book by itself. My observation, Paul, is that even in some of the most admired companies in the world, the learning cycle gets broken every day. Actually, let me be more specific, and it may be shocking for some, but based on my observation, not more than 20% of learning incidents truly and fully reach the fourth phase of learning. The fourth phase is where people take ownership to teach and model the new learning, the new practice, the new insight to other people, to their teams, and to the people in the world.

But wait…there’s more?!

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