Mastery and Deep Wins by Executive Coach Mary Lee Gannon of MaryLeeGannon.com
Working harder is not the only segue to executive level advancement. Nor is it a precursor to executive presence. At a certain level everyone works hard. As a matter of fact, one of the biggest insults of my career was when a senior executive within a former organization thought she was giving me a compliment as she said, “One thing we can say about you is that if we asked you to stand on the highway and do anything for us you would.” Eeeeek! My reply was, “I’d like to think I’m smarter than that” and realized I had to show up differently.
Dedication is not enough. Passion is not the key driver. Striving is not the goal. Success is not the measure. Mastery is the key driver, goal and the measure. You want to be your best. Period. You aim for excellence, not perfection. Perfection has no forgiveness. Doing your best is internally compelled - not determined by anything outside your control. With mastery you are not tying your value to an outcome. Nor is your self-worth depleted when an outcome is not met.
Outcomes are metrics affected by many influences. Your self-worth is tied to your effort to become a maven at your craft – be that parenting, management, a hobby, leadership, volunteerism, relationship building, skill acquisition, friendship.
Who determines if you have become a master at something or not? You do, unless of course you are being tested via a formal certification. And here’s the secret. You will always be learning so, mastery continues. It is ongoing. Therefore, with everything you learn, your fulfillment increases, not depletes depending on the situation. For this reason, failures are a learning moment. When you hit a goal, it can be deeply felt as a win and not just another step on a never-ending treadmill of goals.
Shallow wins are short lived and the satisfaction always needs to be re-ignited. Shallow wins are where you hit a goal, high five everyone around you and then move right on to the next goal because you fear failure and rejection are right around the next corner if you don’t – akin to the treadmill to nowhere. Your colleagues begin to feel they are just tools to your success and end up resenting you. You never feel fulfilled. The treadmill keeps running with shallow wins.
A deep win is where you sit back and celebrate the difference made for the good of all. You identify every person's part in the win. You see the next goal as part of a process not tied to your worth or the worth of your colleagues who are human beings, not machines. You enjoy the win without the over enthusiasm. You don’t need that. It is all in the course of a day.
You’ve seen this at sporting events. People experiencing deep wins are the ones who catch the ball, score the points and celebrate with their teammates without gesticulating and over-exuberance.
A client was struggling with a direct report who was repeatedly late on deadlines and underperforming. Every week they met. Every week nothing changed. He felt ineffective and began to deeply dislike this employee. There was a big project due at the end of the week and this employee called off that day. The next week the employee went around the office laughing and celebrating how he had sidestepped his manager. This is a shallow win.
My client could have disciplined him with a difficult conversation about his inappropriate behavior around the office for a shallow win. Instead, my client met with him on that Monday and instead of having a personal confrontation lay in front of him the schedule of projects and due dates. Not only was the project he didn’t hand in last Friday due but now the one due tomorrow was due also. Missing deadlines by calling off was no longer extending project delivery. There was no confrontation. Allow me to repeat – no confrontation. No emotion. The schism was no longer between my client and his direct report. It was between the direct report and the schedule he was not hitting. No personal opposition. Just the facts. Deep win.
Leaders sometimes shy away from confrontation for fear of rejection, fear of losing it or being misunderstood. Don’t consider the meeting with an underperforming direct report as confrontation. It is simply you as the manager holding someone accountable to the goal, metric or value of the organization. It isn’t you against them. It’s them against what is expected. No emotion. Be very matter of fact. “We met last week to review XYZ project and ABC was due today. It’s not ready – what happened?” Allow them to explain. If the reason is not valid give them two days or an appropriate amount of time to complete it. But do not extend the next deadline because this one was missed. The deadlines stay the same and do not get pushed down the road because one is missed for an invalid reason. What is due next Monday is still due that day.
A deep win is when you can hold people, especially underperformers, accountable without losing your presence or them losing their dignity. A shallow win is when you push down on an employee to get something done and they resent you personally. The focus should be on them hitting or missing the target and you supporting them with encouragement and strategies to make their challenges easier
Enjoy deep wins. They are satisfying. Athletes who make a mistake and rebound quickly as if mistakes are part of the process have athletic presence and feel deep wins. The losses are part of winning mastery. Deep win athletes study others and themselves without emotion. They have a calm presence – a calm manner.
Peaks and valleys are a typical sign of shallow wins. Athletes who demonstrate frustration by throwing things, yelling or don’t deeply feel the win have less presence, erupt over losses and feel shallow wins. They tie their value to the win and fear it is temporary. Less self-aware athletes are tenser and suffer deeper lows with fear that good results are fleeting. Less self-aware leaders don’t celebrate wins with teams. They don’t’ call out others for achievement. They brush over the win and move on to the next goal. Treadmill to nowhere.
People who self-regulate their emotions without over-reacting or behaving in a way they regret have presence. They slow down, observe the situation and an impending emotion yet are able to honor the emotion and allow it to flow through them – not get stuck there. They connect – don’t isolate. And they practice self-control. They don’t allow themselves to be controlled by an emotion, overreaction, or the behaviors of others. Leaders who can do this have leadership presence and executive presence.
This strategy for building self-regulation is worth repeating.
1. Slow down. Be still. Observe without judgment. Name and honor the emotion without getting stuck on it. Don’t turn away from it. Acknowledge it.
2. Connect. Reach for alignment. Don’t isolate.
3. Practice self-control. Don’t be controlled.
Winning deeply is about the joy of getting in touch with yourself as a human being and then connecting with others from a place of acceptance. Connection to others is not dominance. Wining deeply stops you from feeling joy that won’t last or that you might miss out. Instead it opens the door to vast, untapped, available and unstoppable energy.
Failure allows you to learn where you’re not ready or skilled enough. You don’t question where you mucked up, but ask, “What do I see here? What can I learn?””
If you feel losing makes you a loser you’re so much more likely to avoid trying at all.
Yeah-yeah you say. Sounds good but I will never get there. I know how I should feel and what I should do but can never do it consistently, especially in a crucial moment where I feel threatened? Fair enough. It’s the same as knowing how to lose weight – eat smaller portions, stop snacking and start exercising. How’s that working for you? We know what we need to do but we can’t stick with it, compounding our frustration with our lack of discipline. We can’t understand why we let ourselves down which makes us feel worse.