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Let me start by saying that this this blog isn’t about efficiently or effectively managing emails, staying abreast of LinkedIn, newsfeeds, buzzfeeds, Instagrams or candy-grams. It’s actually about Operating Systems and Applications: the ones in our heads (and often, our hearts).

It’s about OUR Operating Systems as leaders and human beings, and how/what we learn.

A short true story:

I am infamous (with myself) for ignoring the little pop-up in the right-hand corner of my Mac devices that say “New iOS available for upgrade.” And on the rare occasion I do look at it and it asks me if I want to “Install now,” “ Try tonight,” or “Try again later” I always hit “Later.” Because I’ve got too much to do now. I can’t afford to download it, agree to terms and conditions, enter passwords, install, restart, etc., etc., I’m already late, I’m behind, people are waiting! And surely this can wait until tomorrow. Which typically never comes.

Meanwhile, I’m downloading new programs, upgrading old programs, saving articles and sophisticated documents from colleagues and clients. I’m putting more files on my desktop and hard drive, watching/storing movies and pictures, and expecting my computer to keep up with the same ol’ operating system it’s had for a few months or even years.

Get where this is headed?

Eventually, the old iOS can’t run all the applications and programs I need as well. Eventually, it can’t do it at all, really. It slows down, becomes increasingly ineffective, can’t open a file, and then it starts to occasionally shut down. Or, as one tech expert said to me last week at an onsite program delivery, I start to get the “spinning wheel of death.” This is akin to my computer waving a white flag.

In short, what I’ve said to the machine is “forget your needs at getting better at what you do, just handle all the stuff I throw at you!”

So what’s the leadership equivalent, you ask?

I would parallel the “applications” I ask my computer to handle as to the skills, behaviours, knowledge, and expertise we’re asked to absorb and work with in a myriad of complex situations as leaders. I’m not even counting the onslaught of information that’s available to us these days.

Organizations continue to invest billions upon billions of dollars on training and development initiatives, most focused on the categories above. Recent research has suggested that upwards of $170B dollars is invested annually around the world on training and development initiatives; mostly all great stuff and relevant as we move in an increasingly exciting, complex, uncertain world.

And 12 years into this coaching and leadership development game, I know now that this approach of just taking on new skills and behaviours, even technical learning, is completely unsustainable if we don’t click on the button that says “Upgrade your iOS.”

So what do I mean by “your iOS?” What I mean is your internal mindsets, beliefs, behavioural patterns and motivators, which are always at work, running how you handle the increase in demands from all the applications around you.

So few of us actually click the upgrade button because we never feel we have (the right) time to stop. The cost? We keep layering more and more on hoping to keep up until we can’t. We start to lose things along the way. Things like:

  • Our ability to focus clearly
  • Our ability to do the quality of work we want to do
  • Our ability to effectively rely on others
  • Our ability to stop working
  • Our ability to sleep
  • Our health
  • Our meaningful relationships
  • Our sense of self-authority
  • Our ability to say “NO”
  • Our sense of purpose (as in, “why do I bother?”)

Gallup reported in 2013 that upwards of 65% of employees in the US are not actively engaged in their work. There are many reasons for this. I believe part of the reason is that people are trying to do more and more on the same operating system they’ve largely always had.

Tony Schwartz’s organization, The Energy Project does some work on what they call the Demand Capacity Curve. Now, I’m not talking about the Supply Chain curve, which also goes by the same name. This is a human capacity curve. It essentially says that if we do nothing different with our personal capacity (e.g. develop more physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually) most people will hit the constraints of their limits by 40 years of age. Now I’m simplifying this to be sure. And in essence, you get the point. To handle more, we need to BECOME MORE (not just DO more).

So what does it mean to update our internal operating system (aka iOS)? Here’s my take in 5 steps:

  1. Understand the mindsets and beliefs you have about yourself as a professional/leader/human being. This includes the limits of these beliefs. This means being aware of the beliefs you have about things like:
    1. what’s acceptable or not (and why that is),
    2. who is powerful and who is not, most especially yourself (in different situations),
    3. the power of your vision or intention (and its relevance),
    4. what you’re capable of,
    5. the importance of values, and what yours are,
    6. what you’re willing to do/tolerate,
    7. what others are willing to do/tolerate,
    8. whether you’re on your own to “make it all happen”
  1. Understand what that little nagging voice in your head says to you about your value, effectiveness, performance, etc. I’ve called it the Inner Critic, Gremlin and Saboteur. It’s the “not enough voice” that Brené Brown speaks of. Call it what you want. If you don’t identify it, and create some objectivity around it, that voice will continue to influence, and in some cases, control you in situations where you want to be creative versus reactive. To upgrade your iOS, you need to know this “bug” really well. While you can’t eliminate it, you can create “fixes.” A great place to explore these ideas is Shirzad Chamine’s work
  1. Get clear on what you want and why that is meaningful to you. Without a vision of who you want to BE, what you really want to DO and finally, what you will HAVE as a result, you will likely (if you live in North America) end up assuming that if you work hard and get lots of nice possessions (HAVE), you will feel fulfilled. There’ve been many studies, and much has been written about the reverse being true. Neuroscience would suggest that a successful brain is not a happy brain, but a happy brain creates optimal conditions for a successful brain to thrive. You need to know what you want (BE/DO/HAVE in that order) to decide what apps, etc. you’ll take on to get where you’re going. This includes what you’ll definitively say NO to.
  1. Create practices that support you to achieve your vision. Listen, we all have routines,  whether they’re conscious or not. A default one I have is to watch a few sports highlights before getting to work each day. It’s fun as heck and it does not optimize my focus for the day, and usually puts me behind. So now, I take 45 minutes on a Sunday to review key priorities and goals and look out at the big goals for the week, and each day I take 10-15 minutes first thing to get clear on what matters most that day. Writing this blog was one for the day on which I’m typing now. While it doesn’t prevent requests and new projects from coming at me, it does help me Do, Defer or Delegate what I see. Without these practices, we can really drift off our course of our vision and wonder what happened. Your computer, when operating optimally, doesn’t randomly choose its start up sequence each day. The discipline it follows helps it get ready to rock and roll!
  1. Create a community of those with iOS’s we aspire to have or share the aspiration of.

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

Carolyn Myss

This will likely include developing yourself (e.g. learn some new tips and tricks) through the expertise of others offered through literature, videos, or my preference, experiential programs. Fitness literature shows that people are 3X more likely to stick to an exercise program if they have a workout or accountability partner. The same is true for upgrading your “system.” Surround yourself with people who operate the way you want to. Create accountability with those who are also looking to “upgrade.” They’ll remind you of the importance of becoming El Capitan (sorry for the Mac reference) for all the apps that lie ahead. Oh, and one other fitness reference: just reading about upgrading ourselves gives us insight. We need to put insight into repetitive practice for our system to REALLY upgrade. Hence the experiential learning (you can’t fight old muscle with new insight).

So, if you’re good at upgrading the demands of your life, but not the system you expect to handle the demands, let this serve as a warning. How much more can your system handle on its current iOS? How do you know it’s time to upgrade? How have you effectively upgraded in the past?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Now, time to upgrade my Mac…..