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Monday, February 17, 2020

CEO Insider

Five business attributes you can develop via an adventurous lifestyle

adventurous lifestyle hiking in Patagonia

I like to challenge myself with adventures I pursue in my personal life, whether it’s mountain climbing, heli-skiing or regular fitness workouts. Instead of distracting from my leadership and our organization’s culture, living an adventurous life increases my contributions to our business.

Contrary to what you might think, the payoff is not because I return more productive after getting away to recharge. For me, the business and the adventure coexist. It’s a lifestyle. While out of the office, I’m still accessible 24/7. And I bring back to the business attributes cultivated by living a life of adventure: accountability, authenticity, resilience, conflict tolerance and competitiveness.

Accountability: Accountability is all about vision and progress. If you know where your business needs to go, you can figure out how to get there. Let’s say I’m booked to climb the Grand Tetons, so I commit to starting and maintaining a specific physical training regimen. That’s basic accountability. Practicing it in my personal life makes me more skilled at applying it to business outcomes.

Accountability is also about empowerment. If you want people to handle things themselves, you can’t micromanage. I’ve seen managers who constantly look to leadership for cues and end up never being able to do their own jobs because they weren’t empowered enough to be accountable for an outcome. That’s tragic.

Authenticity: Authenticity is really important to me. I have confidence that the people we hire can go forward and do great things. So I check in often with people, asking “What can I do to help you?” or “Is there anything you’re not clear about?” What I want to hear is, “I’m kind of struggling with this one little piece,” because, in my mind, that’s human. You’re not going to walk in here and have no problems, no questions.

If I’m preparing for a physical challenge like a kickboxing match, and I’m having trouble with something, I’d better speak up so I can strengthen my chances. Likewise, when someone says, “I’ve got this,” but things actually aren’t going well, it’s a huge problem.

This starts with me. I lead as authentically as possible. I always tell the truth and tell it consistently. Whether I’m communicating with leadership or employees, I am the same person. I don’t know how to be any different than who I am, all the time.

Resilience: I love one of our company’s core values, resilience. No matter what, there’s going to be a day when you’re told something that isn’t ideal: you didn’t do something right, a customer doesn’t personally like you, something unanticipated happens on the business, or you lose an account. Any practice you have pushing past frustrations outside of work translates to an ability to conquer challenges within the office.

Being resilient starts with having the ability simply to talk about the challenge. Then, you can come back and tackle it a new way. You push through until you find a solution.

Conflict Tolerance: I thrive on what I call positive tension. Imagine that you’re out in nature hanging on a rock or you’re about to have the buzzer go off for a CrossFit competition. In those situations, you’re expecting yourself to perform under pressure. Though we may have encountered true pressure situations in high school and college, as we get older and move into the working world, we get comfortable. Pressure situations make us uncomfortable.

The discomfort of conflict naturally triggers the fight or flight impulse, which, when we don’t face it often, can feel so monumental that we immediately choose avoidance. Let’s say you realize the person on a big account is no longer the best fit. Facing that kind of conflict produces a better result if done without accusing or making somebody feel they’ve failed (and it’s in the person’s best interest anyway). Pushing yourself to be in that conflict zone improves your ability to handle tough business situations.

Conflict avoidance is a culture killer, and I can see it a mile away. I’ve had a few different work relationships where my colleagues would never share any critical feedback or direction. Things like avoiding asking me to work on something or do a task better or different — all to avoid conflict. It drives me nuts. Conflict makes some people crumble. Even pretty tough people who bark a lot can have no bite. Having a respectful bite – an opinion, an idea, a decision, advocacy — isn’t a bad thing. It really isn’t.

If you train yourself to tolerate conflict, you can navigate it for the good of the business. In a tough moment, instead of avoiding, you can tell yourself, “This is nothing. Remember hanging on that rock? Or getting into the kickboxing ring? Remember that?” What follows naturally, then, is simple: “I can handle this.”

Competitiveness: I’m very competitive. I’m competitive with myself, but I’m competitive in the area of the accomplishment piece. I like to throw out challenges, because that drives my behavior. I put myself in situations that require me to learn something, to push. And I simply do better with a goal and a mission and a focus – both in my personal and professional lives.

For example, my daughter and I have an upcoming heli-skiing trip. I’m not calling the trip a vacation. It’s a mission. A couple of weeks before we go, we’re taking a trip to Jackson Hole for what, in my mind, is a training trip. Again, not a vacation. I’ve booked a guide who has outlined a plan for us to spend a few days pounding Jackson Hole. Because of that, we’ll be more prepared for the heli-skiing adventure.

Being competitive means I’m always challenging myself to do new things and be my best self. In the office, there isn’t a week where I don’t say to someone: Is there something I can do better? And here’s the truth: I mean it. There’s that authenticity attribute again, but this time, in relation to my own drive for improvement. Tell me where I made a mistake. I welcome it. I want to be better.

Those are just five of the many positive attributes you can cultivate by adding some adventure into your life. What I tell my leadership team is to get out there and do something interesting. Connect with people, talk to others, be involved with something that challenges you and gives you energy. Anybody can do this stuff. Really. It doesn’t have to be climbing, maybe it’s writing a book, or volunteering for a meaningful cause. Take the time and make it a priority to do it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be the leader I am today.

Living a life of adventure can be the best business development effort. If you make yourself interesting and be interested in others, who knows what can happen.


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Bret Abbott
Bret Abbott is CEO of Intereum, a commercial real estate company in Minneapolis creating great places for working, learning, and healing. Abbott is an avid downhill skier and CrossFit enthusiast, recently took up mountain climbing. Bret Abbott is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on Linkedin.
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