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How to deal with “Imposter Syndrome”.

The imposter syndrome can be loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. That sounds really horrible, doesn’t it. The impostor syndrome strikes when we feel it was pure luck that we won this important deal and not as a direct result of our hard work. Or when we feel uneasy when someone is praising us – as though we did not deserve it. The underlying limiting belief is that we feel “I am not enough”. As a direct consequence a second limiting belief often chimes in: “I am not loveable”. Why would someone love a person that is not enough. But wait, what if we all had these types of thoughts from time to time? For instance, after we have screwed something up we were quickly to conclude: “I’ll never be able to do this right”.

study from 2012 shows that 12 to 19 month-old infants fall on average 17 times per hour. However we would never tell our baby: “you will never be able to walk, just keep on crawling”. Instead, we applaud ever tiny little progress they make enthusiastically. Maybe there is something we can learn from this simple example. 

In my experience the solution is a combination of things. First, realize that these kinds of doubts are normal to have. Just don’t let your entire life be dominated by them. So, if it happens, don’t panic and be kind to yourself, just like you would be with that infant on its way to becoming a walker. Maybe problems are gifts that help us move forward once we decide to face and eventually overcome them. So, if we feel depressed when we screw up, we could ask ourselves instead “what have I learned”? Although we may admire “perfect” things, when we are really honest with ourselves there aren’t many. 

We might just have a blind spot. Thriving for perfection that can never be achieved actually makes our lives so massively miserable. Comparing everything we do to a perfect outcome or to what others achieved is so painful. Let go of this inner perfectionist that is driving you mad. That does not mean however that you should set yourself low standards. Find out what is a challenge to you yet seems achievable and re-check/re-calibrate from time to time. Do that in a playful way and reward yourself for every small bit of progress. It is a great idea to keep a victory log recording all the insights and successes you have had.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had some kind of routine that we could follow to snap out of impostor mode? The answer to this question brings us back to the definition of state, a combination of physiology, focus and language. We need to change to a much more powerful state and that can be achieved within seconds! Close your eyes and think about a time when you felt unstoppable, full of confidence, ready to take on any challenge, with no doubt you would succeed. Stand like you did back then – strong, shoulders up, breathe deeply. See and feel what you saw and felt back then. Remember what you were focused on? What were you saying to yourself? Enjoy the power of this high energy state and give it a name. I call it superman/woman for example. Make a fist and squeeze it. Double the intensity, triple it. Enjoy the feeling. Now you can recall that state by calling on your own superman/woman and squeezing your fist.

Try it out and post your experience here. Let us know how you deal with the impostor syndrome.

Ten Success Factors for your Panel Interview

If you have been following me for a while you have seen me taking on interim management responsibilities from time to time. I believe that leadership coaches should not just do theoretical work but practice what they “preach”. In that tradition I just finished a 14 months stint as general manager in an IT company and had the pleasure to conduct a series of panel interviews with numerous candidates for open positions, both for executive manager level jobs as well as individual contributors. 

All interviews were done via video conferencing and the candidates had a couple of days to prepare. The interview style was supportive and not aggressive at all. Quite a comforting setup you might think, nevertheless I was surprised by how many candidates had serious problems during these sessions. In this post I want to share some best practices from this experience. While some of them might look like the obvious to you, I recommend you take them seriously.

PART 1: PREPARATION

Preparation is the mother of success!

  1. Do your research

Of course, you’ll look at the company websites. However, make sure to dig a little deeper. What do they say about their strategy, products and/or services? Download the annual report if they are a public company. What markets are they in, who is their competition? How has the stock price been doing in relation to general market trends? What are analysts saying? How was their performance of the last couple of years? Are they growing? Study the latest press releases. Look at Glassdoor to find out what their employees are saying about them. Ask your network – people who worked there or competed with them.

Have a look at their management – corporate and local. Who will you be meeting with during the panel interview? Look the individuals up on LinkedIn and other social media and again, ask your network.

2. Understand what the job is all about

Get an excellent understanding of what the job that you are applying for is all about. Study the job description and ask yourself: what would be exciting about this job? How does the ideal candidate look like? Is that me? How does success look like? In which ways will I contribute to the success of the company. Ask as many questions as necessary to get the full picture. It is important that you don’t underestimate this part – take it seriously and keep asking yourself: “what have I missed?”.

3. Make your presentation a masterpiece

Usually, you will be asked to prepare for a presentation on a specific predefined topic. We’ll go into much more detail about how to orchestrate your story itself. Here we’ll focus on the preparation. What are the main messages you want to get across? What would be a natural flow? Which visuals do you want to use to express what? How will the slides support your message and enhance your narrative? What are the key takeaways for your audience?

4. Take care of your setup – it’s the stage you are performing on

The setup is the framework for delivery your presentation. Make sure you have a great webcam (HD if possible) and a good microphone. Using a headset will help but you need to be comfortable with your appearance. I would stay away from Bluetooth and use good old cable. It does not need to be charged and does not change connections without you noticing.

Stand up – do not sit or at least use a stool. You have a totally different, more powerful energy when you are standing. Do not use a virtual background. Unless you have a professional setup with a green screen, your audience will see some strange artefacts especially if you are moving a lot. Should you use a virtual background, don’t use the one from the company you currently work for. This is a private interview! 

Make sure they see you in the right proportions, not too big, but not a dot in the far distance either. Most importantly your eyes must be on the same level as the camera lens, and you need to look straight into it. It helps to put a post-it next to the lens with a note: look here!

Finally, have a plan B ready in case you have a problem with the technology. Your phone will work well with all video conferencing tools. Just plan in advance where to position it safely.

5. Practice, practice, practice …

Repetition is the mother of skill. I would not learn things by heart as it lacks authenticity, but you need to practice your intro, so you feel safe getting started and most importantly practice your timing. Do it several times in front of an audience. Have them ask questions and get their feedback. Record it and review it. Do it over and over until it sticks ☺

PART 2: YOUR PRESENTATION & FOLLOW-UP

Now it becomes serious. You are well prepared and ready to go.

6. Dress appropriately

Adjust to the audience that you are presenting to. If in doubt, get some guidance from the person who is arranging the session. In any case, make sure you feel comfortable in the clothes you are wearing. Business casual is nearly always a safe choice.

7. Be aware of and adjust your state

State is everything! First make sure that you are in good shape. Never do it if you’re sick or otherwise handicapped. Your state is determined by physiology, focus and language and you can’t hide it. Your audience can “read it” instantly within the first couple of seconds and make an unconscious decision if they truly want to listen to you and your story or rather shift their attention to something else. Of course, you want to hold their attention the entire time. 

We already talked about standing up during the presentation, facing your audience. Pay attention to the tone of your voice, the speed, the volume and other so called sub-modalities. Play with it during practice. Try to be entertaining and engaging.

What will you be focused on during your pitch? Are your thoughts about self-doubt or self-confidence? Are you using positive language? Do you embody a winner? Work on your state during practice.

8. Your presentation is your story 

The real power of your presentation is in your state, not in the slides. Connecting to your audience in the beginning is key! Watch them, not yourself during the presentation. Add some drama to your story, specifically when you tell your story. Have a look at the Hero’s Journey as a guideline. Most movies follow this blueprint. 

You need to always keep the energy high. Never ever read from a script! You will immediately lose your audience – maybe once and for all. Think about ways to reconnect in case you seem to have lost them. Use visuals, pattern interrupts, ask a question etc. The last topic you covered is most likely to generate the first question. With this in mind you can trigger a topic of your choice.

Finally, avoid talking about a topic that you don’t understand or do not feel comfortable about. Your audience will immediately notice and might home in with more questions.

9. Use Q&A to shine

This section is very important as it is interactive in nature. Make sure you understand the question. If in doubt, clarify & verify. Take your time, do not shoot from the hip. Don’t fake anything – be authentic. Do not imagine too much about why someone is asking a specific question and don’t take anything personal. Definitely have your own questions ready. A candidate without questions raises doubts. 

The question that will most certainly come up is “why are you interested in this job”, so be prepared. It is ok to ask for feedback, but do not count on it. They might want to debrief first. Give them feedback if appropriate. Thank them for devoting their time and attention.

10. Drive the follow-up

Keep communication going after the session. Ask them if they want a copy of your presentation. Mention what you learned. Tell them about your status, additional questions you might have. Don’t be too pushy – give them some time.

Don’t be too disappointed if you get negative feedback. Don’t push them too much into justifying their decision and whatever you do don’t argue with them. Think about what you have learned during the process and be honestly grateful for that. 

Please post any questions you have in the comments below and good luck with your interview.  

Seven Leadership Lessons from the Queen

  1. Serve to lead

“Serve to lead” is actually the motto of the military academy Sandhurst and sums up the Queen’s leadership style quite effectively.

Neil Jurd (OBE), author of The Leadership Book and founder of skills platform LeaderConnect wrote about the Queen: “At the heart of this ethos is the idea that leadership is an act of service – serving the people you lead and serving the purpose that you are collectively working towards. In this leadership style the focus is outwards, on others and on the objective.”

The Queen has dedicated her life to serving others and even continued to work many years (30) after the national retirement age.

To serve, in business means you should be focused on the needs of your followers, team and customers. Leaders should be willing to put their own needs aside and focus on what will benefit those they are leading.

It was first introduced by John Maxwell in his book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.” He believed that the best way for leaders to lead was to serve those they are leading. This means that the leader should not take more than their share, but instead give more than what is expected.

2. Why collaboration is key to a great leader

The Queen often made it look like she managed everything alone, but such an undertaking has a lot going on behind the scenes and for the Queen it surely was a team effort.

“The Queen surrounds herself with advisers,” says Terry Blackburn, entrepreneur and author of Be A Lion. “She doesn’t carry out her role alone – she collaborates with those around her, makes decisions with her team and shares responsibilities among the rest of her family.”

A leader must always have a positive mindset and be able to communicate well with others. To get great things accomplished, make the most of your team’s experience and work collaboratively.

Collaboration is more than just a buzzword in the business world, it’s a necessity. The more people you can get on board with your ideas, the more successful they will be. It’s not enough to just have a great idea, you need to be able to sell it and ensure that others are invested in the project too.

A great leader knows how to motivate their team and understand their strengths and weaknesses. They know that collaboration is key when it comes to making sure everyone has an equal voice and contributing their ideas to the discussion.

3. Strong leaders Demonstrate Passion And Resiliency here is how

“In her approach to work, the late Queen Elizabeth embodied passion and resiliency with a clear sense of duty,” Lisa DeFrank-Cole, a director and professor of West Virginia University’s leadership studies program, said.

Despite ever changing circumstances including war, family troubles or changes to the monarchy itself, she managed to keep moving forward and stay relevant. She listened to those around her, and this helped her get past various challenges.

A great leader has passion for the company and resiliency in order to overcome any obstacles that come up in the business world. It is important for leaders to have this passion because it helps them stay focused on the goals of the company, even during tough times. Resiliency also helps leaders get through challenging times, which means they can make decisions that will benefit the company, not just themselves.

4. Why as a business leader you should always provide a Sense Of Values

I think that one of the key lessons we can draw from her is that great leaders give meaning, a vision and a true sense of the values you hold.

During her long reign there were a huge amount of major changes in the world and in the UK. Despite all this turmoil and uncertainty, Britain stayed united. The Leaders at the time, as well as the British people always seemed to uphold their sense of values in terms of who they were and what they stood far. A lot of this could be attributed to the Queen.

Values are the essence of a company. They define what is important to the company and its employees.

When values are communicated and lived they provide a sense of direction, purpose and meaning. Values also help build trust and personality, which is essential for any organization to succeed in today’s competitive world.

5. Listening – The value of listening as a leader and why it is so important

It’s important to remember that one of the qualities the Queen is well-known for as a leader is her willingness to listen.

Many of the people she worked with, who considered her to be open-minded and forward-thinking, reportedly said that they never felt like she would shut them down if they shared differing opinions or presented a different perspective on a subject.

It seems like she changed her mind about televising the coronation. At first she was hesitant about changing traditions as Winston Churchill was also against televising it, but she was then convinced by her husband to broadcast it on TV : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronation_of_Elizabeth_II

As any good leader should do, the Queen always sought sound advice from her trusted advisers. Probably because of this reason, her Majesty has one of the highest approval ratings (75%) of any British monarch that has ever lived.

Listening is an essential skill for any leader. The ability to listen is a sign of humility and respect, an acknowledgment that others have something to teach you. In addition, listening helps keep you updated on what’s happening within your company and in the world around you. The better informed you are, the more confident and responsive your decisions will be.

6. Wise leaders exercise restraint

We are all aware that it is not wise to exercise restraint in one area of life and not in others. For example, it is not wise to exercise restraint when it comes to eating and then go on a shopping spree. Wise leaders know that there is a balance between all areas of life, including the way you spend money.

When campaigning over the Scottish Independence referendum, David Cameron sought the Queen’s approval to help the public make a decision. The Queen was well aware of how important Scotland is to her and she saw it as a very difficult decision.

Of course, the prime minister knew it would have not be appropriate for Her Majesty to openly argue in favour of an opinion, or a particular course of action on this issue, but he suggested that perhaps she could make a very subtle gesture according to her own deeply held beliefs about the subject. Needless to say, she did not agree to his request.

Leaders are often faced with situations where they must show restraint. It is a difficult skill to master, but it is necessary for the sake of the company and its future.

There are many different ways that we can show leadership without taking control. We can encourage others to take on tasks or take on more responsibility themselves, delegate tasks, provide feedback, or just listen.

the Queen has dedicated her life to serving others, ever since she trained as a truck mechanic during World War Two

7. How Hard work and humility can earn you respect as a leader

The Queen pledged her commitment to duty as early as her 21st birthday before she even became queen: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.”

Consider this commitment for a moment. Wow, such a big statement for such a young woman. It was clear from this statement, that Her Majesty would only focus on one single purpose in her life, which she identified and devoted herself to as a young woman.

It’s interesting to note that the word she used here was “service”, not leading or reigning but service. She is saying, ‘you are my subjects’ but I am here to ‘serve’ you and not the other way around.

She has done her duty and earned the respect of her people. The Queen did her best to live up to the trust and expectations that were given to her and she was indeed devoted to serving her subjects.

The way you work and lead your team will have a great impact on how people see you as a leader. People respect hard work and humility. So, focus on these two traits and try to become an example of what you want others to be like in your organization.

10 fundamentals to consider when you create a world-class pitch for investors

Foreword

A world-class pitch for investors is not just a powerful presentation about your product or service that makes people want to buy it. Your pitch needs to make an investor fall so much in love with what you’re doing, believe in the team, the technology, the future potential and your determination to pull through, that they are willing to put huge amounts of money at risk with the danger of losing it all.

There are a lot of very useful articles already on this subject like for instance in Forbes Magazine which I strongly recommend you to read it if you are interested in this subject. In my view it’s a great outline but does not guarantee success. You need to understand that a pitch is not just a fancy PowerPoint with all the facts and figures. The pitch is a way to tell the story in such a way that the investors literally buy into it. In other words: “You need to touch their heart before you touch their mind”!

If you are looking on how to build a story-brand, how to create your hero story I strongly suggest to read the books of Don Miller on this subject.

As a member of the Business Angels Club in Berlin I have seen well over a hundred investor pitches. Out of that experience I identified 10 fundamentals you should look at. Here they come. The first 2 have a somewhat spiritual touch, but as Tony Robbins says: “Business is a spiritual game”.

  1. Get into a peak state before you pitch, because state is everything!

If you have been following me for a while, I’m sure you have seen various posts from me about this subject. I like the definition of state as the so called “triad”:

  • Your physiology
  • What you are focused on
  • The language you are using

Imagine what the “triad” of a successful entrepreneur looks like. How does their physiology look like when they are presenting their pitch? How do they express determination by the way they stand? How do they connect with their audience with their language, their tone of voice, their movements and so forth? What are they focused on? Are they focused on their success or their fear of failure? Look at these 3 elements and describe the “entrepreneurial triad” in as much detail as possible. Then find your way to embody that triad.

“Your true power is not in the slides it is in your state”! And guess what: you can’t hide your state. Your audience will “read” it within the first couple of seconds and unconsciously make a decision if they truly want to listen to your story or not.

You’re still skeptical? Maybe you’ve also had the experience of so-called roadshows where different presenters use exactly the same slide set at different events. When you look at the feedback from the audiences you often get very inconsistent ratings. At one event they really liked the presentation, at another they really did not, but it was the same slide deck. How can this happen? In essence, the audience is rating the presenter much more than the content.

2. Make your audience understand your why

In previous postings I have written about Simon Sinek and his research on why people do what they do. It is not about what you are doing and not even how you are doing it. Your “why” is your passion about your business and the fuel as well as the navigation system that will help you to get where you want to be on this journey. Your “why” is the inspiration as well as the stimulant to keep going. That is why it is so important to be totally clear on your why. I believe that if you discover your true why, the universe will present you with opportunities that allow you to connect to it. Of course, it’s optional for you to accept this guidance.

3. Fall in love with your customer, not your product

Most pitches I have seen were focused primarily on the product and to a lesser extent on meeting the needs of the customer. If you focus on the customers and their needs, the product or service is just a way to fulfill those needs. If you establish a great customer relationship you can sell many different products or services to them over time. It also protects you from losing business easily to a competitor. Products come and go and some of them have a half-life of a year or so. What stays is if it is being nurtured in the relationship.

4. Demonstrate clarity about the market and your USP

Every investor will want you to prove that you have a clear target market that you understand extremely well. Sometimes entrepreneurs get so carried away by their business idea and its potential that almost everyone becomes part of their target market. Smaller is better and focus is of the essence. Focus will allow you to narrow down on your development efforts and if you come to understand that “niche market” very well, you can pretty quickly become a recognized expert and a leader in that field.

It is always worthwhile to spend time on articulating your USP and try it out on customers in your niche. These discussions in turn will give you an even better understanding of your target market. Also, if you can’t explain your USP to “ordinary people” you do not have one.

Are you clear about who your current and future competitors are? Study their strengths and weaknesses. Create a detailed plan on how you will create and increase market share over time.

5. Present a scalable business model and give them confidence in the growth potential

Investors always, always want to go big. Your pitch needs to present that potential and the investments needed to get there. Is your product or service limited to a specific country or could you go international? If so, what would be the steps. How do the costs scale with the business expansion? Do you need double the resources to achieve twice the revenue or are there economies of scale? What different distribution/partner channels can you use? Allow yourself to dream just for an instance in the pitch and articulate this dream but do not get carried away.

If you have an existing business from a high level, there are 3 primary ways to grow:

  1. Increase the number of customers
  2. Increase the average transaction value (upsell/cross sell)
  3. Increase the frequency of repurchase or get more residual value out of each customer (referrals)

The trick here is that these 3 effects multiply and even small changes at each step result in respectable growth overall. For instance, if you can increase your number of customers by 10%, your average transaction value by 10% and the frequency of repurchase by 10%, you have grown your business by 33.1%. If for instance you can achieve 20%/20%/20% the overall growth is 72.8%!

6. Do not underestimate the marketing efforts

A credible marketing strategy is often missing. “Build it and they will come” does not work these days, probably has rarely worked at all. Putting up a website is not a game changer. You need to drive traffic to it. That is a very expensive undertaking and might not be affordable or even worthwhile. Can you partner with someone who “owns” a particular audience that is of interest to you? Where in the physical or virtual world do your potential customers hang out? You need to go there! Create one or more customer avatars and study their “life”: what are their needs and how do they meet them today? You can start to do this using Google with no money down.

Marketing is a premier place to burn money which is what investors hate of course! On the other hand, you need to create market awareness for your offering otherwise you will never get the business going. Present a smart way on how to handle that double edged sword.

7. Have a profound sales/partnering strategy

As a matter of fact, I have rarely seen much emphasis on this topic, yet it is fundamental to success. Yes, these days (almost) anything goes as far as selling over the web is concerned. Understand your sales funnel, the customer journey from “lead” to “sale” in detail. Test it as much as you can and try different variants. The success of this funnel most likely will change over time due to external changes in the economy, your market, the technology and so forth. Therefore, it is absolutely important to make assumptions on how many prospects you will convert at each step of the funnel, benchmark it with reality and consistently monitor it. In accordance with the principle explained under point 5, even tiny incremental changes at every step of the sales funnels can multiply up to huge overall growth. Investors usually like this programmatic sales approach.

The most expensive way to sell is by employing sales people. Good sales people are expensive and add to your run rate costs. Furthermore, they need to be kept incentivized and managed. Unless you happen to have great people management skills, this will be a huge challenge. It might be smarter to partner with someone who understands your market and pay them a certain percentage of revenue they bring in. This way you are not just adding cost to the business, you are paying only upon success.

8. Be realistic about the effort/time to market

In the startup phase there is a trend to overestimate what you can do in the near future partly because you probably do not have a lot of past experience in the market or the business in general. It takes time to find the right people, get them on board and develop relationships and negotiate contracts. There are third parties that can help you speed this up. Until such time that you have a respectable presence in the market you are again mostly burning money. Some startups are like fatally ill patients that continuously need to be keep kept alive by infusions of money. Describe how you are going for market share vs profitability. In the end, the investor will want to see a good and reliable ROI in the near future. 

Do not plan the development of your product or service on the critical path. Allow for failure and delays. There is a reason why the leading edge is also sometimes called the bleeding edge. Sometimes a delay is not primarily your fault for instance when you get low quality parts from a supplier. “Shit happens” and investors will like if you build this into your plan.

9. Show a long-term view on how to develop your technology and maintain a competitive edge – establish and grow vs exit strategy

In the beginning you will most likely be offering just one product or service to a specific set of customers. It is like standing on only one leg. You’re pretty vulnerable. It is not just about bringing it to market, you need ongoing investments and adjustments in order to maintain your competitiveness. And what if a “bigshot” might be entering your market and just try to wipe your business out? Demonstrate that you understand the market and the technologies and can gain market share even in a highly competitive environment. How do you manage transitions? How do you manage maintaining what you have vs developing for the future?

You should not assume that you will always have the best technology in the market. Usually, the market it big enough to allow for various competitive offerings with respectable market share. Be aware that it takes a different mindset to sell the second or third best product in the market.

Last but not least, could your product or service become a commodity so that competitors with a different cost structure, market outreach and partnership can kill your business? Then maybe the long-term strategy you should be driving for is an exit strategy and sell the company. In the end, the vast majority of startups will drive an exit strategy.

10. Provide transparency – present your value and the risks, ask for help

You definitely do not want investors to shoot holes into your story, so you might as well tell them a positive version of the truth. In order to develop trust in what you are doing you need to show them that you are well aware of the potential risks and have a reasonable approach on how to mitigate those. If there is something you do not know, acknowledge it and promise them an answer back asap. That can actually be a nice lead in for more airtime with them. It is also smart to ask investors for their opinion and help, but not the “I have no clue” type of help though. Chances are that this is not their first investment discussion and they have a wide personal network that you can benefit from.

One last word: practice, practice, practice! Test you pitch in front of different friendly and even unfriendly audiences. Encourage people to ask questions – even nasty ones. Finally: get feedback on your performance and refine your pitch.

Mercy for Elizabeth Holmes?

Two weeks ago, the news hit the press that Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos, was found guilty on four conspiracy and fraud charges for swindling her investors and is facing up to 20 years in prison.

Elizabeth Holmes, a Stanford drop out, founded the Biotech company in 2003 at the age of 19 with the ambition to revolutionize blood testing by providing the capability to run hundreds of tests on only a pinprick of blood. This would eliminate the need to stick a needle into someone’s body and collect bottles of blood making it an easier, quicker, and cheaper process that could be performed virtually anywhere without the need to see a doctor.

That was exactly the stuff that dreams are made of in Silicon Valley. She was hyped as the next Steve Jobs and eventually became the youngest self-made billionaire with Theranos getting to a peak evaluation of $9bn. Walgreens, Rupert Murdoch, Larry Ellison, and others had invested heavily into the company. Henry Kissinger was on the board of directors as well as William Foege, former director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

How cool was that combination? With Walgreens, a giant distribution channel was already on board. The CDC would give the product instant credibility and help to establish it as a worldwide standard for blood testing. Henry Kissinger’s network was invaluable, and the Murdoch empire would spread the story through all their media channels globally. What a perfect setup it was!

In 2015 an investigative journalist from the Wall Street Journal revealed that fake demonstrations had been done to investors and the tests proved to be massively inaccurate. Secretly other tests using traditional blood drawing methods and outside labs were performed instead. Also, Elizabeth Holmes tried to use her contact to Rupert Murdoch to suppress the article, but the Wall Street Journal published it anyway. It eventually led to the collapse of the company in 2018.

The public verdict seems to be unanimously that this is a clear case of fraud and Elizabeth Holmes is the guilty one. Having worked with Silicon Valley companies for almost 40 years I asked myself if she wasn’t rather the victim of “The System” of Silicon Valley. In a sense it reminded me of the ballad “The Sourceres Apprentice” from the German Poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe where the talented apprentice out of curiosity unleashes a process that becomes uncontrollable and seemingly ends in chaos. Luckily in the end the master steps in to resolve the situation. Unfortunately, in the case of Elizabeth Holmes there was no master, there were apparently no controls. Of course, Silicon Valley hard core advocates will argue that it is exactly the unlimited belief in and commitment to innovation that makes extraordinary success happen. 

The belief of Silicon Valley is that if you match young talented entrepreneurs and scientists with venture capitalist anything is possible. I am not going to argue against that, but I think the Theranos case has shown that this alone is not a recipe for success. If you have a dream about something that has the potential of revolutionizing an industry, in the very beginning there is no assurance whatsoever that you’ll be successful. Yet, in order to attract investors, you have to give them the impression that the probability for success is reasonable. “Fake it until you make it” is a principle that comes to mind. The creative process needs to manage beliefs, uncertainties, failures, emotions, showstoppers and so forth and I am sure that there have been many attempts to distill “the ultimate success formula” which will guarantee success in a reproduceable fashion. 

I assume we all agree that the CEO of a startup needs to perform the fine art of managing expectations while keeping in touch with reality and considering possibilities. Obviously, Elizabeth Holmes failed miserably on that task. You need to at least give your investors and the market a positive impression of the truth (aka “the glass is half full”) because otherwise they get cold feed, lose confidence, the stock takes a hit, your funding gets impacted and you might be forced to balance the books by bloodshed (aka layoffs) which can take you into a downward spiral you might not recover from. So, it is all about controlling the hype while still enjoying the ride. 

In my opinion the dilemma starts with a lie. It is so tempting to use it in order to prevent “the system” from crashing but it also gets you a potentially fundamental crossroad. From now on your future story needs to be consistent with the essence of the lie and that may bring you totally out of sync with reality. The pressure to stay consistent with your lie becomes unmanageable and at that point there is no way to reset to the truth. It is time for the big bang.

As a CEO you need to ask yourself the question: how do I find out what’s really going on? Is telling the truth supported and encouraged by the company culture that has been developed or do my people tell me what they think I want to hear? In most cases I am likely to get different opinions. Who do I listen to? The people I like, the best storytellers? Do I actually want to hear the truth, can I resist the urge to take the drug of illusion? Those are choices you have to make almost on a daily basis. 

In my 40+ years working for Silicon Valley companies I have seen various “fake it until you make it situations” none of which ended in a big bang though. The hype cooled down and the project was discretely buried and that even worked when billion-dollar investments had been involved. I think the tragedy of Theranos was also rooted in the fact that it was a one product company, so all the eggs were in just one basket and there was hardly a way to mitigate the risk. 

Let’s ask ourselves the question: what would I have done as the CEO of Theranos? Before we do that, we should remind ourselves that this exercise is somewhat unfair as we are judging the CEO while we already know the full outcome. In a sense we have to make judgements in the context that existed at the time. 

For me the analogy of the “Boiling Frog” apologue comes to mind. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of sinister threats that arise gradually rather than suddenly. In the Theranos case the heat was raising maybe half a degree a month.

One of the prime duties of a CEO is to put in place the controls necessary to get a clear picture of what is going on while managing the communication with the stakeholders and the outside world. Yes, you need to also take risks in order to get the high rewards, but you need to put a red line out there to keep it to a manageable level. Now what do you do when you reach that red line? Buy more time? Bite the bullet and tell the complete truth or let it out piece by piece? Ask the board of directors for help? Look for a partnership to get access to alternative/complementary technology? Limit the playing field to a “safe” space where the technology works? As a last resort you could decide to take refuge under the wings of a health care giant as long as you still have assets of interest. Probably many of these thoughts went through Elizabeth Holmes’ mind at some point in time, but no visible action was taken. Inaction proved to be the path of death in this case.

Finally, the investors have taken her to the cleaners and are looking for revenge. How about their duties? Did they understand the risk they were taking? Did they get an independent view of outside experts in this field? Did they draw a red line? Did they offer/provide help? Or were they just dazzled by their own greed? Interestingly enough, the board of directors never gets sued for not taking action.

In summary, the system of Silicon Valley is not the world formula for guaranteed success and despite of what is being said, it does not really tolerate failure. It is the joint responsibility of the managers in play on both sides to create a culture of openness, transparency, support and proactiveness that allows “stuff” to bubble up and be dealt with before the only viable sentence becomes the death penalty.

My new primary question

We talked about the Primary Question and the influence it can have on our lives in this blog before. The primary question is like an immediate unconscious reaction to things happening in your environment. Some questions are serving us and help us feel presence, love and gratitude, others remind us about our fear that we might not be enough and therefore not be lovable. Even a question which might look very innocent from the outside like “How can I make this better?“ could drive a person into a vicious cycle of desperately looking for “the perfect solution“ which in most cases does not exist.

The good news is that by using NLP we can change an unwanted primary question to one which suits us better, so we do not have to suffer.  We actually can change it any time we want. That relieves a lot of pressure about making “the right choice“ and allows us to try things out. My previous primary question was “How can I enjoy this moment even more?“. What I liked about it was the fact that it presupposed that I was focused on the here and now and that I was enjoying the moment already. It did not put me under any pressure to take action – just feel and enjoy. Of course, that were moments which were not enjoyable by definition and then the question invited me to take a different perspective. 

In business situations where sometimes politics come into play, this question nevertheless put me from time to time into a confused state. A bit more than a week ago I reflected on this and found my new primary question:

“What is the gift in this moment?“

Here is what I like about my new primary question: it presupposes that there is a gift in any moment and as we all know, problems are gifts that make us grow when we solve them. The word “gift“ puts me into a state of positive anticipation – almost like at Christmas and most importantly, it makes me refrain from retaliation which used to be my default reaction when I rated something as an attack. The positive effect now is that my response is a lot better thought out and in many cases it prevents me from getting into an argument with others. I’m excited about how this primary question will support me in the future.

Five Steps to a Magnificent Life

In one of his recent seminars the famous life coach Tony Robbins was asked if there was a recipe to set oneself up for a magnificent life. Here is what he recommended:

FEED AND CONDITION YOUR MIND

Your mindset determines the quality of your life. What are your beliefs, what are you focused on, what are your rules? If you change them, you can see dramatic shifts in your experience. What if you decided to focus on what’s right instead of what might be wrong, on the positive instead of the negative, on finding a solution instead of complaining. These days news and social medial have a huge impact on how you feel, but you have the choice to tune into channels that support and fuel your positive ambitions. Rituals and repetition will help you condition it. Surround yourself with people who support your growth, who encourage you to keep on trying instead of giving up because you are not good enough.

STRENGTHEN YOUR BODY

When I ask young people: “What’s important to you in life?“, very seldom health comes up as a priority. This changes instantly when we get sick, and the highest priority is to recover. Taking care of our body is the basis for living a long life with vital energy. It starts with what you eat and how much you eat. Learn about which food is good for you and what just poisons your body. How do you deal with junk food, sugar, coffee, and alcohol? That does not mean though that you have to live a life of scarcity and prohibition. It is about creating a mindset that highly values health and vitality. Sports help you build muscles and stay in shape.

GET A ROLE MODEL

When you want to learn or achieve something in life, it makes sense to find someone who has mastered the skill or achieved what you are looking for. If you ask them coming from a position of humility they are most likely willing to share how they did it. Most of them will actually be happy to share since they are proud of their achievement. Write down as much as you can capture. If your role model is a celebrity and seems hard/impossible to reach, spend some time on Google to find out about their story. 

PROXIMITY IS POWER

You become the average of the people that you surround yourself with. Weak people surround themselves with those who have less energy, less ambition and are less successful so they can shine. Instead surround yourself with people who have reached what you want, who have the connections that you need, who play life at a higher level than you do at this point in time. Learn from them, solicit their support, and have them hold you accountable to executing on your plan. This will challenge you, and lift you to a higher level. Find a peer group that lives co-elevation as Keith Ferrazzi calls it. 

GIVE MORE THAN YOU EXPECT TO RECEIVE

When I was young, I thought that I was entitled to everything I had. Later in my life I experienced the magic of gratefulness and that became the primary driver for me to give back to society. “Give, and it shall be given to you“, Luke says in the bible. It seems to be a fundamental law of the universe to reward those who give more than they expect to receive.

The story behind “The Wolf of Berlin“

Sometimes I get the question: Why do you call yourself “The Wolf of Berlin“? Quite frankly, when I was looking for a branding, The Wolf of Berlin was the natural one for me to pick. I selected it without a lot of thinking. My first name is Wolfgang and I live in Berlin, the capital of Germany – that’s it. When I talked about that branding with my marketing advisor, he raised some very serious concerns. Wolves are dangerous animals, and most people are afraid of them. Why in the world would someone want to be coached by a wolf? My first reaction was: he is absolutely right.

Then I thought about it some more and of course I googled the wolf and found that in shamanism there is the notion of a “power animal“. A power animal is, like an angel, a creature of light without a physical body and its mission is to protect a human being and become his soulmate. So, let’s look at the wolf as a power animal. The wolf makes ancient wisdom available to us. He stands for leadership and strength. At the same time, he stands for the wild, the uncontrollable, and there is as well something mystical about the wolf. I guess everyone who saw the movie “The Wolf of Wallstreet“ was inspired by Leonardo Di Caprio’s performance as a brilliant story teller and sales guy who looked at business as a game and ruthlessly played it to the extreme.

A wolf has some amazing capabilities and is a very social animal. He lives in packs where they jointly go after fat prey. At times the wolf leaves the pack in order to go after a new experience. A wolf can smell a human being over a distance of up to 2.5 km and can walk up to 40 km in a day. He is very faithful in his relationships. The myth that the wolf is howling at the moon was actually created by Hollywood movies. Howling is the way wolves communicate over distances of up to 10 km and protect their turf. In order to maximize their outreach they put their heads back. Since they are mostly active during dusk and the night, the moon is their steady companion. But the wolf is by no means howling at the moon.

If you get inspired by the wolf as your power animal, you can enjoy personal freedom, the shelter of the pack and grow your leadership skills and self-confidence. When the wolf looks at you with his impenetrable gaze, he is asking you to listen to your soul’s calling and that is what coaching is all about!

Coaching is not about giving advice. It is about helping the client to find “their solution”.

As a coach you often meet clients who are totally frustrated claiming: “I have tried everything but nothing worked to solve my problem“. Of course you have seen a lot of similar cases and you are tempted to make suggestions. You might simply care about this person and hate to see him/her in disarray or pain. Giving advice is nevertheless a bad idea – why? 

You usually do not know the person well enough, you have not lived their life, you did not have the experiences they had. Also chances are very high that in a highly emotional state people can not appreciate what ever you propose. Often they are obsessed about their “problem“ being so special, so hard that it can’t have an easy solution that any outsider could come up with. Some take significance from the fact that they have this huge “unsolvable problem“. Most of them will argue with you about any suggestion. Specifically perfectionists that are looking for the ultimate solution will immediately shoot any suggestion down because it is not perfect. 

The first task then is to interrupt their pattern of helplessness and bring them to a resourceful state. Usually it is not the lack of resources that troubles them but rather the lack of resourcefulness. When the pattern is interrupted, we can make them remember a time when they felt powerful, resourceful, unstoppable and recreate that state. From that state then new resources come within reach and creativity gets unleashed. We can then coach the clients to create a solution that is a great fit for them which they can fully embrace because they created it. It is not uncommon that this solution now looks quite different and much more impactful than what the coach had in mind at the beginning.

The journey from the brain to the heart

I was educated as a mathematician and worked in IT for my entire business life. I grew up in a binary world driven by logic and algorithms. No wonder that I thought that what made me a human being was my brain and that everything else was just a vehicle to help me navigate and keep me alive and functioning. My heart for instance was a blood pump, nothing else. To brain-dominated people like I was then, emotions were a strange thing, a sign of weakness almost. Emotions distracted me from the chosen logical path. Emotions were something I had little control over. I even felt ashamed of some of my feelings and tried to hide them which in turn made me look „cold“ and hard to approach by others.

When I started my journey of self-development, I discovered that the main function of our brain is to keep us out of trouble and make us stay alive. This was a great support function to have, but should it take control of my entire life? The brain was always looking for what could go wrong and trying to protect me from the consequences. Likewise, much of my education was driven by the urge to „find the error“. I realized that perfectionism had shut off my ability to truly enjoy the beauty of this world.

The new task for me was to take control of my thoughts through NLP techniques. I came to appreciate emotions as something that brings us into motion. Emotions make us remember important moments in our lives. It is not just an achievement or the outcome but the emotions we felt when it occurred.

It is mostly the brain that creates negative thoughts which trigger negative emotions for us. On the other hand, feeling love is not the result of a cognitive process. You simply cannot make yourself love someone. Besides serving as a blood pump, the heart is the place where all the answers are as it also serves as a point of connection to the universe, our creator and it creates a sense of belonging. It is our true emotional home. The brain is part of the ego that created the separation necessary for us to have an individual experience. It was an amazing journey for me from the brain to the heart and it helped me to realize who I really am and what fulfills me.