All Posts by Tim Ohai

Some of the best advice you could ever get (Part 1)

Last week, I had the pleasure to give a keynote presentation to the current graduating cohort of the Founder Institute of Sacramento. I spoke on the best advice that I could give them as budding entrepreneurs.

Coincidentally, this advice is some of the best that I know (and use) for any leadership role.

I’d like to share some of it with you.

For starters, do you know what the number one cause of failed business is? The list of suspects can get quite long with suggestions like:

  • Low sales
  • Competition
  • Lack of experience
  • Unexpected growth
  • And so forth…

But I was taught many years ago that the number one reason that businesses fail is poor decision-making.

There is no perfect strategy. In the immortal words of boxer Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

No strategy, no leader, no innovation, and no culture can overcome poor decision-making. One could certainly argue that strategies, leaders, innovation, and culture are intricately connected with decision-making in an almost chicken-and-egg infinite loop, but let’s just pause and focus on the decision-making part for a moment.

Whether you are creating strategy or executing one, decision-making will be essential. What you decide to do when real-life happens creates the succeed-or-fail future of everything else.

I commonly see three areas that consistently drive poor – and great – decision-making. This week, let’s talk about the first one.


If I want to destroy decision-making, if I want to inject chaos, I will remove clarity. I will hide the truth and obscure the reality. Because in the absence of information, people make up their own.

We are funny organisms, us humans. We struggle mightily with the unknown. We would rather create complex narratives that are full of half-truths and outright fallacies than sit and wait for clarity.

The 24-hour news cycle monetizes this. And politicians exploit it. And business leaders are enslaved by it.

But it is amazing how clarity will suddenly settle things down – or even ramp things up. Clarity will shove every half-truth and fallacy to the side.

In business, especially if I want to drive great decision-making, I will drive clarity first.

When people are involved, I will most often focus on two areas: goal clarity and role clarity.

Goal clarity involves making sure that everyone has a solid understanding of what success looks like. This is HUGELY important, because if my definition of success and your definition of success are not the same, every decision we make will create some form of unhealthy division.

When goal clarity is weak, people are:

  • pursuing the wrong goals,
  • pursuing competing goals,
  • or simply not pursuing goals at all.

Every decision and every action will take us further apart. Even if we get along really well.

Eventually, we will be so far apart that even if we want to work together, we will have to use all of our resources just to get back on track – often leaving us fatigued and under-resourced for the next steps.

These are the companies that wound up doing too little, too late. When they finally recognized that they were falling apart, and worked to get back on track, they couldn’t halt their demise. When you peel back their stories, a lack of goal clarity is a constant component.

But then you also find the second component: role clarity. Or rather, a lack of it.

Role clarity means that everyone knows their role AND their teammates’ roles. They know how to stay in their own swim lane and how to tell if someone is (or isn’t) in theirs.

When role clarity is weak, people are:

  • doing the wrong job,
  • redoing someone else’s job,
  • or undoing someone else’s job.

Because even when you have goal clarity, you have to have healthy teaming to drive great decision-making. Otherwise, processes won’t work, structures will fail, and the interpersonal junk will explode all over the place.

Can you see how clarity will drive decision-making?

Mirror moment #1: How healthy is decision-making in your business? Are people able to respond to real-time obstacles in a way that protects the vision and accomplishes the long-term? Is the topic of decision-making a sore spot– or cause for celebration (with a high level of organizational visibility)?

Mirror moment #2: How much clarity is in your business? Are goals clear and aligned across the whole team? And are roles unhealthy and haphazard– or healthy and strong (with a high level of personal accountability)?

Your answers matter – for your sanity and your team’s.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

P.S. If you liked this post, please share it. People can subscribe to this blog here. Thanks!

How to conquer stress (Part 4)

Sometimes, when the stress is too much, serving your way through it is not an option.

Sometimes, the situation is simply too complex to handle in an ideal way.

Obviously, there are those situations in life that are overwhelming. Situations that are genuinely life-threatening. I will say that everything I have been talking about in regards to stress and serving your way through it was learned from my own personal experience of walking with my wife through her leukemia journey. If you know cancer, you know that stress is a constant companion.

But I want to talk today about different situations. The more “every day” ones that don’t involve the potential of death.

A horrible boss.

A toxic client.

An aggressive plan.

An unexpected disruption.

Each of these situations can create stress. And your best option is to serve your way through them.

But what if you can’t do that? How do you know that serving is not an option?

There are two rules that I use in my life – and will help you and your team as well.

Both rules are based on this idea: people can be addicted to stress.

What I mean is that they are addicted to success, significance, and/or power. And just like an addict to any other thing, the moment they aren’t getting “enough,” they go into survival mode.

Which can get pretty ugly.

So, rule number one is: when you are dealing with someone who is a stress addict, serving them may not be an option. If you cannot influence them or cannot adapt in a way that leads to being able to influence them later, there is a very real possibility that you may need to move on. They are simply not capable of accepting your service – and will only dump their stress on you. This is neither sustainable nor healthy. So, you need to plan on leaving that scenario. You need to get out, because all that is happening from this point forward is abuse.

Which leads us to rule number two: when you are addicted to stress (i.e. you cannot get enough success, significance, or power), serving your way through it is not your priority. Healing is.

How do you know if you are an addict? Well, how often do you react to just the possibility of failure, rejection, and/or losing control?

Even if your stress behavior is “acceptable” or “normal,” how often do you get triggered?

Occasional flareups are one thing. Being in a constant state of sensitivity is another.

As a recovering stress addict myself (yeah, I will admit that), I have to constantly be aware of whether or not I get stressed. I work very hard to be immediately aware of stress – then immediately identify it as fear. Then immediately check what I am afraid of. So that I can immediately turn the fear off and choose a different response.

If you are an addict, none of those mental steps happen. You just launch into shame/blame/manipulation/withdrawal – often with anger attached.

Serving your way through stress is just not realistic for you.

And, going back to rule number one, serving your way through someone else’s addiction is only for those special relationships that matter most. If the other person will even allow you to do so.

In closing, I know that I took a very sensitive topic and went pretty deep with it. I did that for three reasons:

  • Stress is a universal – and growing – problem today. The impact of this trend is being widely overlooked.
  • Great working relationships will have stress – but it doesn’t have to be toxic. We just need to know how to address it in healthy ways.
  • If you are in a leadership position, your team needs you to both help them navigate their stress AND not add to it. But most organizations do an inadequate job of empowering this approach.

Finally, I am very serious when I say this: if you are stressed and need someone to talk with, email me. I’m not a therapist, but I care. And if you need someone who will help you get a little clarity so that you can figure out a path forward, I would be honored to help.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

P.S. If you liked this post, please share it. People can subscribe to this blog here. Thanks!

How to conquer stress (Part 3)

This week, I am going to pull everything together into a unified whole. And at the risk of reducing a very complex idea into an overly simplistic one, let me offer the following formula:

The fear of (X) is the root cause of (stress behavior Y)

As I have already written, when people get stressed they have only two choices. They can either (a) turn on their survival mode or (b) turn on their serving mode. These modes are what I call stress behaviors.

Survival mode looks like:

  • Feeling self-imposed shame/guilt because YOU feel somehow responsible
  • Putting blame on everyone else because THEY are somehow responsible
  • Manipulating people/circumstances to make sure that YOU survive
  • Withdrawing emotionally/physically so that NO ONE can blame you

There is nothing healthy about survival mode. When you – or your teammate/customer/family member/friend – are in survival mode, things eventually get toxic. Bad decisions get made.

Serving mode, on the other hand, is incredibly healthy. It looks like:

  • Influencing people/circumstances in an open, non-manipulative way
  • Adapting to people/circumstances until the stress passes and/or the opportunity to influence appears

When you – or your teammate/customer/family member/friend – are in serving mode, things open up and become collaborative and helpful. Good decisions get made.

Why is this important to know? Because when people start shaming, blaming, manipulating, or withdrawing, it means that they are stressed – not evil.

Pause. How often do the people you know start shaming, blaming, manipulating, or withdrawing the moment they get stressed? Did you immediately think to yourself, “What a jerk” or “They are (insert negative opinion here)”?

Turn the mirror. How often do you pick one (or more) of the survival mode behaviors the moment that you get stressed?

If you answered these questions with something akin to “way more than I would like,” keep reading.

As leaders, we MUST learn to recognize the signs of stress when they are happening. And I am very clearly calling out shame, blame, manipulation, and withdrawal as the primary stress behaviors we should be looking for. The more traditional indicators of fatigue and failure are frankly lagging indicators. The stress is already well on its way to burnout – which is an entirely different problem.

We must transform our awareness of stress behaviors (including the good ones), so that we immediately think “I am stressed” or “they are stressed.” Otherwise, we run the risk of creating more stress, adding our own complexity and making things worse.

Side note: Anger is also a stress behavior – but the key is how the anger is being directed. Is it to “justify” shaming, blaming, manipulating, or withdrawing? Focus on how the anger is being used, not the presence of it. Because healthy anger can be used to serve as well. It is what makes us use our influence against injustice and protect those who cannot adapt themselves.

The next step, once stress has been identified, is to immediately go to the beginning of the formula: “The fear of (X) is causing…”

As I described last week, the fears of failure, rejection, and/or losing control are the most common causes of stress that I know.

When people exhibit stress behaviors, they are afraid.

So, deal with that. Help them succeed, demonstrate acceptance, and lend your ability to stabilize. Serve them, until they can get back into serving mode themselves.

Side note: Sometimes, especially if we are the “authority in the room,” the other person is afraid of US. They are afraid that they will fail us, be rejected by us, lose control to us. You cannot make people behave differently, but you can certainly change your interactions so that what you are projecting is healthy.

Now, if YOU are the one who is afraid, this requires far more effort. You must first be aware that when you shame/blame/manipulate/withdraw, it means that you are stressed. Recognize this. Stop yourself before you send that email, speak up in that conversation, or gossip behind someone’s back. You are stressed – which means that you are afraid. And when you recognize your fear, serve your way through it.

Choose to influence or adapt. Choose to help others. Choose to lift up someone else and trust that success, significance, and/or power are not the “holy grails” that your brain is screaming that they are.

Next week, I will talk about what to do when serving your way through stress is not an option. In the meantime, ponder this week’s topic a while longer.

Does the fear of failing/rejection/losing control cause you to serve (influence/adapt) or survive (shame/blame/manipulate/withdraw)?

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

P.S. If you liked this post, please share it. People can subscribe to this blog here. Thanks!

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