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Melissa Shanahan

#236: Your Winning Strategy: A Source of Success and Limitation

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Your winning strategy is your lifelong unconscious formula for achieving success. It’s what has driven you to the extraordinary success you’ve already created, and it has likely served you extremely well up to this point. However, if you’re looking to create brand-new levels of success that currently feel impossible, you have to let your winning strategy go.

This week, Melissa is exploring the topic of your winning strategy from The Last Word on Power by Tracy Goss. Your winning strategy has created wild success for you so far, but when left unquestioned, it will actually start to impede future success. Now that you’re ready to up-level your results, your winning strategy won’t cut it any longer, and you’ll learn why this week.

Listen in today to discover the lightbulb moments Melissa has experienced from studying The Last Word on Power, and why waking up to your winning strategy holds so much potential. You’ll learn how to uncover your winning strategy, why its both a source of success and limitation, and why you must scrap it if you want to reach new heights.

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with Melissa. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way. Enrollment will be opening soon, so join the waitlist right now to grab one of the limited seats!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• How your behaviors are governed by your winning strategy.

• The definition and anatomy of a winning strategy. 

• What Melissa discovered about her winning strategy.

• 3 questions to help you uncover your individual winning strategy.

• What the two ends of the winning-strategy spectrum looks like.

• How becoming aware of your winning strategy creates a different relationship with success.

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The Last Word on Power by Tracy Goss

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast Episode #236.

Welcome to The Law Firm Owner Podcast, powered by Velocity Work, for owners who want to grow a firm that gives them the life they want. Get crystal clear on where you're going, take planning seriously, and honor your plan like a pro. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Hi, everyone, welcome to this week's episode. I'm so glad you're here. Happy holidays. I don't think I've said that yet on the podcast. So, Happy Holidays. We are officially in the season, and I hope you are enjoying yourself and enjoying the season, even if December happens to be a busier month for you. I know with a lot of my clients that is the case, but Happy Holidays. My best wishes to you and yours.

Okay, today's topic, what we are going to be digging into, is something that I talk about a lot with my clients and members too at times, in Mastery Group. I have alluded to this concept before in the podcast. I haven't done an episode just on this. It feels like it's time, because I have this conversation more and more and more with those around me.

I have studied this deeply for myself in the past, and it stays top of mind for me as I move along through the years as a business owner. And so, I want to present it to you today so that you have an opportunity to think about this for yourself.

It comes from a book the book is called The Last Word on Power by Tracy Goss. It is an older book; it is not available as an audiobook, which is a bummer. But I'm going to do my best to distill down one of the main concepts that is provided in the book, that seemed to be, to me, one of the most helpful concepts in the book.

I'll give a little context as to why I think this is important and why it does come up with clients. This book is about what Tracy Goss calls “executive reinvention.” She wrote the book for individuals who had created this success for themselves, and now they have to go to the next level of success in creating something they have never created before.

And so, for many people, they would say they're creating the impossible. That's what she refers to in the book, you've created some extraordinary success and now you want to create “the impossible.” How do you do that? How do you embark on this journey? How do you create the set of results that you've never done before, you're not entirely sure you can do, but you're going to go for it anyway?

The people that I have the privilege of working with have done just that. They have created an extraordinary, successful firm; it doesn't mean it's a perfect firm. Never is it a perfect firm. But they have created some extraordinary success, and they've really blown their own minds with what has been created.

And they are looking to grow. They are looking to create a new set of results to build on what they already have built. That is a journey, as you go down that path, you start to bump up against your own limitations. So, what we're going to talk about today, it comes up a lot and I bring up a lot; I bring this book up a lot. I point to the concepts in it that I think would be really helpful for people.

So, I'm going to do my best today by giving you a high-level overview of what I think can be quite possibly the most impactful concepts from the book, and allow you to chew on it for yourself. You know, if I'm not in direct conversation with you, it's hard for me to maybe help you see how you could apply this in a very direct way in your own scenario.

But I do think that in just sharing the concepts, you may have some light bulb moments for yourself. You may just get more curious and want to get the book for yourself. I think it's important for me to share here because of how often I talk about this with clients. And if you could start thinking in these ways, then you really level up your position to success.

Okay, so with “executive reinvention,” which is the whole point of this book, she defines executive reinvention as the transformational process of shifting one's perspective and behaviors in a profound and lasting way. She goes on to say it's about transcending old patterns, beliefs, and limitations to become a more effective and authentic leader. So, that's the whole premise for the book.

There are seven separate transformations that she goes into depth, they’re almost like stages; seven stages of transformation that you have to go through in order to complete executive reinvention.

If you've been a regular listener of this podcast, you probably know that I rarely finish a book; it's actually a strength of mine. I didn't used to think that, but now I do. This book, I finished. It's one of a handful of books that I've stuck with that long, because it feels so useful. This entire book has notes in the columns, things underlined, highlighted, tabbed, and I refer to it a lot. I keep this out, close to me. Often, I don't keep it on my bookshelf.

Okay, so the seven stages of transformations are seven separate transformations you have to go through, in her opinion, to actually complete executive reinvention. The reason for this is because her argument is, if you're going to reinvent your organization, you have to reinvent yourself as the leader first, and then your organization will be reinvented in the ways that you want it to be. Transformed is another word that you can use there, if reinvented doesn't quite fit you.

So, if you want to transform your organization, you have to transform yourself as a leader. That is what this book is here to do, is to show you how to do that. So that by transforming yourself, then you can transform your organization and achieve those next level things that you want to achieve through the organization, and maybe just through yourself.

There are seven stages to do that. We are going to focus on the first stage here today, which is called Uncovering Your Winning Strategy. At the very beginning of the chapter, it says ‘discovering the source of your success, which is also the source of your limitation.’ Here's an excerpt that defines a winning strategy.

“A Winning Strategy is a lifelong, unconscious formula for achieving success. You did not design this Winning Strategy; it designed you. As a human being and as a leader, it is the source of your success, and at the same time the source of your limitations. It defines your reality, your way of being, and your way of thinking. And this in turn, focuses your attention and shapes your actions, thereby determining what's possible and not possible for you as a leader.”

I'm going to read a couple of other helpful nuggets in this chapter, just to give you a bit more context. She says:

“Every human being has his or her own winning strategy; a strategy for winning the games of life, for making it in life, or even for surviving in life. It's not a strategy that you sat down and designed and then decided to use, it as a strategy that designed and uses you. The strategy is so much a part of you that you are almost completely unaware of its existence. It operates as a hidden, underlying force in every aspect of your life.”

A little bit later in the chapter, she offers this: “Your winning strategy is not what you do, it is the source of what you do. That is why, to a surprising degree, your behavior, what you are doing, is governed by your winning strategy.”

A bit later in the chapter, she says, “For much of your life, your winning strategy was a benign ally. Providing you with a formula for living effectively, helping you make your way into and through adulthood.” There is a point in this chapter where she talks about your winning strategy as it relates to others around you. She says this, “Your winning strategy also determines what, from your point of view, is wrong with other people.”

See if you can stay with me here; see if you can follow this. I'm going to say that again, and then I'm going to follow it up with some more. “Your winning strategy also determines what, from your point of view, is wrong with other people. You may have acquaintances, for example, whom you consider to be good, strong, intelligent people, except for the aspects of their lives to which they seem blind. If they can only see those aspects, they would be much more effective.”

“But what they are blind to, in your view, is usually part of your own winning strategy, your own formula for success. For example, if your winning strategy is centered around creating relationships with people, you will be sure that those who don't create relationships well can never be successful. If they do succeed, you won't really believe it’s success, it will be a fluke.”

“On the other hand, if your winning strategy is centered around taking charge and driving action, you will find it difficult to tolerate people around you whom those capabilities are missing.”

I don't know about you, but I can see some of this. I can see the truth in this. This isn't all black and white, but it is helpful to think through some of these things. Especially for me, I wasn't necessarily thinking about acquaintances. I was thinking about team members on my team or close family members, the people I have to spend the most amount of time with, that I get to spend the most amount of time with.

It becomes more obvious to me where their opportunities are, that they don't even see. But I see the opportunities. Well, of course I do. Because the opportunities I'm spotting for them, only I can see them, because it's my winning strategy.

Anyway, this is kind of fun to think through when you really stop, and if you journal on some of this stuff, and if you take some notes, it's fascinating to think through where you are doing this, how this is showing up for you, even though it's totally unconscious, and certainly not malevolent, but it's there nonetheless.

I think that's why I like this book so much and that it can be so powerful for people. It’s because it just wakes you up to something that exists that maybe you didn't know existed. It lets you look at your situation and how you operate from an angle that you haven't before.

Because to me, I have been in this coaching, self-development, business development, strategic planning, I've been in this land and this world for so long, and this angle that she comes from with these concepts is very unique. I have never read it in the way that she has put it in.

Thus, it has made me think differently and more deeply and be able to analyze from a place that I haven't been able to before. Which means I can access new levels of awareness that I haven't really had access to before. That's why this book was so powerful for me.

Now, she does say here the purpose of this first stage of transformation, the purpose of uncovering your winning strategy, it's not so that you can find a better winning strategy. That is not the purpose of this chapter, it is just to recognize your own individual winning strategy, and understand how it's affecting your current source of power. Where you're coming from, with the results that you can create and cannot create from this winning strategy that's driving the train.

Okay, in this chapter, she offers how you can start to identify or uncover what your winning strategy is, your individual winning strategy. There's an anatomy to your winning strategy, and that's what she tries to break down. The first question you have to answer is: What are you listening for? The best way, I think, that helps me think about answering this question well is, she says,
“Think of this listening-for element as an antenna built into your attention, operating every moment. An antenna only picks up particular types of sound waves, or those within certain ranges. Similarly, your attention is tuned to pick up only on certain concerns.

What is that? What are those for you?” I'll give you examples of what stood out to me from that question.

But then, the second question that you will be answering is about the actions that you take because of what your antenna picked up on. I'll go into that and provide some examples. And the third and final is: What is the desired outcome that you are trying to create?

So, you have an antenna that's picking up on signals, and then you take very specific actions so that… fill in the blank, there's a desired outcome. As I thought through this for myself and I answered the questions, I’ve got to tell you, some of this wasn't pretty. I wasn't proud of this at all. It was difficult to not have judgment on it.

As I was doing it, I got myself to the place where I didn't have judgment on it. But when I started to really get honest about my answers, it made me cringe. So, if it does it to you as well, you are not alone. I think that's part of just waking up to a way of operating, and what's behind the way of operating, like what's been driving the way that you're operating.

When you start to wake up to it some of it's not pretty, but this isn't you. This is the winning strategy. Remember, your winning strategy is your lifelong, unconscious formula for achieving success. And depending on what environments you were in, what influences you had from a very young age, sort of dictated what your strategy needed to be to succeed. Lo and behold, you have that strategy, that winning strategy in place.

At some point in the book, she says the old expression to someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and it conveys the essence of your winning strategy. It's just deployed over and over and over again to create success in the way that you know how to create success.

And so, when you're looking at these things, and if you do have a sense of sadness, or shame or judgment on it, just remember, you're just waking up to something that you didn't do. It's just there, and you're waking up to it. And that gives you the ability to shift from there, if you want to. Where if you're not awake to it, you can't do anything with it, it's just going to keep driving the train.

Alright, so when I was deep in the work, this is what I uncovered. What am I listening for? She asked a couple of questions to help you tune into that. And so, I answered those. Basically, when you're taking notes, what information do you write down? What questions are your notes trying to answer?

I wrote down: Mental pathways, train of thought, connections my brain has made, what I need to remember. She also asks: When you feel in the “right” place and things are going well, what are the characteristics of that scene?

For me, I wrote things down: People are in the zone, dialed in. And so, then what does that mean I'm probably listening for? To me, that means everything's okay, then I'm probably listening for people who are not dialed in. I'm listening for the threats, right? People who are not dialed in, they're not in the zone, they're not crossing t's and dotting i’s, they're not thorough, they're not detailed, they're not as thoughtful as they should be….

See how judgy I am? They're not as thoughtful they should be. These are my honest answers. I don't love them, but it is what it is... They don't stop to think things through before being “done.” They don't take into account the big picture, as well as the steps.

So, what am I listening for, truly? Is for others to screw up, others to fall short, a lack of people really using their brains to think through something entirely. And when I realized that's what I'm scanning for, I'm scanning for all of that… This leads into the next question: What actions do you take when your antenna picks up what you're listening for? What actions do you take? Like, what mode do you go into?

The notes that I have written down for that are: Fixing the problem, taking the reins... And this made me cry when I wrote it, but I wrote down shaming. And that is not intentional, but that is a result of what happens. My actions tend to make people feel like they should be doing better.

It felt like truth when I wrote down the word, and it made me really sad that that was the truth. But essentially, it's taking the reins and fixing the problem, inserting myself. Those were the actions.

The last thing you have to answer is: In order to… (blank) So, you're listening for these things, then you take these actions in order to… That's the next thing, to fill in the blank.

And so, I said: In order to see what I'm made of, to control the outcome, to do it my own way, to fulfill my potential… That was another one. Those were all my thoughts.

Okay, we've answered these three questions. Essentially, we have learned in this example that when I'm scanning for and I'm listening for where people are not dialed enough; whatever that means, right? Like, they're not paying enough attention, they're not being thoughtful; as thoughtful as they could be, right?

Then I fix the problem. I insert myself. I take the reins. And a lot of that causes, sort of inadvertently, shame for those around me. Then I create the result I've wanted to see. I get things dialed up, get them in the zone, I control the outcome. It's effective and efficient.

That's the story, right? And so, you can see where this actually is a recipe for success. I mean, just like you all listening, I have created some wild success for myself in my life and this is the strategy that is deployed. This is what's gotten me there.

Something I realized, that I have said on the podcast before when I had this realization through leadership development work, was that I've never relied on anyone to get a result that I want. I have been self-reliant. And this winning strategy makes it really clear for me to see that if I have to rely on others to create success, that feels like variables that I can't control, and so I would prefer to just do it on my own, because I can control more of it.

So yeah, it’s just like control freak thing going on that I've known that about myself, but to see exactly how this is stacked was really helpful in me loosening the grip on this a bit, and shifting, for real shifting, how I show up, how I think, being conscious of a strategy being deployed. Even if I choose to let it go, let it ride out, I'm not changing it, but I'm very aware of it.

That creates a very different relationship with success, that I've been really proud of and really been enjoying. Okay, so I gave you my example, just to help you see where you could put some structure to it, and maybe have you think through these things on your own. I actually hope that you get the book, I think it's a powerful book.

But what I'd like to do now, is to offer to you how I see this show up for clients and for members in business, in owning their law firms.

There are two ends of the spectrum it seems, as I explore this with people. One is more the control side of things. That's a strategy, people tend to try to control everything so that they control the outcome as much as possible. And, I fall on that end.

But there's another end of the spectrum that I also see in certain clients, that is so lax and prefers no structure. Just chills and rolls with the punches in a way that it has served them, it's gotten them, it's a strategy that was developed, it is their winning strategy. But the pendulum is so far swung that way, and they are so unconscious of it, it isn't serving them to get to their next level.

I'm going to break this out, so you can see what it looks like on both ends. On the control side of things, where people tend to take the reins more, and they control as many things as they possibly can in order to see success in whatever they're working towards.

Though it has gotten them where they are, when I meet the client and they are trying to create their next level of success, they literally can't keep their hands around it all anymore. And so, they will sabotage their own growth, because they're so afraid of not being able to control every element. This is why I think the work that we do at Velocity Work with clients is so important.

Because it is true, you can't control every element as you grow. When you start up, you control everything, you have your hands in everything. But as you grow, you get to the place where that is impossible.

And so, through the work that we do at Velocity Work, which is really to help people transfer responsibility in a way that you can trust that it's going to be followed; which means systems and processes, but also communication and clarity around the transferring of those certain responsibilities to another team member.

Then, if you handle that really well, then you can trust that it's all okay, and you have some verification points so that you can see that it's all okay as time goes on. But you aren't the one having to have your hands around it all the time. If you don't have guidance to find ways to grow the company, to grow the firm, responsibly, and be able to transfer responsibility…

That’s just one element, transferring responsibility with control. But that's a big one. Because if you don't do the work to transfer responsibility, which means growing the organization responsibly, then you are going to not be able to grow it. And if you do grow it, it just means that the wheels are going to come off.

Because you are the only one, you are holding all of the control, and you think because that has served you your entire life… I mean, that's your way of creating success… and it doesn't work. Not only does it not work, it's not effective anymore, it impedes your success.

This doesn't happen until… I think you could see why she positioned the book the way she positioned the book... This doesn't happen until you've created extraordinary success for yourself. And now, you have to create the next level of success.

That's the only time you will butt up against the fact that your strategy won't be able to cut it. And so, essentially, what you learn through the book is that you have to be willing to scrap your winning strategy if you want to create what you say you want to create.

That is scary, and so it's nice to have a partner. I think that's what we offer, especially for private clients. But I would say, I don’t want to speak for them, but I would say for members too, you're not alone in this. Because it is disorienting to scrap your winning strategy, the thing that served you your whole entire life, that's gotten you where you are, that's gotten you through law school, that's created your firm, that's gotten you the life that you've created. It has worked for all of that.

And now, it's not going to be able to carry you to the vision that you do have for where you want to take your firm and your life. So, it's nice to have a partner. It's nice to have someone saying, “No, no, this is all okay. Nothing has gone wrong here. I know this is scary. Take a deep breath. Let's do this as responsibly as possible.”

Is it going to go perfectly? Absolutely not. But this is how it's done. I think there's a lot of value having community for that. That's one instance of what it can look like for people that are on the more control end of the spectrum.

When you're winning strategy is to be lax, go with the flow, nothing bothers you, and it's just whatever… shrugging; you’re shrugging about things… but that has really served you in life...

For those of you who are on the controlling spectrum, you're like, “How does that work?” This is what I was talking about earlier, when you start to see, in other people, where you see areas of opportunity for other people. And you think, “Oh, if they just did this and this and this, they'd be so much more successful.”

The people on the other end of the spectrum look at you and think the same thing. But they have their own opinions about how you should just relax and then you'd be more successful. So, it's so funny how we project onto other people what it's going to take for them to get to their next level of success.

And, we're all wrong about all of it. So, for people on the end of the spectrum where maybe their winning strategy has entailed a more relaxed approach, and they are not gripping, they are not controlling to the degree that some do, and they've created some pretty crazy success for themselves that way.

Well, when you've created extraordinary success with that, with your firm, and now you're looking to create the next level of success, that strategy will fall short. It won't work. It won't be effective, and you're going to have to scrap it. You're going to have to show up in a new indifferent way.

What that might look like is actually abiding by a structure and expecting your team to abide by a structure where you've been loosey goosey with it before; because that's always worked for you and it's a part of your identity. But you'll get to a point where you have to start to put some things into place; frameworks and structure and policies and procedures; or else the firm will not be able to get to where you want it to get to. It won't be able to grow in a healthy way.

And so, that's also what it can look like. I have clients on both ends of the spectrum. They aren't exactly the same, their winning strategies aren't exactly the same, but they have those flavors, those two flavors. It is very tough when you get to that point, and you understand that what worked for you to get here absolutely will not work to create the thing that you want to create.

So, it's worth, in my opinion, examining your winning strategy and uncovering what it is. You could just use this podcast; push pause and answer the questions. Or you can get the book. But uncovering your winning strategy, and having an awareness about it, so that you can just start to witness it. Because we don't witness it very well unless we're awake to it. The more you can observe it, the more wiggle room you have and you're not just a victim to it.

Remember the examples I'm giving about growth for a firm. I'm giving pretty broad examples; I'm just speaking to growth, generally speaking to growth; but this shows up. Your winning strategy shows up in all kinds of small, medium, and large ways inside of your life and your firm.

This is the part of this, her whole argument is that by reinventing yourself as the owner, you can reinvent your organization and transform your organization into the next vision that you have for it. I believe this is important work because I've seen it at play.

I've seen when people actually wake up to this. It gives them and empowers them to be able to shift some things about how they're operating, in a way that serves them, number one, and serves their firm and serves everybody around them.

The last thing I'll read you here is later in the chapter. She is talking about how this winning strategy is so deeply ingrained in you and you probably just can't imagine yourself listening or acting any differently or even desiring a different outcome. She's in that conversation about just how deeply ingrained it is, and she says,

“But as you move through life, your winning strategy requires increasingly greater amounts of effort and energy to maintain. You might assume that your exhaustion stems from the amount of sleep you've had, the amount of stress in your life, the difficulties you face at work, the threat of competition, the problems in your family, or any number of external forces. But the actual source of your exhaustion is the relentless drain of effort to maintain the winning strategy at all costs.”

I really want you to think about that. There is an exhaustion that exists in some of the clients that I meet, and this is at the root of it. For many people, they have an identity that they are gripping onto so tightly, and it makes it very difficult as they are growing.

They're hitting these new levels of success and it's getting harder and harder and harder to maintain that winning strategy. Because it isn't working. And so, they start to put themselves in the cycle and that's pretty freaking exhausting.

So, again, waking up to what exists for you, in terms of your winning strategy can be really powerful to allow you to figure out how you might want to shift. And the awareness is key, the awareness is everything. Which is why we're doing this podcast today.

That, my friends, is a very beginner intro to winning strategies, from The Last Word on Power. I have had some really moving conversations with clients over the years about this, when they're really having a hard time. Until they wake up and they see, “Oh, oh, the way that I am created everything that I have now, and it's holding me back from everything I want.”

That's the point in which you actually have power to move into something different. Chew on that over the holidays.

Alright, everybody, happy holidays. I'll see you here next Tuesday.

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process I teach called Monday Map/ Friday Wrap. If you go to, it's all yours. It's about how to plan your time and honor your plans. So, that week over week, more work that moves the needle is getting done in less time. Go to to get your free copy.

Thank you for listening to The Law Firm Owner Podcast. If you're ready to get clearer on your vision, data, and mindset, then head over to where you can plug in to Quarterly Strategic Planning, with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

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