Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Become A Better Leader

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Being a leader should mean that you maintain a learning mindset and constantly aspire to improve and grow. Being a leader is (or at least should be) a journey, not a destination.

There’s TONS of amazing advice out there on what leaders should do. The flip side of this is, that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the things you are supposed to do.

I like to focus on a few things at a time. Usually the power of three works for me. I can keep up to three things in my head. After that things will get messy and messed up. Here are the three things I focus on for growing my team, as well as the three things for growing myself. They are quite powerful and work beautifully for me.

Grow your team

Motivation has always been a big topic in leadership. It’s been established for a while that money alone doesn’t do the trick. Everyone wants to get a decent paycheck for what they do, but that alone won’t keep folks motivated.

A coworker recently pointed me to a TED talk by Dan Pink that really resonated with me. Dan explains that there are three major components that create or destroy job satisfaction and motivation. I won’t do Dan justice with my words and you should listen to the TED talk, but here are my three personal homework assignments from his talk.

Provide purpose

We spend a LOT of time at work. We want that time to count for something. Understanding the purpose of what we do is very important (if you can’t find purpose in what you do, look for another job).

As a leader, that means that just delegating work is not enough. You need to engage people by explaining the ‘why’ and the broader picture. They need to understand, why the work that they do is important. They need to see how it fits into the broader mission of the organization.

Along the same lines: praising results is great. That acknowledgement or ‘thank you’ becomes even more powerful if you clearly explain, how these achievements helped advance a higher goal for the organization.

Give autonomy

Work sucks if you aren’t empowered to make decisions. It also sucks if you have to explain your decisions to everyone again and again (in this case. in reality you actually don’t make the decision, you rather repeatedly have to ask for re-approval from everyone).

For many leaders this is a tough one. We usually think that we are so much smarter. That’s why we became leaders in the first place right!? Wrong!

However often we have more experience because we’ve been in the area longer. We are also often exposed to a broader picture of what’s going on in the organization. Having that experience and broader picture is awesome if it is used for coaching. It becomes destructive if it leads to micro-managing.

Let go of doing things by yourself or being ultra-prescriptive. Let go of making the decisions for your team members. Instead provide the right data and context. Guide your team in developing the best decision framework. Empower your team members. Ask questions to better understand the solutions your team proposed. And let them make the decisions – you can always jump in if they seem to head in a terribly wrong direction.

Of course there is a spectrum for this. If someone is new to a problem space, he will need more guidance. If someone is well versed in an area, she will want less direction. Situational Leadership II is a great framework to find the right level of management.

Nurture mastery

We all want to be great at what we do. And if we aren’t yet, we want to learn how to become great. Mastery of an area is an amazing feeling!

Mastery requires trying and learning. As a leader you need to create the right balance between freedom to experiment and gentle guidance. People need to try things. They have to be allowed to make mistakes in order to learn. They also crave for just enough guidance to be successful, while not getting too frustrated in the process.

This is where leaders really need to focus on being great coaches and mentors rather than mere managers. We need to force ourselves to stay away from doing things ourselves or prescribing the ‘right’ solution, because we think that would lead to quicker results. We must stay away from managing every detail and rather give feedback along the way, while we let the team explore possible solutions.

Honestly I’m still failing at this one too often. The important thing is that I’m now conscious of the challenge and I’m working on myself.

There’s also an exception to the rule: sometimes you just have to step in and take over because there is an urgent deadline. In those cases there is no time for trying and learning, things just need to get done right NOW. If you let your team know why you personally step in, it will be much less harmful for team motivation. Hopefully this is the exception, not the rule in your team.

Grow yourself

Yes, you are a leader and most of what you achieve gets done by your team and not yourself. Leading and growing your team is your top priority. But that doesn’t relieve you from taking a hard look at how you perform individually.

I got inspired to this section by a post from Jeff Weiner talking about the three qualities in people he most enjoys working with.

Again I won’t do the breadth and depth of the original post justice, so please jump over there and read it for yourself. Below are the three homework assignments I took away for myself.

Dream big

I’m a ‘getting things done’ person. That can sometimes mean, that I focus too much on resolving tactical issues and roadblocks, because I want to get them out of the way as quickly as possible. The problem is that there are always some tactical issues that will distract you from the bigger picture.

If you don’t dream big, you won’t accomplish anything meaningful. Mediocrity will be your world, not greatness.

As with everything else, awareness and consciousness already gets you 80% down the way to the solution. If you are a ‘go-doer’, block time to dream big. Reserve time, where you will not allow yourself to ‘fix stuff’. Look at the big picture and think about the impossible. Then make a plan how to get there!

I make it a point to spend time thinking about the bigger picture and bigger aspirations. I actually put a recurring time blocker on my calendar.

Get things done

This one comes naturally to me.

I write everything on a ‘to do’ list. Once it’s on my ‘to do’ list, I don’t have to remember it anymore and my mind frees up to think about more interesting questions.

My ‘to do’ list is always long, but I hate having a long list. That’s a great motivator to get things done, one by one. Sort your list by priorities. Then work your way from the top towards the bottom. Finish as much as you can achieve in the allotted time. Focus on finishing. Rather start fewer things, but finish the ones you started. And be ok if you got less done, than you had planned (hoped). Life happens. You’re good as long as you kept focus on the most important things and made progress on those.

From time to time you should also look at your low priorities. Most of them will turn out to not be as important anymore. Remove them from the list.

Instead of worrying about all the things that need to be done, just write them down, prioritize them and get on it.

Be great to work with

In think this one was ‘fun to work with’ in Jeff’s post. I’m a German and as such inherently not fun(ny), so I changed this one a little bit.

To me the important quality is to be great to work with (not necessarily fun). Greatness can have multiple aspects. It can mean that you are a fun person. It can also mean that you are a great mentor, a valuable resource for your coworkers, a supportive person or a critical sounding board to bounce ideas off.

Find what makes you great to work with and hone that skill. I cannot help you with this one, you have to find your superpowers and build on what makes you special. Bonus points if you also critically explore, what makes you suck and then work extra hard to get rid of those behaviors.

Finally, get folks (and yourself) out of their comfort zone. That’s when amazing things will happen!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Small Changes Can Have Huge Impact

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I am not obsessed with my weight. To me, weight is just one input to an overall healthy life and lifestyle. However, I noticed that I had gained almost 15 pounds over the last half-year without really knowing why. That disturbed and frustrated me to be honest.

I did make a plan to do more sports but couldn’t follow through to the extent that I wished due to work demands. Actually I didn’t increase my workout frequency at all. So I decided to accept the gain for now and tackle it in a few months when work demands have calmed down a little bit.

Surprisingly, over the last few weeks I noticed that my weight has dropped back down 10 pounds. I didn’t really focus on anything specific to get there. I didn’t even know what caused it. So I went on a little inventory of changes that I had made to my rhythms and habits lately:

  • I stopped drinking my one or two glasses of wine with dinner in the evening to have a better sleep
  • I stopped drinking a protein shake in the morning and a few lattes throughout the day, because milk left me with a ‘slimy’ feeling which I wanted to reduce
  • I wanted to leverage the quiet morning hours at work and thus skipped reading the news in the morning, instead going straight to the shower, which also meant I wouldn’t eat the 4 pieces of chocolate while checking for news

Those are really the only lifestyle changes I can think of, yet they made me get back towards my optimal weight without explicitly trying.

Small changes do have an outsized impact!

Don’t try to make big swoops of dramatic changes to your life. They are hard. Rather chip away on the small things and allow them to add up.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: The Four Burners

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I read and interesting article about work life balance, “The Downside of Work Life Balance” by James Clear.

The theory

The theory is that you can compare juggling your life with four burners. One for Family, one for health, one for friends and one for career (you might notice that I sorted and prioritized them differently from James).

The statement then is that in order to be successful you have to cut down one burner so you can focus on the others. In order to be really successful you have to cut down two burners.

James talks about various strategies you can apply to get there. I see a core of truth and value in most of them, but I think they are also each similarly dangerous for a balanced life.

Life has seasons

The strategy that comes closest to something that makes sense to me is the ‘seasonal strategy’ – you focus on different things in different life stages. That does make sense, you want to set priorities as you go through life. When you start a new career, focus on learning, when you have kids, focus on raising them well.

Where I disagree is the assumption that you should focus completely during those times. What good is a high paying job and a great career if you don’t live long enough to enjoy the fruits? How much is your wealth worth if your kids don’t talk to you anymore when you’re old and seeking company? How useful is that dream body if you don’t have friends?

Seek a balanced life but set focus points

My point here is that the key is a balanced life. Yes it is! Work life balance got a bad vibe in recent years with our gig economy and always-on mentality. You need to balance though! You need to invest in the long-term!

You can make the seasonal model work if you pick a few constraints:

  • Family – Never compromise on family. Ever. Really.
  • Health – Have a baseline for health. Don’t go below it. You might not need to train for Iron Man every year, but you do want to live to your retirement.
  • Career – Double down on career growth when the return is right. Change your career when it isn’t. However doubling down needs to come with a timeline. You cannot double down for 30 years. Treat it like a marathon with deliberate sprints in between.
  • Friends – The friends that truly matter. They will understand if you have times when you’re busy and need to focus on other things. Just explain it to them. They will wait for you.

Never compromise on family, never go under a baseline for health, adjust the rest with a clear focused plan.

Yes, it’s four burners. But if you turn any of them down too much for too long of a time, your meal will go bad before you can serve it.

Life is not a sprint. Life is a marathon with sprints in between.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Living is Learning

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I was reading “Mastery” by Robert Green and one of the things that stuck out for me was how Robert stressed the importance of the ‘apprenticeship phase’ before creativity and mastery can be reached. It reminded me of key lessons I learned early (and unconsciously) through martial arts practice.

However reflecting a little more I would suggest the learning mindset should never change and what one should truly develop is a ‘lifelong apprentice mindset’.

Never stop learning new areas

Everyone talks about lifelong learning today. Most people think about deepening their subject area expertise when they do. I think there is a bigger opportunity hidden in expanding into completely new areas.

Robert Greene has some such examples in his book as well, as he discusses people who went through multiple different apprenticeships over the time of their life, finally merging those skills together to understand underlying principles better or to develop completely new areas.

The most compelling opportunity that learning new areas opens up is the fact that the spectrum of things you can do widens instead of shrinking. If your focus is on getting better and better at one single thing, you face a good chance of either that thing becoming obsolete in the future or someone else outcompeting you in that narrowly scoped area. If you learn to do many things well, then your horizon of opportunities keeps expanding through your life as you mix those abilities into new compelling portfolios.

I learned this in martial arts, studying diverse disciplines and with that enhancing my core style. Looking back it rubbed off on my approach to professional life as well, where over the years I pursued experiences in coding, marketing, business development, PR, product management and teaching.

Learn to love pain and frustration

Robert Greene mentions this as well: you must learn to embrace and seek learning experiences that are painful and frustrating. If you don’t focus on the things that are hardest for you (and thus most painful and frustrating), then you won’t learn the traits of your trade that you are deficient in and will never truly master the area.

It’s way too easy to focus on the easy wins and the things that you’re good at. I am guilty of that too. However only playing to your strengths will prevent you from expanding the scope of your abilities. While leading to quicker wins in the short time, it will limit your ability to master an area long term since you will never close those capability gaps.

Martial arts teaches through pain, sweat and tears. For good schools that’s figuratively rather than literally (maybe with the exception of the sweat part). However they make you constantly face your biggest challenges and learn to overcome them. I think the same is true for our professional development, only with the big difference that it’s usually up to you to push yourself beyond your limits. Business often offers you an easy way out until the day when it’s too late to change. You need to be pushing yourself.

  • Never stop learning – Never think you ‘know it’.
  • Disrupt yourself – When you feel like you’ve reached a comfortable level in mastering an area, then it’s time to disrupt yourself and move on to something entirely different.
  • Face the challenges – Focus on learning the skills that are hard for you. You will learn the things that align with your strengths anyway. As to learning time, your knowledge gaps are what needs the most attention.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Spiritual Balance – Week 48: Hike Your Own Hike!

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Up to now we have talked about many new habits and behaviors to live healthier, be more effective at our jobs and give more time to our spirituality. We gave you many suggestions and frameworks to balance your lives.

Try it; then adopt it and make it yours

Try them out and see what works for you. Then sit back and reflect. Use what works, change and adapt what doesn’t and discard what feels wrong. It needs to be about you. I know what works for me, I cannot know and prescribe what works for you.

There are two martial arts teachings that reflect this well. One is a old principle for teaching martial arts:

The teacher shows the door. The students needs to walk through it on their own.

The other is my favorite quote from the famous founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba:

“Learn and forget.”
Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido

Don’t blindly follow gurus and role models, or what I am writing in this book. All of those are inputs, suggestions, food for thought. Only you can find out what works for you. No one else can do that for you.

Learn new ways. Try them out until you understand them. Then forget the rules and let your intuition kick in. Be surprised and amazed by what will unfold.

What you ‘can’ versus what you ‘want’

Be careful to understand what you WANT to do. Often we just keep doing what we’re doing because we became reasonably good at it.

For example, I like to help others. I see where I can pitch in and make others great while also making a great living for myself. I am good at working in big IT companies, managing complex projects and products. But is it what I really want? That is a question that I need to check in with myself on a regular basis and get to a honest answer.

It’s too easy to just keep doing what you’re good at. To just follow the inertia of the path you started on when you were a different person all those years ago after High School.

I’m not saying you need to change your path. I’m saying though, that you need to be conscious and deliberate about it. Don’t just let it happen. When it’s time, find the courage to re-invent yourself.

Be careful to differentiate between what you can do, what is the natural next step to do (inertia) and what you really want.

Find your own way

Once you know what works for you and you know what path you want to follow, go there. Blaze your own trail, or as they say in the hiker community: “Hike your own hike.”

Be courageous. Don’t look at others for models or confirmations. Invent your path as you push forward. ‘Boldly go where no man has gone before.’ (You have to find where that reference comes from… 🙂

Hike your own hike!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Spiritual Balance – Week 47: Have Impact Beyond Yourself

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We talked a LOT about what we can do to balance and improve our lives. Of course life is much bigger than just us. Once we got our own house in order, we need to impact others in a positive way.

Make positive ripples in the big pond of life. Watch them spread out.

Think of it as throwing a rock into a calm surface of water. We are the rock, the ripples that are created are the positive impact and change that we create. They spread out from us to every corner of the pond. They might get smaller in the distance, but they will still reach out and transfer the message.

Teach your kids well

Our time on this planet is limited. We can start positive change, but very soon we will need others to pick it up and continue the journey for us. Invest time in preparing the passing of the baton.

Teach your children well. Set positive examples. Love them and also show them the boundaries they need to grow up. Help them become capable of dealing with the challenges they will face on their own.

Don’t forget though, that there is a lot we can learn from our children as well. Watch them closely and see what lessons they might have for you. Watch their curiosity, get inspired by their eagerness to explore the world.

Teach them in their own language, and just every once in a while, try to see the world through their eyes.

If you don’t have children on your own, look at your extended family. Look at your community. Volunteer for coaching.

You have learned a lot in your life, pass it on through positive example and influence. Don’t let it go wasted.

Help your community or society

The next ripple in the pond is your community and in extension the larger society.

You don’t need to become a politician to have positive impact. I might even argue that your chance of having positive impact is much larger if you are not a career politician.

Engage in your neighborhood, in your school, at your local senior center. Find a cause that you care about and make a little difference.

I try to help people by teaching Tai Chi, mindfulness, compassion and by sharing some of the lessons I have learned in my career. Uli volunteers as art docent and helps challenged kids at the school with breathing, calming and mindfulness exercises. Find the cause you care about and then share it with others.

If you don’t find yourself to be altruistic, you might consider countless scientific studies that have shown that we get more satisfaction from doing good to others than from splurging ourselves. Help others to help yourself.

Be the change agent for your community. It will spread out. Just help someone without expecting a return. Just say a happy ‘hello’ with a smile to a stranger and let yourself be surprised by what will happen.

Environmental impact

Last not least, we need to take care of the planet we live on. We started off our discussion with taking care of our own health. Let’s close the loop and also take care of the health of our planet.

We cannot survive without our planet, the animals, and plants that inhabit it with us. We need to find a healthy balance with our environment.

Don’t consume more than you need. Don’t waste food, water or other resources. Don’t litter. Don’t destroy unnecessarily.

We just borrowed this planet. Let’s make sure to give it back in good shape.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Spiritual Balance – Week 46: Explore Your Purpose

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What is your purpose? What makes you get up in the morning? What keeps you going when the going gets tough?

Understand your values and purpose. Then take a critical look at what you are doing right now. Be willing to experiment and take risks. And always keep your eyes open for opportunities that present themselves.

The passion trap

In many ways we are over-emphasizing purpose and passion today. We tell High school kids that they need to find their passion when they pick a career. An impossible task at that age. Many people actually never discover what their passion really is.

Doing something, that you are sufficiently interested in, with full dedication until you head towards mastery often turns into passion. This is in fact a more likely way to find something that you will be passionate about, than soul-searching for the perfect occupation.

Passion doesn’t come magically for free. It requires dedication and hard work.

Alignment with core values counts

However, at the same time too many of us spend our lives in settings, that go against our core values and our purpose. We do things and execute work that we don’t agree with in principle.

Both trying to find the one thing that will make you happy just by its nature as well as sticking with something that fundamentally disagrees with your core values and purpose are futile.

It is much better to understand what your core values and purpose are, and then experimenting with different things. Once you find something that aligns in principle and peeks you interest, go deep and give it your full self.

What makes you tick

Self reflection and self awareness is not easy. For some of us it comes more naturally, others never truly find it.

If you are not clear about what inherently motivates you and what turns you off, you can start journaling your mini-motivators. Throughout the day, what did you like, what felt great, and what didn’t. When you watch other people, what do you admire and what do you despise. What would you want other people to say about you, and what would you rather not?

Those should be small and in-the-moment things. Don’t overthink it. Jolt down the random reactions and thoughts as they come, for example ‘those meetings as sapping out my energy’, ‘it felt really good to help Joe through his problem’ or ‘it was awesome to solve this situation my way’.

After a few weeks look at those micro-motivators and see what patterns emerge.

Brainstorm on new options

Then reflect on how much those value and purpose patterns are matched in your current occupation. If they are not, make a list of other careers that would get you to a closer match. Don’t go for perfect match, chances are you won’t find that (lucky you, if you do!).

Make a list of those close matches and be aware that you will still have to work hard for them. Nothing will be rosy all day every day. Just setting expectations here.

Make a change, reinvent yourself

Let’s assume that your values and passions don’t align well with you current occupation. That’s nothing to feel bad about. For one, it’s super hard to find good alignment from the get go. In most cases we don’t know enough about the job as well as ourselves when we begin. Also we are (luckily!) changing over time and what might have been the perfect milestone a few years ago, might not fit anymore as our path leads us to the next one.

Start experimenting with the occupations that made it to your list. Or something completely different that just feels right for reasons that you cannot explain.

If we talk about big shifts in your occupation and trajectory, really experiment. Don’t go full in right away without really knowing if you like where you’re heading. Try out a few things on the side. Volunteer in the new occupation rather than leaving your current job only to figure out after a few months that the grass actually isn’t greener on the other side.

Experiment, be flexible

Experiment a lot. Learn from those experiments. Adjust what you know about yourself and tweak the list of things you want to do based on that knowledge.

Recognize open doors and opportunities as they present themselves and find the courage to explore them.

Don’t put yourself under the stress of having to succeed with the first thing you try out.

One of the life lessons I learned from my martial arts teacher was to have a plan but remain flexible.

Have a plan, but always keep your mind open for opportunities that present themselves. Have the flexibility and courage to leverage them. Life is a winding path, not a straight line.

Looking at my own winding path, I can point out at least four rather big shifts in the direction I was heading for. Each shift has set me back a little in short-term – as big change always does – but propelled me toward a much better place in the long-term. I don’t even want to imagine who I would be if I had been stuck in my initial (subsequent, current,..) choices.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.