Understand your perspective

High upon a mountain you see the mist from the cloud around you and the rocks under your feet.  Miles away you see the cloud, the sky, the ground, the height of the mountain. Which perspective is the better? Neither, they are just different.  The perspective you want depends on the needs of the moment. If you are planning a climb you need the see the mountain, if you are on the climb you need to see each rock.

In each circumstance you should determine the best perspective for the moment – expanded or contracted.

“For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing” – C.S. Lewis

Benefits of the expanded perspective.  This is often called seeing the big picture.  What does it look like when it’s done?  How do all the pieces fit together?  These are questions that require an expanded perspective to answer. You should be asking this at the beginning.  Before you take the first step you need to know where you intend to go. Before you offer a solution you need to align on the real need.

“The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” –  Steve Jobs

Benefits of the contracted perspective.  The big stuff is made up of a bunch of small stuff.  Even if you have the best design and a great plan to get there – if you don’t excel at executing the steps to get there, you won’t deliver success.  Focusing in on what is right in front of you allows for rapid adjustment to keep on track.

“Your big picture will never be a masterpiece if you ignore the tiny brushstrokes.” Andy Andrews

The best of both perspectives.  This is the ultimate answer.  You need both perspectives at the right time.  One is not inherently better than the other and neither succeeds without the other. Make sure you capture all perspectives.

“Good leadership requires you to surround yourself with people of diverse perspectives.” – Doris Kearns Goodwin

It’s Really Just Life Balance

Life provides many opportunities to fill up our limited time. For the most part, the activities we partake in are worthwhile and beneficial.  In and of themselves no one activity is necessarily the best or the worst. It’s just that we can’t possibly do everything all the time.  When it comes to work activities and non-work activities, we all talk about achieving a work-life balance, when it’s really just life balance.

“Life balance isn’t about doing everything for an equal amount of time. It’s about doing the right things at the right time.”- Christy Wright

If we want to do the right things at the right time, we need to prioritize our activities; and prioritization means making choices, sometimes difficult ones.

Priorities. That which is urgent is not necessarily the priority.  Before even looking at due dates, divide your to do list into three sections: that which must be done, that which should be done, and that which can wait to be done. Let your priorities drive what you focus on and invest your time in the activities that are most important.  This should be completed across your work and non-work activities.  Their all part of your life.

Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”  – Stephen R. Covey

Choices.  Recognize that choosing not to complete an activity that is on the lower end of your priorities will not always be easy.  These delayed activities might be on the top of someone else’s list, or you may enjoy participating in the activity. Either way, be prepared to stand firm in your choices. And when you do this, you can give your best to your top priorities.

 “There is no decision that we can make that doesn’t come with some sort of balance or sacrifice.”– Simon Sinek

Help the facts speak for themselves

The best way to succeed in achieving a successful end to a difficult discussion, negotiation, or decision is to stick with the facts.  Emotions can lead us in the wrong direction as we focus on very normal reactions to these situations.  Understanding and communicating the facts can bring alignment.

So, before you choose a path be sure to examine the facts, then help share the facts.

What are the facts? Seek to first understand.  Galileo Galilei, one of the more famous to demonstrate the importance of discovering why actions occurred and how they could be predicted with mathematical precision. Prior to Galileo enhancing the then recently invented telescope, the common belief was that the solar system revolved around the Earth, although astronomers of the day were beginning to theorize differently. With the ability to now measure the solar phases of the plant Venus, he was able to demonstrate that Copernican’s theory was likely to be correct, the Sun was indeed the center of the of the orbit of the planets. Similarly, Galileo discovered the facts that all objects fall at equal rates, and the principle of the pendulum.  The enormity of these discoveries of fact cannot be over emphasized.

“Facts which at first seem improbable will, even on scant explanation, drop the cloak which has hidden them and stand forth in simple beauty.”–  Galileo Galilei

What are the impacts of the facts? Share the stories that matter.  In the first days of his presidency and in the midst of the great depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared a bank holiday to stop the run on the banks. After rapid action in Congress, the Emergency Banking Act was passed, which implemented federal deposit insurance and other laws.  Roosevelt knew that these new measures would only work if the America people believed in the banking system, which was complicated.  He decided he needed to explain the situation simply and why it was now safe again to put their money in the banks.  This was the beginning of what famously became his fireside chats.  As detailed in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Leadership in Turbulent Times, Roosevelt sought to connect with “a mason at work on a new building,”and, “a girl behind a counter, a farmer in his field.”  He began with, “I want to tell you what has been done in the last few days, why it was done, and what the next steps are going to be,”and then “with simple, plain language devoid of metaphors or eloquence, Roosevelt had accomplished his purpose of explanation and persuasion.

“Avoid dull facts; create memorable images; translate every issue into people’s lives.”– Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Are you pursuing your purpose?

What do you want to accomplish?  This is a question that successful people answer before they start – anything and everything. When this is done, if it is done well, what does that look like?  A clear picture of success guides the choices that need to be made.  If you want to be successful in your life and career, pursue everything for a purpose and on purpose.

For a purpose – have a vision of what will be. Everything big and small should be done with a purpose – starting with the impact you want to have on the world.  It’s easier to begin with small steps, many say.  And I respond, small steps to where?  It’s really easier than it may seem.  I have yet to find a person who took on this challenge that didn’t come back with an answer that included wanting to help other people achieve their dreams.  But the key to doing this well is understanding how you want to do that.  Some through leading companies, some teaching, others want to provide counseling, being a parent certainly has an impact on the world, or maybe you want to be independently wealthy and become a philanthropist.  It doesn’t matter which you choose because it’s your purpose.  This same concept applies to each activity you take on.

“Great minds have purposes, others have wishes.” ― Washington Irving

On purpose – make choices that help you achieve your purpose. Once you settle on your big purpose – how you’re going to help other people achieve their dreams, every choice becomes more important – and easier.  You can evaluate each choice in light of how it brings you closer to your purpose.  You can separate your options into those that are perhaps interesting, and those that are meaningful.  With a purpose you will more passionately pursue your choices, because they will help you make an impact.

“People who use time wisely spend it on activities that advance their overall purpose in life.” ―John C. Maxwell

Humility, the hallmark of great leadership

In Jim Collins book, Good to Great,he describes the leaders that turned good companies into great companies,“These leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.”They have a drive to succeed and believe that all around them can succeed, but only through everyone performing their best.  He says these leaders have the “humility to grasp the fact that they do not yet understand enough to have the answers and then to ask the questions that will lead to the best possible insights.”

What does humility look like in great leaders? There are three traits that set great leaders apart. And each one is anchored on how they interact with everyone they are leading to success.

Value others.  Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Great leaders care about people and that is why they are followed.  If you want to accomplish great things, then you do it with other people.  You can complete projects using people, or you can complete people using projects.  Think about the lasting impact of not just a successful project, but of also enlisting, encouraging, and empowering people to develop and do their best.

“Humility shows up in the quality of relationships that leaders form with their peers and people that report to them” – Bernd Vogel

Learn from others.  When asked what great leaders say when they’re stumped on a question, Jean Sullivan, founding partner of Starvest Partners replied, “‘I don’t know’ is not an answer.”She wasn’t implying that leaders should know everything or worse pretend to know everything.  Sullivan went on saying, “The correct answer is, ‘I don’t have enough information to answer your question.’”This can lead to clarifying questions to learn more and narrow down the answer, or to asking someone else who does know the answer. Either way a leader needs to be humble enough to admit they don’t know it all.  

“Humility is being open to the ideas of others.” Simon Sinek

Give to others.  Legendary artist Pablo Picasso once said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”  Great leaders became great in part due to their significant skill, knowledge, and ability to succeed.  Achieving personal success and recognizing your ability to accomplish great things is a precursor to being able to do even greater things with, and for, others.  Those that are confident in their abilities, seek out opportunity to help others succeed.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” – C. S. Lewis

Solve the big problems

Analysis paralysis is one way of describing the inability to decide because every detail is not fully known and understood. This is not, however, an excuse to avoid solving big problems. Don’t default to the belief that there must be a difficult solution for what seems to be a difficult problem. There are answers for even the hardest questions, they just have not been discovered yet and are likely simpler than you can imagine. 

First you have to be willing to take on the challenge.  Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is known for his simple explanations for such topics as the big bang, the speed of light, general relativity and dark matter, to name a few.  He obviously didn’t shy away from difficult topics and has said, “The most creative people are motivated by the grandest of problems that are presented before them.”  You must be willing to challenge yourself to take on the big problems with the goal of find the simple anwswer.

Second you must find the solution to the right problem.   Difficulty often arises in big problems when the problem itself is incorrectly defined.  Solving a symptom of the problem will not ultimately solve the real problem itself.  Albert Einstein said, “The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution.”   He went on to state how he solves the big problems and not fall prey to analysis paralysis, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” 

Lastly you must recognize that perfection equals simplicity.  Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was known for solving the most difficult cases.  In discussing his method for making the outcome look simple, Holmes replied, “If you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”Ask yourself what you need to believe for the hypothesis to be correct.  If that is not reasonable than it isn’t the right answer.

Who’s left when the leader’s gone?

Certainly, there will be people to take over.  But are they prepared to take over?  They don’t have to lead the same way, but they have to lead.  Are they ready for that? More succinctly, did the leader prepare them for that? According to John Maxwell, “A leader’s lasting value is measured by succession.”

Succession is preparing for you to be gone by preparing the next leaders.  Everything you do as a leader should be focused on succession because your job as a leader is to create more leaders.

“Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders”– Tom Peters

Here are the steps to getting people ready to lead and succeed without you.

Share the work now. There is no time like the present for your next leaders to start trying things they will need to master later.  Give them part of each task that you do. Start with the simple ones but make sure you explain how it fits in the bigger purpose.

“If you have a common purpose and an environment in which people want to help others succeed, the problems will be fixed quickly.” –Alan Mulaly

Let them try new ideas now.  You have to face the facts that you may know a lot, but you don’t know everything.  Chances are that your potential successors have ideas that you’ll never have.  When you’re gone they will have to use their ideas to succeed so you might as well let them practice now.  Start small and let this skill develop.  Ask questions and challenge but don’t direct.

“We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves.” – Galileo Galilei

Start stepping aside little by little now.As you share the work and let them try new ideas, you will eventually need to hand over responsibility on some things.  Start handing over the reins now a little at a time so when you leave the transition will be effortless.

“Succession planning should be gradual and thoughtful, with lots of sharing of information and knowledge and perspective, so that it’s almost a non-event when it happens.”– Anne Mulcahy

Check your priorities

You may have done everything right and be very successful right where you are.  But getting to where you want to go may take something else entirely.  It is not possible to keep doing all that brought success in one area, while taking on what brings success in another.  We all operate in the limits of time and talent.  While you can add to your talents, you cannot add to time. Time can’t be managed, but what you do with the time can. Check your priorities.

Stop if it doesn’t add value to the next step.  Before you take one step forward towards your next goal, take inventory of your priorities.  Eliminate everything that no longer needs to be done to achieve what’s next. Give it up completely. 

“It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.” ― Bruce Lee

Delegate if it has to keep being done for the next step.  If something absolutely has to be done but it doesn’t have to be done by you in order for you to achieve success, then find someone else to do it. Give it away and adjust your priorities.

“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Adjust expectations of delivery of the next step.  For those tasks that have to be done and have to be done by you, take account of the time it will take and set reasonable goals for completion.  Give in on your timeline and keep your priorities.

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”
― Stephen R. Covey

Simple, yet powerful questions

Throughout my career I’ve witnessed many projects succeed tremendously. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen a fair share of projects get off track and not finish well.  For those that succeeded, the three below questions were answered before the project started.  For the ones that got off track, at least one of the questions was not settled and caused problems later on.

These three questions are paramount to any project’s success. Answer them well and the odds of success rise.

What are you trying to accomplish?This could also be framed as why am I doing this.  What outcome are you ultimately hoping will come in the end.  It’s not the project itself, it’s the impact of the project.  Think way beyond the immediate to the long term. This gives a greater sense of purpose that will drive the team to completion when tough situations come – and they always do.  This will establish the true north when it’s time to make choices among multiple paths – the one that brings you closer and quicker to the impact is the one to choose.

“You’ve got to define yourself by who you impact and how you impact people.” – Tony Dungy

How are you going to accomplish it?  No plan is ever executed exactly as it was written when you started the project.  That is not the point here.  Plans change when circumstances change and that is fine.  The key to answering this question is to be realistic.  Identify the risks, what could go wrong, what roadblocks do you face right now.  Take these into consideration when you plan, and you won’t set unlikely expectations that will inevitably lead to derailment.

“If you align expectations with reality, you will never be disappointed.” – Terrell Owens

Who do you need to accomplish it?  You know what you want to accomplish and how you want to get there – now comes who you need to execute that plan.  And by who, I don’t necessarily mean the name of a person, I mean the skill set. Be clear about the specific actions that need to take place and then you find people with the ability to get that done.  There are likely people right around you on the team that will naturally fill these roles, but it’s always better to first define the goal then fill team with people who will lead you to accomplish the goal.

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”– Steve Jobs


Finish what you started

“Begin with the end in mind.”This is from the bestselling book by Stephen Covey, 7 habits of Highly Effective People.Covey said you should start by envisioning what you intend to accomplish.  This is called your purpose.  This is a powerful tool to use that brings focus to all you set out to do.

What do you do after you begin and you’re in the middle of a something that is not going well?  People don’t always deliver on their responsibilities.  Plans don’t always deliver the short-term results.  Projects don’t always deliver on the goals.  If you want to still deliver the purpose you set out to achieve, then you need to end with the beginning in mind – refocus on your purpose and what brought you where you are today so you can finish what you started.

“Dance with the one who brought you.”  Early in my career I was on a tough project and got this advice from a war-torn mentor.  He knew that what was coming wouldn’t be easy and was telling me I needed to be prepared to keep my focus on the end goal.  Don’t get distracted, discouraged or disheartened.  Remain strong through tough times.

In the 2018 US Open golf tournament, Brooks Koepka came out the winner because he ended with the beginning in mind.  On the 18th hole of the final day of play he hit a great tee shot.  He only needed a bogey to win.  His 2ndshot to the green was not what he had wanted. It went far left towards the bleachers into tricky grass.  Koepka relied on his abilities that brought him this far to keep his focus on the next shot alone. He hit a marvelous pitch on the green and two putted to win the 2018 US Open

Distracted. See that what you are doing is finished to the end before you move on. Every shot counts, every step in the plan counts. All the small successes add up to the original purpose.

I laugh and joke, but don’t get distracted very easily.”– Lebron James

Discouraged. It doesn’t matter if the last ten attempts didn’t work. You can’t change those, but you can impact the outcome of the next attempt. Don’t give up trying.  Remembering the purpose will give you strength to persevere.

“Don’t get discouraged.  It’s often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock.”– John Wooden

Disheartened.  Don’t lose confidence.  Something went wrong, fix it and move on.  What is important is the outcome, the success, not if everything was done perfectly to get you there.

“You make mistakes, mistakes don’t make you.”– Maxwell Maltz

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