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

The example of leadership

If you want to be a great leader, set a great example – people are watching.  Success comes from accomplishing daily tasks that bring us closer to our goals.  What you do every day is important, and the influence that comes from the example you set is greater than anything you might say.  As John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less.”

We do what we see, not just what we learn.   We may learn from reading, listening, or experiencing – but when it comes to seeing how what we learned really works, it comes from observing.  Before I read a book or attend a conference I research the author or speakers to see how they have implemented what they will be sharing. Similarly, I pay attention to the actions of those I follow; are they living the message they espouse?

“We trust our eyes rather than our ears; the road by precept is long and tedious, by example short and effectual.”– Seneca

Perseverance is the best example.  What a daunting task it is to think that your actions are being watched as an example for others to follow.  How can I possibly set an example of leadership when I don’t always do everything right?  Thankfully the bar of leadership is not set on perfection.  And one of the best examples you can give is persevering through mistakes and setbacks.  These are part of our life experience and we’re better for developing the ability to accept this and work through them to success.

“In the realm of ideas, everything depends on enthusiasm; in the real world, all rests on perseverance.”– Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe


How do teams work?

Teams work best together when they work to accomplish the same objectives.

Stewart Butterfield is the founder and CEO of Slack – a cloud-based service that brings teams and tools together in one place. Their website says, “It’s the foundation for teamwork.”  Butterfield interviewed Andre Iguodala of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors on teamwork at a Slack sponsored conference and his answer on how teams work was, “You should have the best talent, but everything fails if everyone’s just out for themselves.”

Butterfield summed up the talent versus teamwork discussion in this thought, “You can take a team of absolute all-stars in terms of their native abilities, but if they are not working together, they are much less effective than a team where there is less native ability but a higher degree of teamwork and cohesion.”  

Teams work best together when they work to accomplish the same objectives. If you want your team to work, you have to define the objectives, align the objectives, and assign the objectives.

Define the objectives.What are you trying to accomplish?  That is the most important question you can answer for a team.  Before you start anything, you have to define success. From the biggest goal to the smallest goal, the purpose of the team, its objectives, and the work it does must be established.

“When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible.”– Howard Schultz

Align the objectives.The goals are set, but is the team aligned with the plan to achieve the objectives?  This is the second most important question in teamwork.  Notice, I didn’t say does everyone agree with the plan, that is a different bar. There will be many ways identified to achieve the objectives.  Once the plan is set, it is important that the entire team execute the same plan.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford 

Assign the objectives. A team is made up of individuals. These individuals are unique and bring different strengths and abilities to the team.  It is the best teams that look for ways to capitalize on this breadth of talent and allow each person to give their all in the way they do best to support the objectives.

“We can’t all be good at everything. This is partly the logic behind having a team in the first place, so each role can be filled with the person best suited for that role and together, every job and every strength is covered.”– Simon Sinek

Service as Success

You don’t hire people to work for you, you hire people so you can work for them.  Your job as a leader is to help people succeed.  In his book, The Stuff of Heroes: The Eight Universal Laws of Leadership, William Cohen said, “Helping your employees is as important as, and many times more so than, trying to get the most work out of them.” 

You start with service. The basis for your actions as a leader should be the service you are providing to your team.  What are you doing to help them succeed? That is the number one question.

“It is high time the ideal of success should be replaced with the ideal of service.” ― Albert Einstein

You will get to know yourself through your service.  Helping other succeed causes us to dig deep into our knowledge and abilities.  Pulling from all you can to provide the best individual service to each person will hone your skills and perhaps lead you to solutions you might never have otherwise seen. 

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

Your success is defined by the success of those you serve. Leaders like to win, so how do you keep score in the area of service?  Simple, it’s the success of those you serve.  Their success is your success.

“True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not to enrich the leader.” ― John C. Maxwell

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