Stephen Covey

What sets you apart?

what-sets-you-apart-is-the-difference-you-makeIn a world where achievement is expected and measured every day, how can someone stand out? What sets you apart is the difference you make in the world being you. Why do we work so hard to fit in? You are unique and meant to stand out.

“Strengths lie in differences, not in similarities.” – Stephen Covey

The college application process is very competitive. Good grades and high SAT scores are only the entrance fee. Colleges want to know what sets you apart. Did you play sports, or a musical instrument? So did a lot of other applicants. But what you have done to make a difference using your grades, sports or musical talent is unique to you.

Applying for a job? Education and experience are expected. But what you have done with your education and experience. How have you made a difference in the world?

If you want the best chance to get into the college of your choice, or get the job you desire, go ahead and tell your story, how does it all fit together into the unique you?

“If you want to make a difference you have to be different.” – Andy Andrews

If you aren’t in the right place to apply to college or for that job, then you have the opportunity to look for ways to set yourself apart and use what you have to make a difference.

“It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you use that makes a difference.”– Zig Ziglar

Focus – What should you stop looking at?

focus - what not to look atWe just bought a new camera. My daughter was showing us how you can change the picture so the subject is in focus and the background is blurred or the background is in focus and the subject is blurred. It’s a really neat effect that makes the same scene look totally different in the two pictures.

I think this is the same way in life and in work. Some people look out and see too much to do and say there is no way to get this all done. Other people see only what they choose to do and blur out the rest. The same scene looks totally different to each viewer.

Don’t focus on everything. In a good way there is always enormous opportunity to improve, enhance, or create almost anything and everything – and someday, someone should do that – maybe you. For now, some of those opportunities are less important than others. If you try to accomplish all of them or even a lot of them, you are likely to make only marginal progress for a very long time.

“Sticking things out is overrated, particularly if you stick out the wrong things.” – Seth Godin, Whatca Gonna Do With That Duck?

Do focus on what’s essential. Figure out which of the everythings are the best things and stop looking at the rest. Stephen Covey says you can’t manage time, you can only manage yourself within the bounds of time.

“The key is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Stephen Covey

Do what you focus on well. In his book on Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson said, “Jobs insisted that Apple focus on just two or three priorities at a time.” Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, iPad…Just some of the successes that come from focus.

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” – Warren Buffet

Dig deep enough before making decisions

decisionsDon’t make decisions based only on where you are; make decisions based on where you want to be. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is quoted as saying, “We are not a product of our circumstances, we are a product of our decisions.”

Your circumstances do play a part in your future, but only to ground you as you decide what to do next.

Jonathan Schaeffer, the creator of computer chess programs, calculated that there are 197,742 different ways that the players in a chess match could play their first two moves. When you expand that to the first three moves the possible outcomes becomes 121 million. In chess, as in life, your decisions don’t end when you first decide, but continue through each step as you evaluate what’s next.

When faced with choices, before you decide, commit to settle for nothing less than knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Today we have the ability to receive more information than at any time in history. Take care to evaluate what you know before deciding where to go.

“It is the brain, the little gray cells on which one must rely. One must seek the truth within – not without.” – Agatha Christie’s famous detective Hercule Poirot

Invest the time it takes to be the best. How long should you think and evaluate options before you decide? It depends on the potential impact of the decision and the level of experience you have in the area. A greater chance of impact and a lesser degree of experience require more time. Stay with it until you feel that you have the ability to make the best decision possible.

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”– Albert Einstein

Pay attention to how the facts fit together. The first step in decision making is a knowledge of the facts. Next comes an understanding of why the facts are what they are. Most important is to obtain the wisdom to apply what you now know and understand to make the best decision possible. This comes from broadening your view through other people and other similar decisions that have been made.

“To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.” Marilyn vos Savant

Profit from your analysis. You will never have all the answers needed to make a perfect decision. Don’t let that stop you from asking as many questions as reasonable to make the best decision possible.

“I don’t pretend we have all the answers. But the questions are certainly worth thinking about.” – Arthur C. Clarke

Get on with your new job

new jobWhen you transition to a new job you have to leave the old job behind.

This doesn’t only mean if you move to a new company, this is for where you are now. It’s probably easy to think of leaving your old job behind if you change companies, but this is also for those who are promoted, transferred, or take on more responsibility within the same company. You have to leave the old job behind to succeed at the new job.

“I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be.” – Albert Einstein

The key to success in this is not to just think of this when you accept a new job, it’s too late then. Plan for it to happen and it will. Your new job will need your undivided attention. There is work to do now. You have to leave your old responsibilities ready to run without you.

If you want that promotion, transfer, or more responsibility, start taking action right now in the areas of Education, Delegation, and Succession.

Education

Provide the opportunities for your team to learn and apply what they are learning. Encourage them to take classes, and attend seminars. These are important activities for them to know what you know, and more.

There is a Japanese proverb that says, “Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.” While you will not be able to spend your days teaching your team personally, since you have your own job to do, you can invest your time sharing your knowledge and wisdom as you lead. Recognize that your team is watching what you do and listening to what you say and be purposeful in your actions and words so that they learn from you as well.

Delegation

When a manager delegates, employees learn how to make appropriate decisions within their level of authority. John Maxwell says, “If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.”

This is an example of what Stephen Covey said about the importance of delegation, Organizations don’t grow much without delegation…because they are confined to the capacities of the boss.” Leaders have to delegate if they want their team to be able to do what they do so they can move on to their new job.

Succession

Succession planning is of equal importance to setting the vision and strategy for the company or team. I fact everything that leaders do should be about succession planning, including setting the vision and strategy. Leaders should use every opportunity to teach and grow leaders in the organization to be able to take on their job.

One of the things we often miss in succession planning is that it 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

If you aren’t teaching someone else how you do what you do, you are letting opportunity pass you by. Your main role as the leader is to prepare a successor while you lead the team. It shouldn’t be something that is part of your long term plan to get to when you are near the end of your season – that’s too late.

The Delegator

Team with his leaderMalcolm Forbes, the former publisher of Forbes magazine, had a saying that might sound like he was joking, but there was much truth in it, “When in doubt, route.” Here is how he described what he meant, “If you don’t know what to do with many of the papers piled on your desk, stick a dozen colleagues’ names on them and pass them along.”

This is a real life example of what Stephen Covey said about the importance of delegation, Organizations don’t grow much without delegation…because they are confined to the capacities of the boss.” You see, successful leaders have to be Delegators – you don’t know how to do everything, and even if you did you don’t have the time.

But, there is a misperception of how successful delegation works. Some people think that if you are a delegator you are giving away the responsibility to achieve success. This is not the way it works. A Delegator does not give away and go away, they are here to stay, but in a different way. Here are the three steps of a Delegator.

The three steps of a Delegator:

Establish the vision

Even though you are delegating much of what you do, one thing that you can’t delegate is establishing the vision for the team – this one is 100 percent yours. You decide and describe where the team is going and what success looks like.

Eli Broad founded two Fortune 500 companies in different industries (KB Homes and SunAmerica). When running KB homes, Broad signed off on every decision about the land they would build homes on, “I made sure always to know where we were buying, what the market was like there, and what the lot would do for us.”

Broad didn’t exert that type of control on everything, “Once you’ve identified your crucial tasks and sorted out your priorities, try to find a way to delegate everything else.” He went on to say, “The trick to delegating is to make sure your employees share your priorities.” This is the key to establishing the vision.

Agree to the strategy

Now you should be ready to share control. This is the big picture of how the vision will be accomplished. Here the delegator works with the team to develop the strategy, ensuring it aligns with the vision. This step is 50/50 between the delegator and the team. Open dialogue, and differing opinions are heard to come to the right answer.

Leaders don’t need to have every answer, but they do need to find every answer. That is the shared part.

John Maxwell is an international bestselling author on Leadership and he also founded and leads several companies (Equip, Maximum Impact, and The John Maxwell Team).

John says that delegating the big picture strategy is important because it allows him to do what is important to him. He recognizes the other end to this delegation, “Assignments are not always done ‘my way’. But I have discovered that most things can be accomplished effectively in many ways.”

Activate the plan

Now you are ready for the strategy to be accomplished using the strengths and talents of each person on the team. These are the short term actions that if successful will lead to accomplishing the vision.

Here is where some Delegators incorrectly give up all control and hope that success will come. The real success comes when you understand that you will accomplish what you inspect, not what you expect. While you should let your team make 100 percent of the day to day decisions, you have to stay connected to see that everything is heading in the right direction.

Wayne Huizenga, the founder of AutoNation, Waste Management, and Blockbuster described his role as a delegator like this, “I give authority, but I stay in touch. Otherwise it doesn’t work.”

The Leader is…

leaders know the wayTrusting

Leaders don’t earn trust, they prove they are trustworthy. For your team to trust you, they must know you– and if they trust you they will follow you. Does your team know you?

The best way for your team to know you is through communication – you listen to their needs, then you tell them how you will lead them to success. The trust part comes when you actually do lead them to success – small success at first, then bigger and bigger…

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” – Stephen Covey

Can your team trust you?

Teaching

Leaders already know the storms their team will face. You have been there before and survived. What bothers the team doesn’t bother the leader, but the leader is bothered when the team is bothered.

Teaching is not telling people what to think, it is helping them learn how to think. The best leaders help their teams discover the answer for themselves.

“The thing I loved the most about teaching is that you can connect with an individual or a group, and see that individual or groups exceed their limits.” –  Mike Krzyzewski

Can your team learn from you?

Testing

Leaders help their team gain confidence in their ability to succeed on their own. The true measure of success is not in the learning, it is in the doing.

Put your team to the test at the right time in the right environment. Test them enough to prove their strengths and fuel their desire for more growth.

“Boxing is the ultimate challenge. There’s nothing that can compare to testing yourself the way you do every time you step in the ring.” – Sugar Ray Leonard

Can your team succeed because of you?

Leadership = Purpose, Plan, People, and Priorities

Leadership is purpose, plan, people, and prioritiesWhether you are leading a team of thousands, hundreds, tens, or just yourself, these four P’s of leadership are essential for success. Without them you and your team are like a boat without a rudder, drifting on the sea in an unknown direction. Leadership is about choosing the destination and navigating the ship on the right course.

Dennis Conner is a four time winner of the America’s Cup sailing competition. He is known as “Mister America’s Cup,” for his leadership in the sport, raising it from amateur to professional status. He instituted year round practice and physical conditioning to raise his team to the top.

 

Conner covered all of the four P’s of leadership in his run of four wins, and is quoted as saying, “My goal in sailing isn’t to be brilliant or flashy in individual races, just to be consistent over the long run.”

Consistent success requires leadership in all areas.

Purpose

How do you know if you have successfully achieved your purpose? You first need to know the purpose of your team. Before you begin to lead a team you need to clearly understand where you and the team will be when success comes. Only then can you articulate the greater good to your team members so they understand where they will be when the team is successful.

“There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose” – Napoleon Hill.

 Purpose is the cornerstone of leadership. It is that which supports all activity. It is like the North Star for the sailor. It can be counted on to lead you in the right direction.

Plan

Once you are clear on your purpose, you must plan a course to reach that purpose. Great leadership requires that the leader navigate the team to success.

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” – Pablo Picasso

Sailors understand that the wind and waves can shift in a moment. Successful sailors know how to adjust their sails and sometimes their direction to make use of any wind conditions to achieve their purpose.

When obstacles arise, the course may need to be changed so that the purpose is successfully achieved. Continually adjusting the plan to stay on course is true leadership

Purpose, and a plan to reach your purpose, are essential to successful leadership. These two alone, though, are quickly found to have their limits. Long term success only comes when the last two of the four P’s of leadership are added.  

People

You brought your team where they are today, but you can’t bring them any further on your own. No matter how clear your purpose is, no matter the strength of your plan, if you want to extend the positive results beyond what you are accomplishing now, you will need to make room for others to share in the success of your leadership journey. You must surround yourself with the right people.

Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and the thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.

-Those whom you follow must be capable and willing to invest their time helping you grow.

-Your peers must be true partners who, like you, look for opportunities to complete as opposed to compete.

-Those whom you lead must have a teachable heart and a drive to learn.

In all cases there should be an open exchange of what each person does best. What can you fulfill in each other?

Priorities

I summarize the first three P’s of leadership like this: Achieve your purpose by executing your plan through your people.

So why is there a fourth P of leadership having to do with priorities? Because our dreams, plans, and goals should be bigger than any solution we can imagine.

In order to get started finding that solution, boil down the activities to the smallest step you can imagine. What do I know my team and I can do tomorrow?

That is what priorities are for – To get everyone moving in the same direction.

First, eliminate what’s not important.

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.” – Lin Yu Tang

Then, focus on what is important.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen R. Covey

Planning for a successful career

soccer planning diagramI have watched my son play soccer since he was young. I have to admit, all of these years it seemed like a lot of running and kicking but I never caught on to the planning that goes on before and during every match.

This last year was different. My son started playing high school soccer and his coach is a former international semi-professional player. This was also the year of the World Cup that is played every four years, and we watched every game we could. We attended several professional matches in person. My son even bought the Xbox version of the World Cup and began the arduous process of teaching me how soccer is really played.

Here is what I learned. The successful soccer teams plan for success.  They have plans for offense and plans for defense. On offense they position themselves across the field so they can pass and have opportunities to score a goal. They plan each play so that each player is in the right position to make or receive a pass, and if that plan does not work, they pass the ball back to the defense or the goalie and start a new plan. On defense each team plans the location of their players to provide opportunities to block the pass and switch to offense. In soccer this all happens very fast, but for the successful teams it is all planned.

I learned that this level of planning extends beyond each goal and each match. It is also done with an eye on the season’s rankings and for accumulating points to qualify for the next World Cup. I hadn’t realized how much soccer was like planning for a successful career. Small wins, lead to bigger wins, which lead to the biggest win.

I have seen first-hand in both areas now that Winston Churchill was right when he said, “He who fails to plan is planning to fail.”

How have you done planning for a successful career? Many find themselves out of school in their twenties with their first job and no plan; wondering what direction to take in their career. Or maybe you have been working for ten or fifteen years and don’t feel like you have your dream job. What can you do to get on track and have a successful career?

Here’s the secret to planning for a successful career:

Begin With the End in Mind  For soccer the end could be the World Cup. For Landon Donovan, all-time leading scorer for the U.S. National Team it was something more. He said, “Most of us are in this more than just for playing soccer. We’re in it for the bigger goal, to move it along for the next generation.” Donovan wanted to win, but he also wanted to broaden the popularity of the sport in the U.S.

You have to decide what your ultimate goal is so that you can make decisions that will help you reach it.

In his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey uses the analogy of climbing a ladder as activities we undertake. We often hear about people who are climbing the ladder of success. Covey’s main point in this area is before you begin climbing you have to define success.

If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.” – Stephen Covey.

A successful career begins with defining what you want to accomplish with that career. Do you want to have reached a certain position? Do you want to have worked for a certain company? Do you want to be known for having helped others achieve success? What will say success to you?

Plan short steps that move you in the right direction. In soccer, you only reach the World Cup if you win enough matches to qualify. To win matches you have to score goals and stop your opponent from scoring goals. Sounds simple.

But winning all you plan doesn’t always happen. That is why a good Plan B, is just as important as a good Plan A. James Yorke once said, “The most successful people are those who are good at plan B.”

So go ahead and begin planning for a successful career. It doesn’t matter if the first steps you take don’t necessarily work out. You will learn, adapt and move forward. Remember a goal without a plan is just a wish, and a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

You make progress towards a successful career when you take short steps to move you in the right direction. What do you need to know to move closer to your goal? Who do you need to know to move closer to your goal? What should you do first to move closer to your goal?

Commit to attaining the short steps.  Having goals and plans to reach them is just the beginning. You have to execute your plans every day. Argentine soccer great Lionel Messi said, “You have to fight to reach your dream. You have to sacrifice and work hard for it.” Make a commitment to do what it takes to achieve the plans you decide on.

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.” – Peter Drucker

You achieve a successful career by making the investment in hard work.  What are you willing to do to achieve your goal?  What are you willing to give up to achieve your goal?

Success in soccer or in your career or in anything you want to accomplish in life, only comes trough planning for success.

 

Communicating as a leader

art of communicationDo you have to be good at communicating to be a successful leader? The simple answer is yes you do.  When asked about the importance of communication in leadership here is what a few past leaders had to say:

Gilbert Amelio, a pioneer in the U.S. technology industry and former President and CEO of National Semiconductor Corp. said, “Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership.”

Author and former presidential speech writer James Humes answered the question succinctly when he said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.”

And Lee Iacocca, former Chrysler CEO said, “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.”

So you are a leader or you want to be a leader someday but you have trouble communicating.  Can a person who has trouble communicating be a leader?  Again the simple answer is yes you can.

Listed below are the four areas that all great communicators focus on.  Learn them and you will be successfully communicating as a leader.

Communicating with a purpose. Can you summarize the purpose of your message in one sentence?  If you can’t, then your audience won’t understand the main point.  You have heard some speakers say, “If you only take away one thing this is it…”  Before you start any form of communication you have to know the purpose.  It’s like Stephen Covey said, “Start with the end in mind.”

The purpose of communication is always to elicit an emotional response meant to inspire action.

That action may be very short term, like getting a laugh or tugging at the heart.  The action could be longer term like embarking on the first step of a life changing journey.

Knowing the purpose of your communication is foundational if you want to communicate like a leader.

Communicating with a plan. Now that you clearly defined the purpose of your communication it’s time to plan how you will accomplish that purpose.

Here a few keys to include in your plan:

Be an expert in the facts before you share the facts. This is not a new concept.  First century Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.

Carefully select your words.  As Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

Entertain, encourage, and end on time. Not only will the current audience appreciate you, they might also be a future audience.  The great British leader Benjamin Disraeli had advice for communicators: “Be amusing: never tell unkind stories; above all, never tell long ones.”

Communicating with practice.  Once you have your purpose and plan, it’s time to practice. The more you communicate the better you will get. According to master communicator Brian Tracy, “Communication is a skill like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life”

Even after communicating as a leader myself for over twenty-five years, I never step in front of an audience without reviewing and practicing what I am going to communicate.

Communicating with passion Your communication is not complete unless the people who heard it feel enlightened, equipped, and energized to do something with your message right now. 

If you want your audience to have passion about your message then you need to have passion about your message first.  You may be an expert in the facts, but are you committed to the message.  Do you believe it? More importantly do you live it?

Jim Rohn said it like this, “Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know.”

 

How to avoid overload at work: Clarify

lack of clarity signYou are operating on overload. Even if you didn’t add one more thing to your task list, there is no way you can get all of this done.  But how do you tell your boss that you are overloaded on work without seeming like you are trying to pass of work?

CLARIFY

Clarify the expectations of the tasks, projects, deliverables…and clarify the expectations of your role in their outcome.

Not all bosses will tell you what to do first, second, third… but if you ask them what they would do if in your place, they know – So ask.  Remember, you are not asking to do less of everything, you are asking to do more of the right things.

Clarify what must be done versus what could be done. Too many people think that they have to accomplish everything – not so. For me the secret is to first eliminate what can wait, then create the list. 

  “The key is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen Covey

Clarify when it must be done versus when it could be done. Even after you have your list of what’s called important, the key is to know what’s the most important then do that first.

“If you want to make good use of your time, you’ve got to know what’s most important then give it all you’ve got.” – Lee Iacocca

Clarify who must do it versus who could do it. Even the narrow list of the most important items can seem overloading, so share the load.  You have to know what your part is and do that well, don’t carry everyone else’s load too.

 “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” – Lou Holtz

Finally, use your feeling of overload to learn and grow.  Take a shot at thinking how you would prioritize if you were the boss.  When you talk to your boss, offer your suggestions and see how you do. 

 

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