I enjoy hiking, actually I love it. Most hikes I take are “there and back” hikes, meaning you hike to a certain point, turn around and come back the same way you came. Now if you’re not a hiker this sounds a bit redundant – covering the same segment of the trail twice instead of experiencing more of the trail with the same time and effort.
But hikers don’t feel this way at all. The reality is a “there and back” hike is as engaging as a “end to end” hike.
Because coming back on the same segment of trail never looks the same as going out. It’s as if you’re on a different segment when you walk it in the other direction. The reason is simple, your perspective changes 180º – what you see and how you see it – is different. A change in perspective always bring a fresh look at a trail you just traversed.
This is true of most situations in life and leadership, isn’t it? We often get stuck seeing a situation, an idea, a moment in history, just from one perspective and believe that’s the only perspective there is. So when we hear a different one, we struggle to embrace it because our first response is – how could be a different perspective than the mine?
But there are different perspectives of same section of a trail. Your perspective depends on how and when you’ve hiked it. The person walking towards me will see the trail totally different than I see it. Same trail, different perspective. People will walk through the same situation, wrestle with the same idea, or struggle with a particular moment differently because they’re walking through it from a different place, heading in a different direction, thus have a different perspective.
So here’s the application – in a world where there seems to be no room for another’s perspective, where mine or ours is the only valid one, never believe you have a corner on the truth. Try to come at the situation, idea, or moment from another direction, preferably from the direction that someone else has come from, so you can see it more as they see it. Always seek out other perspectives because no one comes at a moment from the same place or same time as you. By doing so, you’ll see more of the trail, have more friends to walk with, and have a more fulfilling hike.
Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, continues to make my top five list of best leadership books ever written. Many of its findings have influenced my perspective of, and hopefully, my actual practice of leadership. So I was thankful to learn that he published a video statement about the current COVID-19 situation. In it Collins talks about how the Stockdale Paradox, a principle outlined in Good to Great, can provide us with an effective perspective for tackling this unprecedented moment.
Take a 6 minutes to watch it. In particular, listen to Admiral Stockdale’s goal for his 8 years as a Vietnam War POW – it’s inspiring. Then ask yourself – is this my goal for this current situation?
Like of many of you, I’ve been forced work from home this past week and will be for at least the next few weeks. During these days I’ve learned five lessons about surviving these new working conditions. My hope is that they may help you as you try to survive this extraordinary moment in our history.
- Plan your work, work your plan:
- Have a daily plan and make it as specific as possible. Time block (meaning block out time on your calendar) for the specific tasks you want to tackle for the day.
- Set personal deadlines for each task – i.e. “I’m giving myself 30 minutes to get this task done”. Make it a game, a competition
- Then follow your plan, adjust your plan and work till you get your plan done for the day
- Plan a reward for yourself at the end of the day when you’ve completed your work – have a great meal, watch your favorite movie, eat chocolate, put extra butter on popcorn – you get the idea
- “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”
- Get out, take a walk, do some prep for dinner, play a short game with your kids, call a family member or friend. Do this once an hour
- Don’t look at your computer screen for 8 hours straight.
- Spend a few minutes in the morning and then in the afternoon reading something inspiring – the Scriptures, a biography, a great novel. Or read something that promotes your learning, challenges your brain.
- Start a journal – capture your experiences during this unprecedented time.
- Physical Distancing not Social Distancing:
- We need each other during these moments, stay connected.
Do as many calls as you can via video – see people’s faces.
- Have a conversation with people outside your home, when you’re out – keep your physical distance, but don’t cut out your social interactions.
- Make the extra effort to connect, to engage with people digitally and physically.
- We need each other during these moments, stay connected.
- Don’t let distractions become the main attractions:
- Don’t look at the news or cruise the web any more than twice a day – once in the morning, once at night. If something really crazy happens you can be assured someone you know will be glued to the web and will be compelled to text you with the latest news
- Check emails no more than once an hour and answer them twice a day, unless urgent.
- Find a quiet place in your house to do your work, but come out of hiding regularly, it will cut down on interruptions.
- “Laughter is the best medicine”
- Don’t be afraid to laugh, be lighthearted, research shows that in the most stressful and dire circumstances, people who can and do laugh do a better job coping and surviving
- Find joy in the moment – watch the sun rise or set, listen to children play outside, look at the stars tonight, appreciate the gift of life God’s given you.
For a laugh or two watch this video about conference calls – https://youtu.be/DYu_bGbZiiQ
Good Luck – this too shall pass!
- Plan your work, work your plan:
There was a time when I unplugged for a 4 or 5 days every year. When I say unplugged, I mean having absolutely no access to both cell and internet service. It was on my annual fishing trips to northern Ontario. It was a place where the armies of cell and the internet service had not conquered. These were days of pure joy, peace, and freedom. Each year, I couldn’t wait to break away from my technology chain and be free. Of course, I love fishing, being in the wilderness and, most importantly, I love being with close friends and my boys. But looking back now, I realize, I also loved, and needed, to be disconnected from my digital tethers. It was a technology fast or, better yet, a technology Sabbath, a needed cleansing break.
But, if you haven’t noticed, there is this onward, ambitious, hungry march of the technology army. First, the internet, then cell service conquered and now occupy my little piece of paradise. To be honest, most of the quests of this special place are thankful the modern world has finally arrived. It gives them flexibility, a peace of mind, and a way to juggle responsibilities back at home and office while being away.
But, as for me?
I fought the marching armies as long and as hard as I could.
At first, I pretended, and told others, I couldn’t be reached, stretching the truth a bit about the technologies available. But hiding from reality never lasts for long – the armies always expose you. This happened to me during a trips over the past couple of years when a friend texted my wife, and then work peers started answering emails and making calls. My cover was finally and completely blown. I couldn’t hide from this army anymore.
Like any effective invading army, there’s this slow but steady conquering of people’s hearts and minds. During these last few years, I’d become the proverbial frog in the kettle, slowly accepting and believing these armies are a necessary evil, believing it’s the way it’s supposed to be, even taking by faith that these armies are a good thing, that to be connected 24/7/365 is to be human.
Until two of my close friends and one of their sons and I went on a “fly-in” fishing trip. If you don’t know a what a “fly-in” is, it’s when a float plane takes you to a remote lake where there are no roads or trails, no other access. You can only get there by float plane. You stay in a remote cabin (no electricity or running water). You’re literally dropped off in the middle of no where and you stay until the floatplane picks you up.
And of course, there is no cell or internet service. Which meant I was totally and completely unplugged for 4 days, 96 hours, for the first time in many years. I had found my temporary paradise once again, but not without a cost. For it took me a good 24 hours to stop wanting to check my phone for incoming emails and text messages. Those 24 hours were a bit challenging, creating some anxiety about all the life changing, important events I just knew I was missing out on. The first night I even had some problems falling asleep. During those first 24 hours, whenever the anxiety crept in (which was hourly), I spoke words like this to myself – “just enjoy it, nothing you can do” or “what can happen in a few days?”. But what was most effective was simply praying “God, you’ve got this, I trust you, all the people and situations at home don’t need me right now.” The self talk was simply Jedi mind tricks, so it worked for a bit but didn’t solve the problem. My prayer of admitting reality – God is God and I am not, was the key of getting through the technology detox.
But once I made it through the first 24 hours, I began to experience peace, the absence of anxiety that I haven’t experienced in a long time. I felt as if I was finally free from the tethers of technology and could enjoy the people, the place, and experience we were having together. In other words to enjoy those days as a rare and incredible gift. It was so good that I committed to not becoming a slave again to my technology. But, instead, to be its master when back in the “real” world.
Dallas Willard said in his book Spirit of the Disciplines “Until we enter quietness, the world still lays hold of us.” On that weekend, I entered technology silence and was freed from it’s chains. The glow of those 96 hours has stayed with me, but not without effort. It’s a glow I want to keep, it’s the freedom from and mastery over this invading army. But I now know it will require a regular dose of total and complete disconnection. Without it, the counter attack will continue the slow but steady march, and eventually I will be it’s prisoner again.
So, I encourage you, if you’ve been captured by the technology army. Take a true, extended technology break. It’ll feel like you’re dropping heavy chains you’ve been carrying so long you no longer notice they were there. But when you shed the chains, you’ll experience a peace and freedom that will be so good, you will never want to be technology’s prisoner again.
I’m an optimist by nature. I believe the best in people, see the possibilities in any situation regardless of how bad, and love stretch goals. These tangible expressions of optimism have defined and benefited my leadership.
Yet, there are downsides to such optimism. One in particular which has inflicted my leadership (thus the organizations I’ve led) is the belief that I can effectively manage a large number of priorities at one time. Yes, it’s the overzealous conviction that I am capable of doing many important things, all really well, and all at the same time.
But here is the reality, to do our best work we must be single minded, we need to focus and do just a few important things at one time. All the research that’s been done over the past few years tells us this much. Sure there appears to be some outliers who can manage lots of priorities, but they are a micro minority (the definition of outlier) or, more likely, just good with smoke and mirrors. Which means most of us (do I dare say – all of us) can’t juggle many priorities at one time.
It’s the Leadership Grand Illusion – believing, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that we’re a part of the micro group of outliers that effectively management a high number of priorities at one time.
So, I had to come to grips with this reality and quit buying into the Grand Illusion. I’ve worked to bring discipline to my personal priorities as well as SpringHill’s. It’s been a painful process for an optimist like me, but it’s been necessary (and significantly more effective).
How have I (and we) done this? There are three simple rules that I’ve applied personally as well as organizationally:
- Have no more than Three Priorities (of the day, week, month, year, etc.) at one time
- Then be crystal clear about the Top One of the Three.
- Finally focus, talk, look at, work and Obsess over Three.
It’s that simple.
What’s not simple is the discipline, control of that optimism, and ignoring the Grand Illusion that is required to tackle only three priorities at a time, to pick the first priority of the three, then obsess about those three.
Now the issue, especially if you’re an optimist with a long list of priorities, is how do you identify the Three and the One of the Three?
Again, it’s simple but difficult at the same time – you need to ask and answer the following two questions
- “If I/we can only work on three priorities, which ones should they be?”
- “Of these three priorities, if I/we could only accomplish one, which one would we choose?”
So that’s it.
Really simple, incredibly effective – Commit to these three rules, then rigorously debate and honestly answer these two questions, and finally obsess over the answers until they’re completed. When you take these three steps you’re on your way to being a focused (and really effective) leader.
I know this will sound strange, but one of the best things we can do as leaders is to have a regularly scheduled meeting with ourselves. Yes, that’s right, a meeting in our calendar where we’re the only attendee, and in the Subject line of the appointment it reads “Reflection and Planning”.
We all know we need to do this – we need regular moments of quiet time, with no distractions, where we can reflect, look back, look ahead and plan what the next move or moves need to be. Yet so often, actually way too often, we don’t do it?
Because we don’t put it into our calendars. We don’t create a meeting with ourselves.
I know this is another strange thought but the reality is when we write down or type something, in this case, into our calendar, we’re saying it’s important. You see our brains work this way – when we think about something, speak it out loud and then write it down, we’re significantly more likely to remember and then follow through on it.
Now, at the risk of seeming even more strange, I need to say this as well – when we set meetings with ourselves, we need to create and write down an agenda. It may be a simple, repeatable agenda but, like all other meetings, a thoughtful, intentional agenda leads to a meaningful, productive meeting, even with ourself.
So the next question is – how often should we meet with ourselves and what do we talk about? We should meet every day, even if it’s for just a few minutes. And we should answer questions like those below. I have a rhythm of meetings I try to stick too – they follow the same pattern as our organizational meeting rhythm –
Meeting and Agenda (questions to answer):
Daily (10 min):
- What’s the most important thing I can do today?
- When will I do it?
Weekly (15 min):
- What’s the 3 most important priorities I need to accomplish this week?
- Do I have time in my calendar blocked out to do them?
Monthly (30 min):
- What are my top 3 to 5 priorities for the month?
- Do I have time in my calendar blocked out to do them?
Quarterly (30 min):
- What are my top 3 to 5 priorities for the quarter?
Annual (2 hours):
- What are my 5 to 7 goals for the year?
- Is my life aligned with my purpose, values and dreams?
- What’s my unifying theme for the year?
So here’s the challenge – starting next week, try meeting daily with yourself. Put these meetings into your calendar and simply ask the questions above. See if you don’t become more focused, more effective and less stressed than you’ve ever been.
New Year’s resolutions have gotten a bad rap lately. There’s much written about how so many people make resolutions at the beginning of a new year but, in the end, so few actually keep them. So the advice of many self help writers is simply this – why bother, why put yourself through this process, why set yourself up for failure?
But this kind of logic isn’t how great organizations or movements are built, world changing action is taken, personal transformation happens, or mountains moved. Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution or simply a personal goal or new calling, you’re taking a risk by setting them, it’s the reality of goal setting.
But this reality should never stop us from setting a goal and then working to achieve it. Just because most people don’t fulfill their New Year’s resolutions certianly isn’t a reason to avoid them. Instead understanding that failure is the accepted risk we take to create change, isn’t a reason to opt out, it’s the reality we embrace to increase our chances of success.
Now how do we increase our chances of succeeding, in achieving our New Year’s resolutions? By remembering these five principles of goal setting:
- Reality – Know that we tend to be overly optimistic with short-term goals and too pessimistic about long-term goals – so we adjust our goals accordingly.
- Focused – Have only a few resolutions. The less, the better the chance of success.
- Written – Write them down then review them on a regular basis (click here to learn about meetings with yourself)
- Guided – Share them with people who can provide wisdom and encouragement.
- Downside -Remember that even if we fall short of achieving our resolutions, we’ll most likely come significantly farther along our journey then we would have if we’d never set the goal in the first place.
So let’s make 2017 our best year yet. Best, not because we avoided failure by not setting challenging goals, but because we made a life changing New Year’s resolution, then worked like crazy to make it a reality.
As Theodore Roosevelt said – “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered with failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat.”
Do you take the time to plan your day, your week, your month, your life? Do you have clearly stated personal core values and purpose statement? Do you have a map that guides you to the places you want to go and a plan for becoming the person God’s called you to be?
If you answer to these questions is a “no” or “not to often” – here’s the harsh reality – someone else, by default, will create answers to these questions for you. They’ll plan your time, set your priorities, fill up your calendar and make sure their priorities and goals are being achieved before yours. Not because people are manipulative or malicious but simply because they can, because you let them, because you’re not doing it yourself.
You see our days and weeks, represented by our calendars, have their own magnetic pull. They will draw in the nearest activities, tasks, projects, and appointments into every available time slot of your life. And trust me, if you’re a leader, there’s always somebody’s priorities close by. The question is which priorities will be closest and fill up your calendar? Yours or others?
So what can you do to assure that your life is filled with your plans, goals, priorities, and the people you want and need to see? It’s simple, with discipline, diligence and tenacity, fill in your calendar before others do so for you. And this starts by having a planning rhythm for your life. This rhythm should include five separate personal planning sessions, or as my friend Jack McQueeney calls them – meetings with yourself. These meetings are:
Annual Planning – where you set you goals and priorities for the year, then schedule these, along with other major events, into your calendar for the year. I do this in November or December of each year with my wife Denise. Typically it takes an afternoon to accomplish.
Seasonal or Quarterly Meeting – check your progress on your annual plan, map out in more detail your calendar, and move things around that have unintentionally crept into your life. This meeting should only be a couple hours at the most.
Monthly Review – adjust your Seasonal/Quarterly plan and fill in open times with your priorities. At this step be much more detailed in filling in your calendar. I spend about an hour during the last week of each month planning the next month.
Weekly Meeting – the most important meeting of your life. This is where you set weekly goals then build time into your calendar to accomplish them. You do this by doggedly moving the less important things out and making time for the most important work to be done Though it’s the most important meeting, once you’ve done it a number of times it doesn’t take long – 30 minutes is my typical time needed. I usually do it on Sunday morning.
Daily Plan – everyday it’s important to look at your weekly plan and calendar and make sure you’re on track to accomplish your goals and key work. Early every morning I identify my top 1 to 3 priorities for that day. This takes about 5 or 10 minutes.
Now if this all seems to require to much time, let me ask you one final question – if you don’t have time to plan, how do you have time to do everyone’s else’s priorities and yours as well? So make 2017 your best, most fruitful year yet by filling your calendar up before someone does it for you.
How often have we been told to avoid the “tyranny of the urgent”, that we need to focus on the most important work first, not the most urgent. But the problem is this assumes that all the fires in our life are not as important as longer-term priorities. But deep down we know this simply isn’t true. When our house is on fire there’s nothing more important than putting the fire out.
The reality is that tackling the most urgent issue facing us is very often the highest value activity we can do to have a productive and successful day. Urgent problems grab us, hold onto us, and demand our undivided attention. That’s why the urgent rules us like a tyrant. When a loved one is in crisis that’s both urgent and absolutely important. When a key employee announces he or she is considering leaving your team, we must drop what we’re doing to step into the situation. Because if we don’t submit to these tyrants, the long-term, important things, like our loved ones health or our team’s performance, may be in jeopardy.
So the first approach to dealing with these little tyrants is to try to avoid them ever popping up their ugly heads. We must heed the advice of management and life guru’s – be proactive. Just as we can avoid some of the cavities in our teeth with a little daily flossing, we can avoid some of the tyrants that invade our lives if we’re a bit more preventative and proactive.
But the truth is, we live in a fallen, broken and bent world where we can never be proactive enough to completely keep away all the ugly little tyrants . They will inevitably show up in our lives. There’s just no way around this hard truth on this side of eternity. We can proactively floss them down to a smaller number, but we can’t change our genetics or the bad water.
So what can we do? There’s two simple steps we must take to prepare ourselves for the inevitable tyrants trying to take over.
- First, face reality and expect them to come. It’s the nature of the world we live in.
- Second, create margin in our lives so we can effectively deal with the tyrants when they come our way. Just like having an emergency bank account, we need an emergency time, energy and focus account. We need margin in our life. This is easy to say, hard to do, but its the only way we can deal with these little tyrants before they rule us.
Take these two steps and we move to the place where the urgent is no longer a tyrant but an opportunity to do important and often lasting work.
I was recently asked to provide 3-5 “Things You Should Know” on the topic of “Leadership: Vision, Mission, Values & Strategic Planning” for our industry’s trade magazine. Below is what I provided. Let me know if you have something to add.
Leadership and strategic thinking isn’t about having all the answers, it’s, at the core, asking the right questions and then leading a team or organization to discover the best answers. And these answers are critical because it’s around them that a leader builds unity, community, focus and ultimately success.
The following six groups of questions are the most foundational and strategic questions a leader can ask and then help their team or organization answer:
- Why do we exist? What purpose do we fulfill, what difference do we make in the world? If we ceased to exist, what hole would be left? The answer to these questions is typically expressed in a purpose or mission statement.
- What’s most important to us? What are we most deeply passionate about and willing to sacrifice and suffer for? The answer to these questions is stated as an organization’s core values.
- What do we believe to be true? What is it about the world we’re most sure of? What’s true even though we may not like it? The answer to these questions is typically written in a statement of faith or a confession.
- What do we want to become? When we look into the future who and what kind of team or organization do we want to be? What are the kinds of things we’d want others to say about us? Answering these questions will lead to creating a shared vision of your future.
- What do we want to accomplish? 5, 10, 20 years from now, when we look back, how will we know we’ve been successful? What will be the key indicator that we faithfully fulfilled our mission and vision? A Big Hairy Audacious God Goal (BHAGG) answers these questions.
- What makes us distinct? What are the defining characteristics that make us stand out from other similar organizations? How do those outside our organization or team describe the work we do or service we provide? When you answer these questions you’ve articulated your brand promise (in organizations with a Christian mission – it’s often called a philosophy of ministry).
So a leader’s first task is to ask these foundational questions then second, lead their teams to discovering the answers. When these first two tasks are accomplished the leader’s job isn’t finished. The final, unending task of the leader is to teach, remind, highlight, reinforce, and be the biggest communicator and cheerleader of these answers to every stakeholder of the organization. This is the primary task of the leader and one that needs to happen every day, all the time; it’s what makes a leader a leader, and one that makes organizations great.