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.
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.
Where do you turn when the day runs off the tracks, the meeting you’ve prepared so hard for goes badly, or you’re in the middle of that part of your job you dislike the most? What do you do when you’re fatigued, worn thin, burned out with your work, with your life? How do you get back that energy you used to have, the joy that filled your work, the motivation to fight through any obstacle?
There’s really only one place to turn, one thing you need – to know, believe and wrap your whole being around your purpose. Your purpose answers the question – why am I here? It’s the reason you do your job, the reminder of the impact you have, the difference you and your work make, and the outcomes you strive so hard for. It’s the reason behind what you do and why you do it.
If you keep your purpose at the forefront of your mind, it provides the energy, joy and motivation to keep at your work, to fight through the challenges and boredom. Once you lose your sense of purpose or worse, you work and live outside the scope of your purpose, your energy, joy and motivation will soon slip away.
So what exactly is purpose? It’s the goals you have, but it’s more than numbers or accomplishments. It’s the direction you want to go, but it’s beyond your destination. Purpose goes deeper, wider and higher. Purpose is the ultimate end you are seeking for your work, for you self, and for those you wish to impact. It’s who God’s called you to be and the good work He’s prepared for you to do.
So how do you discover your purpose? You discover it when you clearly understand your highest values, acknowledge your gifts, abilities and life experiences, and know the opportunities you have to make a difference in the lives of others and in the world. The confluence of knowing yourself and the world you live in is where you discover your purpose.
So over the next few posts we’ll take a deeper look at the steps you can take to discover your purpose. My goal is to help you find new inspiration to do your work or, if necessary, find the kind of work that better aligns with your purpose.
There once was a horse who lived on a farm with other farm animals. There were two goats, three sheep, a pig, a handful of chickens, and a milk cow. Each of these animals were an important part of the farm family’s, the MacDonald’s, livelihood, providing food and other products for use and trade. Now, as most people know, horses are the smartest of all the farm animals and this horse was no exception. As a matter of fact, she was smarter than the average horse, having the ability to look at a situation and finding a solution to address it.
Now a situation did arise that required all the intelligence the horse could muster – the entire MacDonald family fell ill of a contagious disease and was unable to care for the farm and its animals. Eggs needed to be collected, the pig fed, the cow and goats milked, the sheep sheared, the barn yard cleaned, and the fences mended but the family was incapable of doing any of it. So the horse began to devise a plan to help the MacDonald’s by taking care of the farm. But it soon became clear that as smart as the horse was, she could not devise a plan that assured all the farm chores were done in a timely and orderly manner.
As the hours then days began to slip by the situation became dire. The farm was becoming chaotic and, as anyone who has spent time on a farm knows, chaos is the last word that should describe a farm. Finally, in desperation, the horse began to do the farm work herself. She tried to collect the hens eggs but found she to often dropped them or simply broke them in her teeth. She attempted to feed the pig but couldn’t stomach the smell of the mush. She even tried to milk the cow and the goats but got kicked because her hoofs hurt the utters too much. Instead of helping the MacDonald’s, the horse was making the situation worse. It seemed the more she tried to do herself the worse the farm became. She was desperate to help but didn’t know what to do.
Then when things were at their lowest point, the pig came to the horse and said, “I know you want to help the MacDonald’s but so do I and so do all the other farm animals. If for no other reason than to make sure there are no more broken eggs rotting in the barnyard, or utters rubbed raw. You see it’s in our best interest as well to have the farm taken care of. But you haven’t asked for our help, you haven’t allowed us to do the work we’re capable of doing. Instead you’ve tried to do it all yourself.
Even though I’m not as intelligent as you, I’m very hungry and that’s driven me to think about and devise this recommendation. First, because you’re the oldest and smartest animal in the farm you need to be our leader. As our leader, you must bring all the animals together and explain the situation so we’re all in the same pen together. Then ask for our help. Lead us in figuring out the work only we can do because we have the gifts, abilities and experiences to do it right and on time. Finally support and encourage us in our work. Assist us in moving any rocks that stand in our way, help us think through difficult situations, and make sure we’re all working together.
If you can lead us in this way I’m sure we can help you bring order back to our farm. But if you insist on doing all the work yourself, the situation will continue to get worse and we’ll all suffer, including the MacDonald’s.”
So the horse listened to the pig and carried out his recommendation. And before too long the farm started to turn around. The chickens decided to lay their eggs right in the egg baskets thus avoiding extra handling. The cow milked the goats and the goats milked the cow since both understood the delicate and sensitive work milking is. And the pig started to clean the barn yard up of all the rottening eggs and other debris, bringing order to the yard and at the same time fixing himself a fine meal.
It was such a remarkable turn around that the horse began to write in her journal all the lessons she learned from this experience so she’d never forget them (a practice all smart horses do in these situations). The first lesson the horse recorded was to never pre-judge an animal’s ideas by their looks or the food they eat (pigs can and often have great ideas you just need to ask and listen to them).
The second lesson was this – every animal has different gifts, abilities and experiences so is capable of doing different and important work. The job of the leader is to get to know each member of the their farm community so they can know and understand each animal’s capacity to contribute, then help them do so.
Lesson three was simply remembering it’s almost always in the best interest of everyone involved in a bad situation to see the situation improve. So everyone will be motivated to do something to make a difference. The leader’s responsibility is to reconqize this interest then motivate and channel their action into productive work.
The final lesson the horse wrote down in her journal was simply this self realization. A leader must do what only they, as the leader, can do keeping them from trying to do the things someone else is more capable and motivated to do. And one of those things only a leader can do is help others identify and then flourish in doing what only they can do.
Personal experience has taught that life isn’t one straight, smooth and effortless journey. There are patches of rocky road, exhausting up hill climbs, stretches of fog and darkness. Though life’s path can often be level, smooth, well marked, and brightly lit, those hard stretches can seem to go on forever.
We shouldn’t be surprised by this state of travel. The overwhelming evidence is that we live in a fallen and bent world and we are broken and finite people. The mixture of both create those difficult stretches we all experience in our lives.
Rough patches can mean many things, sometimes we just need to get through them. But other times there’s more to a difficult stretch of road than simply getting through it. Sometimes long stretches of rough travel is a signal that radical change is coming or needed.
And this radical change is a redirection of our life, a turn down a different path to a new destination we never planned on or expected. When this happens to us what we thought was so certain, what we worked so hard for, tenaciously planned and prepared for, prayed and dreamed about is suddenly gone, often in a flash. We feel totally blind sided by these unasked for and unwanted changes.
Yet, often, maybe nearly always, its these changes in our travel plans that lead to the better roads, brighter paths, and a more joyful journey. Why? Because most likely our former path had become the wrong one for us. Somewhere, unannounced to us was a much better road, one planned from the beginning of creation. We just didn’t know it or see it. The hard road can push us to a new and better path only if we can work through the emotions of such radical and intrusive change.
Which is why these directional changes are the hardest of all.
Yet these changes , as unbearable as they can be in the moment, can also provide us hope that we’ll not only come through this rough patch but we’ll be on our way to a better destination, a new life. The real question is how we confront and deal with our new reality. Are we willing to walk away from our old plans and dreams and start to construct new plans to a new destination?
These moments do not come often, so I’ve found the benefit of the wisdom, perspective and insight of a traveling companion, someone whose traveled before us. First, it’s simply helpful to have a friend walk with us while on the rough roads. Secondly, a companion, because they tend to be more objective, can help us evaluate whether a rough patch is the signal to change directions and head to a new destination or something to get through.
Finally, I’ve found making sure there’s space for prayer, reflection and meditation are essential in working intellectually and emotionally through these segments of our journey. It’s in these quiet moments that breakthroughs in perspective and clarity on direction so often come.
So, if you’re in one of those places on your journey where traveling is difficult, seek wisdom from others as well as through prayer and reflection. Determine if it’s just a rough patch to get through or a indication of a radical change in direction. If it’s simply getting through, keep walking. If it’s a change in direction, seek out a new destination and create a new travel plan that will bring you to a better place. But either way, standing still is not an option, going back rarely the answer, instead look, lean, and move forward -it’s the only way through it and onto your new destination.
Leaders tend to use one of four ways to move people in a desired direction. Each approach works in the short-term, especially when movement is urgently needed. Which way a leader chooses often depends on the people and circumstances involved. But one way is ultimately the best, one that moves people farther and faster than the others. But before we talk about that way, let’s take a look at the other three.
The first way is Pushing Leadership. The reality is sometimes people need a simple push to move forward (think of a mother bird pushing her young out of the nest to learn to fly). In many situations this is the best approach – a gentle push and big things happen. But too often leaders are simply pushy people. Pushy leaders will wear out their team, especially if their team already knows how to fly. When this happens those being pushed simply comply, hide or leave.
The second way many leaders lead is by dragging their followers along. Dragging Leadership is when the leader runs so far ahead that the rest of the team is always killing themselves to stay up. It looks much like a dog race with the leader as the rabbit and the team are the dogs running hard to catch it. It’s an excellent leadership style for dog races but it burns people out quickly. Yes, leaders should set the pace and lead by example but they need to be careful not to confuse running with leading.
The third way is what I call Carrying Leadership. Carrying leadership occurs when a leader steps in and rescues their team by taking on their jobs and responsibilities. As with the first two ways, there are times when leaders need to step in and help their people through a difficult patch. But it turns destructive when leaders create leadership co-dependency by always assuring their team avoids difficulty or pain and thus never learns to deal with problems, issues and rough patches.
Finally, the most effective (and the most difficult) leadership is Inspiring Leadership. Inspiring Leadership requires relationship, clarity, communication, a meaningful cause, an opportunity to succeed, an end to the game, and understanding of role. Inspiring leadership is helping others make their best contribution and, when they do, receive all the credit. In Inspiring Leadership is where the team is center stage and the leader is back stage or in the sound booth assuring the team’s success.
So which way do you lead? Are you a pushing, dragging or carrying leader? If so, take this as a gentle push to become an Inspiring Leader, onewho leads others to become all that God’s created them to be so they can do all that God’s planned for them to do. This is the kind of leadership we all crave and the type of leadership that can change our world.
The safest route in life is to have low expectations for yourself and others, to set only achievable goals (or maybe no goals at all), and to take the proven path. The safe route assures that you are, well, safe, but almost never brings you (0r anyone following you) to a place that’s meaningful or makes a true difference.
Yet as leaders, should this type of safety (ours and others) be our over arching goal? Is it possible to lead, to make a real difference in the world and in the lives of others, and, at the same time, take the safe path? The answer is a resounding no. Leaders, by definition, take action to change and improve today for a better tomorrow, all the while inspiring others to do the same. To this end, leaders are willing to carry the pain, do the hard work and, ultimately, risk complete and utter failure to see a better future become a reality.
Reaching higher is always a risky proposition, but with risk comes great returns. Safety instead of risk means a life with no lasting rewards, only temporary comfort. Our son Mitch, a student at the United States Naval Academy, was, as a Plebe, required to memorize the following quote from Teddy Roosevelt –
“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 nor defeat.”
And there’s a reason all Midshipmen are required to memorize this statement. To attend the USNA, to dare to put one’s self in an incredibly competitive and pressure filled environment, to be subject to discipline, hardship, and a career requiring one to take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States with one’s life, is a huge risk. But the potential reward is incredible, for themselves and, more importantly, for others and for the world.
So here’s the bottom line – we’re given only one life on this earth to live, one life to eternally impact others, one life to explore this planet, and one life at changing the world. We can choose to avoid the potential risks of reaching higher but we can never live free of all risks. Because when we take the safe route we take the significantly bigger risk of living in that gray twilight where there is no loss nor any lasting reward.
Whether we want to accept it or not – every choice we make, every option we’re presented with, and opportunity that calls our name comes with accompanying trade-offs. Sometimes the trade-offs are significant and sometimes they’re simply an inconvenience. But we can’t allow ourselves to make the mistake that I, the eternal optimist, too often make – believe that there are choices with no trade-offs.
Even the best options have trade-off’s. For example, a good friend asks me to spend an afternoon fishing with him. Great option, there are not many other things in the world I’d rather do on an afternoon. But choosing to go fishing comes with a myriad of potential trade-off’s. Fishing might set me back a half of day at my job requiring me to work on the weekend, or keep me from getting a project completed at home, or miss an outing with my wife. So, as you can see, even the best choices have trade-off’s.
And since every choice has trade-off’s the question is – how do we eliminate or minimize them? How do we get closer to the optimist’s happy place – choices with no trade-off’s? There are 3 steps I’ve learned that help me minimize these pesky trade-off’s:
Name each major trade-off, including those involved, by writing them down.
Create a plan to deal with each trade-off. When possible, try to turn a trade-off into an advantage (the optimist’s approach to trade-off’s). For example – if I go fishing it’ll lead me to work at the office on Saturday. But Saturday’s when the office is quiet, so I’ll be able to better concentrate on that project I’ve been struggling with.
Communicate the trade-off’s as soon as possible with those impacted by them. Better to be upfront with my wife about the trade-off and work out a different option for our outing, then to catch her at the last-minute and simply cancel out.
Taking these three steps has helped me live with my optimistic side while making choices that are more realistic.
For over twenty years Michael Perry has made it his mission to bring young people closer to Christ through his Bible study publications, his capacity as the President and CEO of SpringHill, and his recent book, Experience = Everything. Over the last fifty years, SpringHill has changed over half a million lives—proving that it is more than just camp, or a place, SpringHill is a transformative experience.