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.
The AT has a very simple trail marking system. It’s a white line painted on trees or posts along the trail. So hiking the AT requires nothing more than looking up for white markers, looking down so you don’t trip over any rocks, and looking around at the incredible beauty along the way. Not much daily strategizing if you have a good plan as my son, MD, did.
You see MD spent a lot of time planning out the trip. He created a great itinerary for my week with him as well as his three weeks on his own. He did a lot of research, talked to people who had hiked the AT, and reviewed his thinking with others. All this work fed into a great plan.
So while on the trail we spent little time figuring out where we were going each day, or calculating how far we’d walk, etc. The plan was good and unless conditions changed there was no reason to spend any time rehashing it. Instead we just got up, packed our gear and followed those white markers to our next camp site, enjoying the trail and the people we met on the way.
It reminded me of the temptation we have to continually want to rehash and revisit well thought out plans. People like to arm-chair quarterback, to debate and to continually question where a team, department or organization is going and how they’re getting there. Some people also have a high need to change, tweak and continually adjust a plan, in an effort to find perfection.
But when you have a good plan, this additional work brings little value to the process or end results. Too often it keeps people from focusing on the immediate, day-to-day work, the plan requires. And, more importantly, the extra work distracts us from the joy, adventure, and relationships that the journey of making the plan a reality brings.
Today it so often seems our world value celebrities, fame, and image over integrity and character. As a consequence, leaders are often tempted by the promise of influence that fame offers so they can quickly slide into focusing too much energy on managing their image instead of building their character.
However the problem with fame and image, from a leadership standpoint, is that they’re superficial, temporary, and do not build meaningful relationships. And without meaningful relationships, transformational leadership becomes impossible. Now here’s why (so follow my chain of logic for a moment)–
Transformational leadership requires a context of healthy relationships
Trust is the key ingredient to healthy relationships
Trust comes not from image or fame but from integrity
And integrity is simply doing what we say we’re going to do when we say we’ll do it.
In other words, handsome is as handsome does.
This is why leaders at SpringHill are more concerned about doing what it takes to positively impact the lives of others and the world as well as following through on the promises they’ve made rather than becoming a celebrity, being famous or enhancing their image. For the SpringHill leader the only handsome they care much about is the good looks that come from integrity.43.928283-85.286682
If successful leaders manage things and lead people and never confuse the two, then it’s absolutely critical that leaders effectively manage the resources entrusted to their stewardship. At the core of good management is planning. This is why at SpringHill we like to remind ourselves to “plan your work then work your plan”.
Plan Your Work:
So what does planning your work look like? It always starts at the highest level (answering the 6 Key Questions) then works down to the actual steps and tasks necessary to accomplish a goal, project or a dream. At SpringHill after we’ve affirmed the answers to the 6 Key Questions we build a 3 year plan (that’s updated annually). We followed the 3 year plan with a 1 year, seasonal (quarterly), monthly and weekly goals and plans which have ever-increasing detail.
For individual planning, whether it’s work or personal, it can and should follow the same logic of breaking down long-term goals into annual, seasonal, monthly, weekly and even daily tasks and goals. For work plans we encourage our staff to align their plans and goals with the plans and goals of their team and the organization.
Work Your Plan:
However we always need to remember that the only reason to plan is to accomplish a goal or dream. So it’s absolutely critical to break down goals and plans into actionable steps so we can answer the question “what’s important right now?” When we answer this question then we’re ready to work our plan so it becomes a reality.
I also like to remind to myself and our team that we should spend most of our time working our plan. Because, at the end of the day, we’re not interested in being good at just dreaming big (anyone can do that), but being good at making big dreams a reality.43.928283-85.286682
In January, SpringHill held its first ever Leadership conference in Chicago where SpringHill leaders from around the organization met together for three days of learning, encouragement, team building and fun. As part of the conference I gave a talk titled “Leading the SpringHill Way” where I shared thirteen maxims that capture what it means to lead at SpringHill. So over the next several of posts I’ll summarize each of these thirteen maxims in hopes that you’ll find a nugget or two to use in your own leadership context.
I began my talk with this maxim – “you lead people and manage things, never the other way around.” This maxim is foundational because it captures the two sides of a leader’s job at SpringHill – managing and leading. It also makes it clear that it’s imperative not to confuse the two.
Management is about controlling, planning, and manipulating things to the organization’s advantage. If we’re to be effective leaders we need to management valuable resources such as time, money, processes, and systems. In other words we’re to control, plan, and manipulate these things for the benefit of the organization.
Now leadership is about inspiring, encouraging, developing and enabling people to make their maximum contribution to the success of the organization. It’s much more about encouraging their hearts and challenging their minds than it is getting all you can from them. A great leader knows and understands their people and tailors their leadership to them as individuals. It’s this relational context that distinguishes leadership from management.
Now the key for leaders is to make sure they don’t confuse who and what they’re leading and managing. You see you can’t lead things. You can try but all you’ll do is waste those valuable resources. On the other hand you shouldn’t manage people. People aren’t to be controlled, planned or manipulated. You can try but in the end you’ll never see people perform their best.
So great leaders always remember – you lead people and manage things, never the other way around.43.928283-85.286682
“What gets measures is what gets done” is a powerful but also incomplete leadership maxims. It was first stated by Michael LeBouef, an author of a number of business and management books. It’s powerful because it turns out to be true. When you measure something on a consistent and timely basis the attention and feedback created by measuring it almost guarantees it improves.
So if you want to achieve a goal, make it measurable and then actually measure it regularly, making it visible to the whole team, then the odds the goal’s achieved goes up significantly. As a result we measure the most important things at SpringHill, such things as the spiritual impact of our programs, number of people participating in our experiences, financial numbers, and quality of the experiences we create.
A good, yet simple SpringHill example is how our staff at our Indiana overnight camp set a goal for the number of campers they’d serve in our summer camp program this past year. Once the goal’s set they created a way to daily track (and sometimes more than daily) the progress towards the goal by using a simple white board in the middle of their office. The result of doing this was everyone knew everyday exactly where they stood in relationship to their goal, then they could, if necessary, make course corrections, and when they beat their goal (which they did) they all knew it and could celebrate the accomplishment together.
The key is to pick the right few things to measure, and then measure them in a timely and highly visible way. When you do this then “what gets measured almost always gets done.”
In my next post we’ll look at the paradox that this maxim doesn’t address – what to do with those most important things in life that aren’t measurable?
This past August, on the annual Perry men’s Canadian fishing trip, my boys and I stumbled into a conversation about other types of fishing – fly, saltwater flats, and deep-sea fishing. We agreed that it would be fun to try these other kinds of fishing in addition to our spin casting (traditional), cold water fishing we do, knowing each type of fishing is capable of catching lots of fish.
Yet the more we discussed the idea of trying these other methods of fishing, the more we realized it might not be as good as it sounds. For example, because of our fishing experience, we understand all too well that to be successful catching fish requires the right equipment, knowledge about the body of water to be fished, a working understanding of the habits of the targeted fish, and, most importantly, having the simple experience gained by hours of actual fishing. Which means, because each one requires its own knowledge, experience and equipment, the additional resources (time and money) needed to be successful would make it impossible to be really good at more than one method of fishing.
So it became apparent in our discussion that spreading our limited resources out to thinly between numerous types of fishing would lead us to not being very good at any of them. As a result we decided our best shot at being really good fishermen was to focus our limited resources on one type of fishing (spin casting, cold water fishing).
Which led me to reflect on just how easy it is for individuals, teams and organizations to be enticed by new and novel strategies and opportunities which promise only to deliver the same results (catching fish) as current methods, without considering the additional resources necessary to pursue these strategies nor the negative impact that a wider focus can have on the current work.
As a result my Doctor recommended I take a LDL lowering drug. Instead I told him I wanted time to see if getting my health back in order would do the trick. So he gave me 6 months to see if I could move the LDL needle down.
So I set a stretch goal of lowering my LDL to 95 before my return visit. Then I created a plan which gave me the best chance to drop my LDL 80 points. Now 6 months later, having executed my plan to the best of my ability, I went back to the Doctor to learn if I achieved my goal.
And, as with many goals, I received both good news and bad news. The good news is I lowered my LDL by 53 points and the Doctor isn’t prescribing any medication. But the bad news is I’m still 27 points from my goal.
So I’m both satisfied and disappointed. Satisfied that my highest goal – taking no drugs has been temporarily avoided, disappointed because I didn’t reach my goal, all of which provides some important lessons about setting and missing goals:
- Because we tend to perform up to but not beyond our goals, setting a stretch goal puts us farther down the road than we’d have gone had our goals been more conservative even if we fall short of our goal.
- It’s easy to be unrealistic in setting short –term goals (and to easy to be conservative in setting long-term ones).
- Even when we fall short of our goals there’s always residual benefits from good performance (lower weight, better sleeping, etc.).
- Just because we don’t achieve our goals by the date set it doesn’t mean they’re unachievable, it just means, if we stay resilient, it’s only a matter of time before we cross the finish line.
Summer camp literally starts in a matter of days. We’ve known for years there’d be summer camp in 2013. We also know we’re going to have summer camp in 2014, 2015 and for as many summers as we can see into the future.
In other words, it’s no surprise that summer camp is upon us. Of course this means there’s no excuse for not being prepared, planned out and ready for staff training and summer campers. Yet it wasn’t that long ago when, if you had visited SpringHill in May, you would have interrupted our frenzied work as being surprised by finding out at the last-minute that summer camp began in June.
This mad scramble had its allies within our team. Many folks, if they were honest, love the adrenaline rush of doing vast amounts of very important work in a very short period of time. As an organization we even unconsciously honored these folks for their great sacrifice for the cause. Unfortunately this only reinforced our organizational addiction to adrenaline and ultimately led to our team entering summer stressed, exhausted and drained.
So a number of years ago we all agreed that summer camp is never a surprise so there’s no good reason to save our all preparation for the month of May. We agreed that we would begin working on next summer during this summer, including pre-registering campers, finalizing host churches for our Day Camps, and signing up returning summer staff.
We also agreed that all the other important work for the next summer such as property and facilities improvements, summer staff recruitment, and curriculum and program development would begin immediately after camp ended, having specific plans with key milestone dates to keep us on track.
And, maybe most importantly, we also agreed to celebrate good, thoughtful and intentional planning and work instead of honoring adrenaline fueled activity.
So take this post as one small piece of our celebration for the good planning and work our team’s done to be ready for the summer of 2013 (and, for that matter, 2014). Though we’d all admit we’re not yet where we want to be, I’m confident in saying we’re in the best position I’ve ever seen us in going into the summer. And for this I tip my hat to our team for a job well done.43.928283-85.286682
One of the things I’ve learned is that to run fast you need to lean forward, or as I’ve heard coaches yell to their runners – “lean in”. And from a layperson’s perspective I take this to mean your head and chest should to be stretching forward towards the finish line.
I’ve also learned that a runner needs to be forward leaning right out of the blocks, from their first step right through to their final step at the finish line. Each step, each movement of their entire body, needs to be aligned forward if a runner’s to run their best race.
Now it’s important to understand that this is not a reckless way to run but it’s the posture that puts a runner in the best form to reduced injuries and increase speed. In other words, leaning forward is the best short-term and long-term posture for winning.
Unfortunately the concept of forward leaning has begun to have a bad reputation in military, political, business and other leadership circles because it’s been misapplied. Too often the concept’s used as a guise for aggressive and, and often, reckless strategy.
So let me suggest that truly forward leaning (not reckless) leadership and organizations have these three characteristics in common with runners. They:
- are focused on the finish line
- have all their resources such as money and time, and most importantly, their people (energy, hearts and minds), aligned to race their best time
- are disciplined, intentional and thoughtful in both their planning and in executing their plans
In other words forward leaning leaders and organizations are running their races in a way that achieves victory.43.928283-85.286682