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.
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.
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.
Do you want to assure your team accomplishes a goal, task or project? Then there’s five steps, as a leader, you must take to increase the odds of your team being successful. By the way, in the spirit of transparency, I write these as much as reminders to myself as I do to be helpful to you.
Put the goal, task or project clearly and concisely in writing – writing down a goal, task or project with the accompanying plan gives it a sense of permanency and significance. Making it clear includes defining success so your team knows when it has won. Also outline the steps and resources needed to win. Make sure it’s concisely written because by doing so it will make it more memorable.
Measure and track progress on a regular basis – How often you measure and track your progress depends on duration of the goal or project. The shorter the horizon the more frequent you must measure and track. The farther out the horizon is the less frequently you need to measure and track progress. But no matter the horizon, don’t ever believe you can stop or avoid regular tracking and measurements. If you do, your team will soon flounder. The depth of your measuring and tracking will also depend on the track record of your team.
Provide consistent and regular feedback – If you’re appropriately consistent in measuring and tracking then you’ll be in the right place and posture to provide timely and helpful feedback. Feedback includes recognizing the good progress and providing correction if necessary.
Stay with it till it’s accomplished and finished – Doing these five steps requires discipline on your part as a leader. If you lose sight of a goal, task or project eventually our team will as well. What you chose to focus on will be what your team focuses on, and what you chose not to focus on (or lose focus on) will eventually be what your team choses not to focus on as well.
- Celebrate – By doing these first four steps you will increase your team’s chances for success. This last step increases your team’s chances of success on the next project, task or goal. So celebrate, thank, reward, and affirm the good work your team does and they’ll be ready for the next challenge that comes their way.
Winning and being on top is a great place to be personally and organizationally. There’s nothing like setting challenging goals, working hard to achieve them and then enjoying the sense of satisfaction that comes with knowing you and your team have won.
Yet this place is one of the most dangerous places to be. We’re at our most vulnerable because winning and being on top is a very slippery and deceptive place.
It’s slippery because no organization, team, or person wins all the time, nor sit on top forever (trust me I know this because I’m a Michigan football fan). This means we can never plan on or expect our lofty perch to last forever. There’s always a fall, a stumble or loss along the way.
And this is exactly why being on top is so deceptive. The longer we’re on top the more it feels like it will last forever, that our organization is somehow immune to whatever causes others to lose or fail. We even begin to feel that we’ve earned the right to be in this place regardless of what we do going forward. We may even admit intellectually that this can’t last forever. Yet too often we never allow this intellectual ascent to descend into our heart and our emotional being. The result is we never truly change our behavior or our direction until we find ourselves no longer on top.
So what can we do to protect ourselves and our organizations when we’re winning or sitting on top?
Play and Lead as if we’re behind.
We need to work as if the wolves are nipping at our heals, the barbarians are at the gate, that impending doom is sitting at our door. We can do this by always setting new goals, tougher standards, and expecting more from ourselves and our teams. If necessary, as leaders, we may need to find or create a crisis that reminds everyone that we’re much more vulnerable than we feel.
Or sometimes it’s as simple as giving all the naturally pessimistic people on our team a voice and really listening to that voice. When we’re on top we lose our sense of urgency about change. Our job as leaders is to create that urgency again, in ourselves and in others. And finally we can never allow ourselves and our teams to make decisions from the perspective of being at the top. The only perspective in which we should make decisions is in the light of being behind.
Finally, whatever we do, we cannot allow ourselves and our team to trust that feeling we have when we’re on top. Instead always, always we need to feel, play and lead as if we’re behind.
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
And more importantly, at least for us competitive types, is the fact that if we can’t measure the most important things then we can’t set clear, measurable goals for them. So, for example, I can’t set a goal of increasing my love for my wife Denise by 20% (though I’m sure I need to love her more).
Which leads to the shortcoming of the leadership maxim I examined in my last post “what gets measured is what gets done” – you can’t directly measure the most important things in life.
At SpringHill this is the dilemma we face when we want to know if we’re effectively fulfilling our mission of “creating life-impacting experiences that enable young people to know and grow in their relationships with Jesus Christ.” How do you measure a person’s growth in their relationship with the God of the Universe? And even more perplexing how do you set a goal for such transformation?
We’ve accepted that we can’t measure such things directly or with certainty, but at the same time we’ve learned we can measure particular indicators of whether such things are becoming reality. These indicators center on a person’s admitted change in perspective, commitments they’ve made, and the anticipated life change they expect to experience. And when we combine these important indicators with our own professional assessment we begin to understand with some confidence our mission effectiveness. For us, at SpringHill, these indicators provide focus and attention to the most important things without being the final word on such things.
So maybe this old leadership maxim needs to change from “what gets measured is what gets done” to “what gets measured in some way is what gets our needed attention” and it’s this attention that leads to effectiveness.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?
My good friend, Terry Prisk, recommended (or more accurately he insisted) I read Mark Batterson’s book The Circle Maker. If you’re not familiar with it, The Circle Maker is a practical and inspirational book about prayer.
Now I’ll admit I wasn’t sure the world (nor I) needed another book on prayer. I wondered to myself “what could someone possibly say about prayer that hasn’t already been said before?” But both because Terry insisted and because I set a personal goal to spend more time this year in prayer I picked up a copy of The Circle Maker and moved it to the top of my reading list.
And now that I’ve finished it, let me just say that I’m deeply thankful for Terry’s insistence and for Batterson’s insight. The Circle Maker shows the powerful connection between our dreams and goals and the spiritual discipline of prayer. As a goal driven person, this was the fresh perspective I needed and, more importantly, the inspiration my prayer life required.
Now, before you jump to the conclusion that The Circle Maker is a book that teaches a form of “name it claim” theology, let me assure you it’s not. Batterson doesn’t take us there. Instead he insists that “Bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers. God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He’s offended by anything less.” Yet he also is crystal clear that “God is not a genie in a bottle, your wish is not His command.” Then he goes on to say “His command better be your wish. If not you won’t be drawing prayer circles; you’ll end up walking in circles.”
So let me be a little like my friend Terry and ask you to consider skipping you traditional summer paperback and instead pick of a copy of The Circle Maker, it may be just the inspiration you need to take your prayer life to a new place.43.928283-85.286682