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?
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.
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.
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.
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, one who 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.
“It’s not what you know but who you know that counts” is one of those maxims that can be difficult to swallow, especially for those of us who value performance over politics. But reality is there’s a kernel of truth in this maxim, especially when thinking about it in terms of relationships instead of politics.
You see relationships do matter, and more often than not they’re the tipping point in any given situation or decision. Healthy relationships, whether personal or professional, will always carry the day – even in those moments when everything falls apart.
And relationships are not only good at saving the day, they’re also essential in building teams that can accomplish extraordinary things. Very rarely has history changing ideas, projects or efforts been accomplished solo. Almost always, great moments have been created by teams of people working in the context of personal, loving and caring relationships.
So what does it take to create healthy relationships? There’s two simple ingredients:
And to be known!
Teddy Roosevelt once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. Relationships require knowing others, who they are, what’s important to them, their history, their stories, and how we can assist them and their goals. Relationships require us think of others first, so see the world through their eyes, and in the end, simply and deeply, “to know” the other person(s).
Healthy and meaningful relationships also require us “to be known”. Allowing others to see into our lives, to know our thoughts, hopes and dreams. To be known in this way is foundational to building the kind of relationships necessary for teams that change the world. Without transparency, there’s no possibility of trust. Without trust there’s no true relationship. Where there’s no true relationship, there’s no team or community. And where there’s no team or community, the possibility of world changing actions diminishes to almost zero.
So I’m recommending a new maxim. Instead of saying “It’s not what you know but who you know that counts”, we should say “it’s not what you know but who you deeply know and are known by that will make all the difference.”
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.