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.
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.
“Defense wins championships” is the often quoted sports proverb about what it takes to win it all. It’s this proverb and its application to my career that motivated me to read Why Smart Executives Fail: And What You Can Learn from Their Mistakesby Sydney Finkelstein. Like Jim Collin’s little book How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, it tells the stories behind the collapse of great companies run by really smart and talented people who, it turns out, focused too much on both personal and organizational offense at the expense of having a championship defense.
And every once in a while it’s good for me to have a little defensive perspective, to be reminded of the attitudes I, as a leader, can have and the actions I can take that could lead SpringHill to “lose the game”. One of the best chapters in the book’s called “Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful People”.
Finkelstein describes these seven habits in this way (as you read each one do as I did and ask yourself “am I displaying any of these habits or tendencies in my leadership?”):
- They see themselves and their companies as dominating their environments, not simply responding to developments in those environments.
- They identify so completely with the company that there is no clear boundary between their personal interests and corporate interests.
- They seem to have all the answers, often dazzling people with the speed and decisiveness with which they can deal with challenging issues.
- They make sure that everyone is 100 percent behind them, ruthlessly eliminating anyone who might undermine their efforts.
- They are consummate company spokespersons, often devoting the largest portion of their efforts to managing and developing the company image.
- They treat intimidatingly difficult obstacles as temporary impediments to be removed or overcome.
- They never hesitate to return to strategies and tactics that made them and their companies successful in the first place.
- They see themselves and their companies as dominating their environments, not simply responding to developments in those environments.
As I mentioned in my last post, I found out at the end of last year that I have high cholesterol, so I’ve been working to lower it naturally before June (when I have my follow-up appointment with my Doctor). And my take away has been realizing just how important momentum is, not only in improving my health, but in organizational health and effectiveness.
Now momentum, whether it’s personal or organizational, doesn’t last forever. Momentum always slows down and eventually hits a plateau. Now plateaus can be good things, if we’ve planned for them and know how we’ll move off from them.
But the truth is plateau’s usually catches us by surprise. And by the time we accept that momentum is slipping away we’re usually too late to keep the old momentum going, putting us in real danger of sliding backwards. And the hard reality is we either going forward or going backwards. We never stay at the plateaus long because they’re just transition points leading to either positive or negative momentum. Plateaus are not livable places.
Unfortunately I’ve experienced this truth as I’ve tried in the past to get into better shape. For example, I may begin to run regularly and lose some weight but then my running will become inconsistent and I’ll start eating poorly then my health will plateau. This usually happens just before I slowly start gaining a few pounds (usually explaining them away), and then, before I know it, I’m back, health wise, to where I started (or worse).
Why does this happen?
First, I didn’t anticipate that someday my fitness momentum will would come to an end nor did I anticipate the possible causes for why it end.
Second, I never created a written plan that would address these causes so I could continue to improve, or at least maintain my current level of fitness.
Third was the fact that I was not quick to accept that my momentum was actually beginning to ebb away and so wasn’t prepared to go into quick and necessary action before negative momentum set in.
And unfortunately these are the same reasons organizational momentum slips away. The leader doesn’t anticipate, plan, and quickly accept that momentum is beginning to slow down. The consequence is the leader trades the easier work of early action for the hard work (usually done by a new leader) of reversing negative momentum.43.928283-85.286682
At the end of 2012 I had a physical exam. And as I expected everything turned out fine except my cholesterol levels. I anticipated that my LDL cholesterol might be high because of our family history and because, over the last few years, I’ve committed the two sins of managing cholesterol – eating whatever I wanted to and not exercising consistently (thus my weight was also at an all-time high).
So when the doctor suggested I go on medication I told him I wanted six months to straighten out my eating and exercise regimen to see if I could correct my high cholesterol naturally. He agreed, so I have until June to see if I can improve my cholesterol levels.
Now, even though I won’t find out until June if my cholesterol has lowered, I have had other, more visible, gains. For example I’ve lost 18 pounds and reduced my mile splits (running is my exercise of choice) by minute and a half. As a matter of fact it seems that the more weight I lose the faster I run and the faster I run the more weight I loose.
You see my physical health is now experiencing positive momentum. But before I started to focus on my health, its momentum, I have to admit, was steadily, but discernibly, going in the wrong direction.
This got me to thinking; my health momentum parallel’s an organization’s momentum. And just like my health, organizations are either going forward or going backward, they’re never standing still.
And like taking charge of my health, a leader’s job is to build the organization’s forward momentum.
But as I’ve learned over the last few months, reversing downward momentum is hard work. It requires goals, investment, focus, discipline, constant and timely feedback on performance, and the tenacity to stay with it until the momentum’s reversed and beginning to go in the right direction.
So what’s the momentum of your health, your life, the organization or team you lead? If it’s headed in the wrong direction maybe it’s time to do what’s required to get that positive momentum going again before you have to take the hard medicine.43.928283-85.286682
One Saturday this fall my son Mitch walked over to the SpringHill gym to shoot some hoops. That weekend, like most weekends, we had a few hundred guests attending retreats. As Mitch was shooting around one of our guests, an older gentleman, came over to Mitch and struck up a conversation.
The man asked Mitch some pretty straight forward questions like “are you a Christian?” And “do you have a Bible and do you read it?” Though the questions took Mitch back a bit, he answered each question affirmatively.
Then the gentleman changed directions and asked Mitch about his parents. In answering these questions Mitch told him I was the President of SpringHill.
To which the man responded “Does your dad work here for the money?”
Though Mitch thought it was a strange question he answered “no I don’t think so”.
Now you may be wondering if this question bothered me because it implies my motives for working at SpringHill are less than noble. But truth is, as I explained to Mitch, I wasn’t offended at all, instead I was actually thankful to be asked such an important question.
Why? Because it’s a question we should always ask of ourselves, or be willing to be asked by others. You see, there’s really nothing that can go adrift faster, and with more stealth, than our motives. And it’s only by being asked the straight up question “what’s your (my) motive” that we can begin the healthy process of checking, and if necessary, correcting the reasons behind what we do.
And, in the best of all worlds, not only would our actions be noble, but our motives behind those actions would be noble as well.43.928283-85.286682
Everyone centers their life on something. Whether it’s on a pursuit, purpose or goal, our lives become energized by our “center”. Some people center their life simply on surviving day by day, while others, on the opposite extreme, center their lives on consuming material goods, experiencing pleasure or living for excitement and highs. Yet others center their lives on an idea or a cause. But regardless of what it is, everyone’s life’s centered on something, something that drives them and gets them out of bed every day.
At SpringHill we expect our staff to be centered on a person – the person of Jesus Christ. Of all the personal qualities and professional competencies a person needs to have to make an ongoing, positive impact at SpringHill, this is the most important one, because it’s who we are and what we do. We call this quality “God Immersed”, which simply means that a person is Christ centered and thus living their lives in a Christ like way and from a Biblical perspective.
When you consider our mission and our core values this only makes sense. If our mission is to create life changing experiences where young people can know and grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ than our staff has to being growing in their own relationships with Christ. And if one of our organization’s highest values is “Jesus Christ and His message of grace”, than it needs to be a living value of our staff as well.
So what do we expect to see in a person’s life to know they’re “God Immersed”? It’s simply participating in such spiritual practices as prayer, Bible reading and study, as well as attendance and involvement in a local church. All of which leads to a Christ centered life that reflects Biblical and Kingdom values, and, in the end, multiplies the fruitfulness of our work.
This is part 5 of 14 in a series of posts about what it takes to be successful at SpringHill.
When you learn, you grow and change, and when you grow and change, it’s almost always a result of learning. There’s an undeniable relationship between these concepts. So if a person or an organization wants to grow, whether it’s in a career, a relationship, or in their impact on people and the world, it almost always requires ongoing learning. Because the reality is growth and change will stall or burn out if not fueled by learning.
This is why one of SpringHill’s core values is to be a learning and mission-driven organization. Without learning we would not experience the necessary change required to grow in our influence, outreach and effectiveness in fulfilling our mission and achieving our long-term goals. As we often remind each other “if we’re not learning we’re dying.”
It’s also why one of the qualities and competencies a person needs to have long-term success at SpringHill is what we call “Personal Learning”. It’s that personal and professional curiosity and inquisitiveness which leads to continuous improvement in one’s self and in the organization.
Personal Learning is evident in people who read, listen to others, ask lots of questions, and seeks out other people and organizations to “go to school on”. It’s also evident in people who take mistakes, defeats, and crises and see them as opportunities to learn , grow, and change. Struggles are an ally to people who love to learn.
One of the tell-tale signs a person (and organization) embraces Personal Learning is that they’re humble. You see Personal Learning requires people who accept and acknowledge to others, and to themselves, that they don’t have it “all figured out” and never will.
So, as you can see, Personal Learning is an absolutely essential part of SpringHill, which also means it is an absolutely essential quality of our staff, board and volunteers, especially if, together, we’re to make an enduring impact on our world.
This is part 3 of 14 in a series of posts about what it takes to be successful at SpringHill.
My dad has always said that life sits on a 4 legged stool with one leg being work/career, another family, a third friends and service, a fourth being health and recreation, and the most important part of the stool, the seat, representing our faith. Dad says that for life to be in balance, for it to be the way it’s supposed to be we need all four legs and the seat. If we neglect or remove any part we’ve made balance nearly impossible and the entire stool, and our lives, become at risk of falling apart.
I’ve always appreciated my dad’s way of looking at life, partly because it makes sense and partly because I’ve seen he and my mom live their lives in this way with the result being they’ve been blessed as well as having blessed those around them.
It’s this life perspective and practice that we’ve discovered to be an essential quality of people who’ve made a long-term and an enduring impact on SpringHill’s mission. It’s what we simply call “Life/Work Balance”.
Without this balance, life quickly crumbles and one’s ability to make an enduring impact quickly diminishes. When balance is gone health, influence and impact quickly leave as well, only to be backed filled with burn out, broken relationships, and poor judgment. Because like a stool, every part is essential and needs to be in working order or it will negatively impact the entire stool.
So Life/Work Balance is absolutely essential for people to be at their best. And we want and need people to be at their best, whether it’s at home with their families, at church teaching Sunday school, or working at SpringHill.
This is part 2 of 14 in a series of posts about what it takes to be successful at SpringHill.43.928283-85.286682
This has been the longest stretch I’ve had in three years between blog posts. I have no excuses except its September which means two things. First, September is when we transition out of our busiest season at SpringHill – summer – and move to catching up on all the things, both personal and at work, that didn’t get done during this busy season. Things like those pesky yard and house projects which I got started but now need to be finished before the snow flies.
Second (and the real reason for my sporadic posting) I went on two fishing trips to northern Ontario, Canada (Camp Anjigami) this month (I know you don’t feel a bit sorry for me on this one and, frankly, you shouldn’t). One trip was with a large group of SpringHill friends and other was with long-time friends from college. Both trips were excellent, full of fishing, food and fellowship but not a lot of writing (or sleep for that matter).
But I’m now back at it, thankful for the break, but also energized for the great fall ahead.
So here’s a few of my take-a-ways from this September –
- It’s always good to step away from regular routines or disciplines, even healthy ones like writing. Even a marathoner has a rest days.
- There’s something very special about being with good friends in cool places, doing fun, adventurous activities. It always gives me a deeper appreciation for my friends and for my life.
- Finally, going someplace and actually disconnecting from the world is incredible. Everyone should try it; it’s good for the soul.
So yes, God willing, I’m back in the digital saddle again and looking forward to writing about the life ahead.43.928283-85.286682