There are two important questions that determine the success of every leader’s day. Ineffective leaders don’t deliberately consider either question. Effective leaders keep both questions top of mind:
What results do I want to achieve?
How do I want to achieve those results?
The first question sets the agenda for both the leader and the organization. Leaders keep their teams focused on the results to achieve, not the activity they create. A busy team isn’t necessarily a productive team. Alignment comes from everyone knowing the desired results.
The second question reminds us that good leaders balance the tension between results and relationships. How people feel about the results they’ve achieved, how they should go about achieving them and their relationship with their leader and employer are critically important.
Focusing on either question exclusively can be disastrous. Focus on results at the expense of healthy relationships and you become an inconsiderate tyrant. Focus only on relationships and you are an ineffective leader with warm fuzzy relationships but no results to show.
Both questions are important. How you answer them is essential to good leadership.
Obviously, being bored is no fun. I’ve never met anyone who aspired to boredom, but it happens. Some even readily admit they are bored.
When my boys were younger, I told them that boredom was a choice, not a condition. There are too many interesting things in the world to make boredom an inevitability.
But there is another danger to being bored: you bore others. If your team isn’t energized, you might be the reason.
How do you approach your work? Are your customers or clients bored? What energy do you bring to your interactions with others? Are family members bored? What do you do to create curiosity about the world they live in?
Being bored isn’t good, but boring others is even worse.
I started a new novel and it grabbed me in the first two pages. That’s why I kept reading.
The opening scene of a movie was exciting. That’s why I kept watching.
I heard a speaker who made an opening statement I found intriguing. That’s I kept listening.
Here is the key to powerful communication: instantly grab attention.
We live in the age of distraction. There are too many shiny objects and emphatic sounds vying for our attention.
To get attention you must do it quickly. People won’t waste much time reading or listening to determine if your message is compelling. They will check out and move on quickly if you don’t get their attention at the very beginning.
Don’t waste time “warming up.” Grab your audience by the brain and prove what you are going to share is important.
Of course grabbing attention fails if you can’t keep it. You’ve got to follow up the grabber with information of interest and import delivered in a compelling way. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Attention is critical when you are trying to communicate using any medium. Grab it. And do it quickly.
I had lunch at a New Orleans style restaurant near my hotel. The outside was neat but nothing special. There was no bar. The seating space was small. Yet the restaurant was full with a steady stream of customers.
Why? Because the food was very, very good. Yes, the service was very good as well but not notable. And the room itself was somewhat lacking.
I’ve written much about being different and distinctive. And I believe that is still a worthwhile goal. But this restaurant reminded me:
There is still room in the market place for very, very good.
You could argue that the food was this restaurant’s distinction. But there was nothing about it that was different from traditional New Orleans cuisine. It was just done as well as it could be done.
Do an inventory: what in your business do you do very, very well?
So many individuals and organizations study the competition. They want to do everything the competition does as well or better. But it rarely helps them get ahead. How could that be?
The answer: he was only good at being the same.
Nobody remembers same. Bland is unmemorable. Bold is memorable.
There are many things you have to do as well or better than your competition. But don’t stop there. Different by itself can be weird or odd; memorable, but not in a good way. Different that is valued by your customer or client is key: they can get sameness anywhere, but they can only get that kind of different from you.
It is the extra flourish, the useful bit of information or signature difference that people talk about. They don’t talk about same. Sameness sucks.
What are you doing that is different and valued? That’s what will make you memorable.
“Don’t let it bother you.” How often have you heard or said that? It is usually about things we shouldn’t let bother us.
But what about the important things, the things that make a difference? Some things should really bother us.
If we let important things stop bothering us, we become numb to needed change. We settle for mediocrity rather than excellence. We ignore how much a bad situation bothers others and seem indifferent to them.
Don’t be a service rep who isn’t bothered when the customer is disappointed. Let it bother you enough to regain the customer’s loyalty.
Be an engineer who is bothered by a “good enough” design mentality. Be a leader who is bothered by policies that don’t support employees, or red tape that creates hassles for customers.
Let is bother you when you see someone being treated poorly and you can intervene to prevent it. Be a parent who is bothered if your son or daughter is growing distant or not doing well at school. Take action, even if it is difficult.
Let it bother you when someone is spreading gossip and you can defend the accused. If you are in politics, be truly bothered by the shortcomings of the system and work to change it.
Let your own bad performances, mistakes and shortcomings bother you enough to improve and become better.
Petty annoyances and inconveniences? Don’t let them bother you. But something important that matters? Please, do let it bother you.
“It’s all for the best” or “Something good will come of this:” do you like hearing these words when you fail? I don’t.
These sentiments might hold a grain of truth in them, but they rarely make us feel any better.
So, the first thing to remember about failure is not to sugar coat it when it happens. Accept that it sucks. Feel your disappointment, but don’t get stuck there. The quicker you can release the emotion, the quicker you can move on.
Then remind yourself:
Failure is rarely permanent. It is only permanent when you give up. As long as you’re willing to keep trying new things, the feeling of being stuck is temporary.
Failure is a hated but great teacher. We can certainly learn from success but we can learn as much or more from failure.
Failure makes you stronger. A muscle that isn’t challenged doesn’t grow in strength. The same is true for personal development.
Failure is the price of future success. If you hear a story about someone who became an instant success, you probably aren’t being told the whole story or that person is an anomaly. Overnight success can happen, but it doesn’t happen often. More often failure becomes the energy that fuels the drive to succeed. From trying, failing, learning and trying again, you move closer and closer to your desired goal.
Failure is no fun. But that doesn’t mean it can’t help make you better.
We live in crazy times. No matter how you analyze it, the events happening around us are often unprecedented and challenging. The gamut of craziness runs from politics and investigations to egregious behavior and accusations to social media, uncivil media, and so much more.
I’m not discounting the tremendous opportunities that exist these days. However, I am, for purposes of the year ahead, thinking specifically about this question:
How do you live well in crazy times?
What can anyone do? The short answer? Pursue sanity. While is sounds like a good idea, just how do you do that?
Don’t add to the craziness. Be civil with those you disagree with. Balance your heart with your head so emotionalism doesn’t drive out reason. Take responsibility for your life and quit blaming others.
Separate fact from opinion. Don’t get excited about things that either aren’t true or are so wildly exaggerated as to get attention. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.”
Act with integrity even if others don’t. Reacting without thinking and lashing out in anger are both shortcuts to an ulcer. Just because others are behaving badly doesn’t mean that you are justified to do so, too.
Slow down. The longer I live the more convinced I am that you accomplish more of importance by slowing down. There are times when speed is necessary, but too often speed only seems necessary because we are chasing rabbits instead of tracking the big game in life.
Eat slower. A friend’s father-in-law was a doctor and when asked the most important thing someone could do to improve their health, the doctor’s response was “chew more.” Not only have I tried to chew more, but in doing so it slows how quickly we tend to gobble down our food.
Get enough sleep. The research is clear: lack of sufficient sleep is a major influence on poor health. When I was young I prided myself on burning the candle at both ends. Now, I sleep enough to keep the flame of my candle going.
Read for education and entertainment. I love novels that aren’t just engaging but teach something at the same time. (Michael Connelly’s crime novels are a great example of engaging plots and insights into police procedure.) But don’t read exclusively for pleasure. Read enough about current events to have an informed opinion and world view.
Limit your news intake. News tends to repeat itself, both on TV and in print. You can be saturated with much of the same news each day, which adds to your frustration. Be informed but don’t be inundated by news.
Exercise. (Yawn.) Sorry, but despite how much we talk about it, few of us do it enough or do it correctly. I am amazed at some of the bad practices I see at my gym. Doing weight lifting wrong is a quick way in injury and will produce little if any positive results. And don’t forget to get your heart rate up enough to improve your cardio. (In my book, The Potential Principle, I explain the F.I.T. Technique as a way to get better at anything. You simply increase frequency, intensity and/or improve technique.)
Have deeper conversations with friends. Go beyond “what are you doing?” to “what are you thinking?” Staying superficial is easy but it is the junk food of thought. You’ll learn more when you learn what others think and feel and why.
Take a trip. The best way I know to enlarge your perspective is to travel abroad. But if time and finances don’t allow, visit a new state or spend time in a museum near where you live. When we live within the familiar we forget about the diversity in the bigger world.
Be civil. I’ve found I can’t make others be civil, but I can be civil and at best set a positive example and at least minimize the total incivility in the world.
Be kind. I remind you of the advice of Philo Judaeus: “Be kind. Everyone is fighting a tough battle.” That is one of the most succinct and practical bits of advice I’ve ever read.
Count your blessings every day. To be precise, at least three. No matter how bad things are, there are always things to be thankful for. The antidote to negativity isn’t necessarily positive thinking, but rather gratitude.
Spend less than you make. My father Leslie taught me this and it is the best financial advice I’ve ever heard. It is the basis of all monetary success.
Invest more in experiences and less in stuff. Stuff takes up space in your house, but experiences take up space in your memory, and that’s where you find the richest rewards.
Live intentionally. Be specific about what you want to accomplish each day. Don’t sleep walk through the day. Find two or three meaningful things you can do each day, and pursue them as a priority.
If you can’t take action to deal with something, then don’t worry about it. And if you can take action, then do it and stop worrying. Invest your energy in constructive effort, not soul draining worry.
Tell people that you love that you do love them. My mother Dorothy recently passed at the age of 82. I always tried to end every conversation, phone call, or visiting by saying “I love you.” You’ll never regret telling someone you love them, especially when you no longer have the chance.
Sadly, the last words of pop icon and musician David Cassidy were, “Too much wasted time.” To live in a crazy world, we must make the most of each day not just “because of,” but often “in spite of.” There is much we can’t control, but so much that we can. Focus on the latter, and you’ll enjoy more sanity and a richer, fuller life.
I’m making a bold prediction about what your holidays will be like: They will be pretty much as you expect.
Okay, so maybe it isn’t a bold prediction, but it is accurate. If you go into the holidays assuming they will be a hassle, they will. If you decide they will be a time of joy and celebration, they will.
Dreading putting up the Christmas tree will make doing so drudgery. Delighting in putting up the Christmas tree will make for a memorable activity.
Gift buying will perplex you if you approach it as an obligation. Seeing gift buying as a way to express your love and appreciation for the important people in your life will make it a delightful opportunity.
What accounts for the difference in all these scenarios? Expectation.
You tend to experience what you expect, not in matters of chance like winning the lottery, but in matters of everyday life where your thoughts, attitude and actions create results. Elbert Hubbard said, “We find what we expect to find.” Look for happiness or hassles and you will find it.
What is the power behind expectations? The answer: you take action based on what you expect.
I’ve been guilty of creating my own dread through negative expectations. After years of decorating outside the house for Christmas (I live on a street known for extravagant lighting), I began to dread doing it. It felt like meeting some kind of community obligation. After all, I reasoned, Christmas isn’t just about the decorations.
A funny thing happened when I decided this year I wouldn’t decorate.
I did. I decorated after all.
Since I felt no dread or obligation, I found myself with some free time over the long Thanksgiving weekend and started rummaging around in the garage for decorations. I didn’t have a grand plan. I just tested a few strands of lights and, if they worked, I put them up.
Simply put, I did something that I wanted to do rather than feeling like I had to do it. (And, realistically, there is very little we “have” to do during the holidays. We almost always have choices). We do best when we enjoy most. Expectations become self-fulfilling.
Here are five expectations I hope you’ll turn into action to make your holidays the best they can be:
Expect to enjoy past memories. Relive the good times rather than the unpleasant ones. Don’t dwell on what happened that you can’t change. There is no upside to rehearsing what you didn’t enjoy (unless you can learn something from it).
Expect to be of greater service. Do something for somebody else. Being of service to another breaks self-absorption. With so many in need around us, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a way to be of service.
Expect better conversations. Engage in deeper conversations about things that matter. Small talk is, well, small. Ask better, deeper questions. Offer deeper, more thoughtful comments. Slow down and enjoy the exchange of information and ideas.
Expect a brighter year ahead. You don’t know what will happen, but there are so many things that you can make happen with forethought and planning. Do more than make often short-lived resolutions and set some meaningful goals and schedule enjoyable events for the new year.
Expect to beat the worry trap. Worry is rehearsing problems and situations that haven’t happened and may not occur. If you can change something, then change it and don’t worry about it. And if there’s something you can’t change, don’t worry about it either. It won’t help.
Expectations are powerful and very often self-fulfilling. Act on positive expectations and you can change your life. Transform negative expectations into positive expectations and you’ll transform your holidays.