Why limit yourself?

“If you don’t have the information you need to make wise choices, find someone who does.”

Lori Hil

“Why” is the most powerful word in the English language.  Well, I guess that is a fairly broad statement, but I will certainly make the statement that “why” is the most important word in English as it regards to leadership.  What on earth does that have to do with today’s quote?  Glad you asked. 

Far too often we bog down and spend so much of our time talking about “what” we are going to do without understanding “why” something has happened.  Digging deeply into the why, and getting input and perspective from others, is critical to making good decisions in life and leadership.  To seek information, to make good choices, to lead, one must understand whatever situation or challenge is in front of you.  To be able to do this you either must have all the information yourself, or you have to go out and get it.  If you don’t have all the information, and who ever really does, you have to be willing to admit that fact and actively seek to gain it from others. 

So why don’t people do this more often?  Why is this such a challenge in life and leadership?  Asking for input and perspective from others takes self-awareness.  It takes humility.  It means understanding that you don’t have all the information, you don’t have all the answers, you don’t have all the knowledge.  Asking “why” takes courage and a willingness to learn without having a bias towards your own self-beliefs.  In today’s world admitting that you don’t know something is challenging for many people and leaders.  Of course the flip side side far worse, if you don’t seek perspective then you are stuck with whatever you have been able to learn on your own.  The more we rely on what we already know, the less likely we are to make wise choices.  Find someone who knows more than you do, and ask lots of questions.  Why limit yourself to only what you already know?

Too much of a good thing…

“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

Norman Vincent Peale

Praise feels good and at the right moment can be just the thing you need to hear to persevere in a challenging situation.  It can be the catalyst to help launch you to new heights.  Taken too far, it drives the ego and becomes the reason for doing something instead of being recognition for hard work and effort.  

Criticism doesn’t always feel good but it is the most impactful message (for me anyway) that helps one grow and develop.  I know that I have made vast improvements (with tons of opportunity for more growth) based on receiving open and honest criticism.  The key is to have trust in the messenger and know they are relaying the criticism in an effort to help, not harm you.  

When looked at through the lens of leadership it works the same way.   Praise is fun to deliver, criticism isn’t always the same way.  Here again the key is trust.  Do our team members trust that we are delivering both praise and criticism to help them grow and prosper?

As William Shakespeare wrote in “As You Like It,” there can be “too much of a good thing.”  Feedback that is all praise fuels the ego, if it is all criticism it destroys the passion.  The key is to find the right balance and not shy away from one or the other.

 

How do you measure return on investment?

“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.”

John Ruskin

Who am I going to become, versus, what am going to get?  These are fundamentally different questions.  I’ll admit that I have spent a lot of my time in life thinking about “return on investment” and that I haven’t spent nearly enough time time thinking about it at an experiential level.  

Working hard is fun.  It is awesome to put in the effort and the labor and see the results that come from it.  But perhaps the most important results are the ones that we don’t measure through tangible “things” but are instead the experiences we have gained and the relationships we have built.  Those are the things that shape us, mold us and create the platform that we build upon for the future. 

To measure success more holistically I think I need to spend some more time thinking about the question “who am I going to become from this effort?” 

 

Who is doing the measuring?

“The best way to measure how much you’ve grown isn’t by inches or the number of laps you can now run around the track, or even your grade point average — though those things are important, to be sure. It’s what you’ve done with your time, how you’ve chosen to spend your days, and whom you’ve touched this year. That, to me, is the greatest measure of success.”

R.J. Palacio

How do you measure the impact you have had on the lives of others?  It’s certainly easy to measure tangible things like those mentioned above, and I agree that they are definitely important, but what the impact of a kind word, a simple smile, a display of genuine concern for another person?  

I would bet that most people will never be aware of the positive impact that they have had my life.  I can think of many specific examples where the actions of another have had profound impact on who I am as a person today.  They weren’t trying to impact me, they were living and behaving in accordance with their deepest beliefs, choosing how they spent their time, and in so doing they touched my life.  

When I read this quote I immediately thought of a video that a good friend shared with me earlier this week.  

These “God Moments” or “Shoulder Taps” are so powerful  and so easy to overlook in today’s hyper busy and always connected and digitally measured world.  It makes me step back and think about how so much of life today is spent measuring success in “likes,” “favorites,” and “retweets.” The real measure of success is positively impacting the lives of others and ultimately it is being being measured, just not by me…

 

The sun always rises…

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.”

Aristotle Onassis

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Sunrise at Kill Devil Hills, NC

It is so easy to focus on the current situation, our current pains and challenges.  During our times of greatest challenge and strife it always seems like there is no end in sight.  That we are doomed to stay in the darkness, that the sun will never rise.  

 

Sometimes it feels easier to stay there in the dark. To climb out towards the light is just too much work and effort.  But that isn’t why we were created.  That isn’t how we grow and learn and become better selves.  We are surrendering our ability to become who we were born to be when we lose focus on the light. The darkest moments form us, they create in us the will, the desire, the ability to rise above and become a new and better person.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18 ESV

No matter how dark the night the sun always rises.  Where do you turn your focus during the dark moments?  How do you refresh and refocus yourself?

Where does change happen?

“If change is happening on the outside faster than on the inside the end is in sight.”

Jack Welch

We live in a world of constant change.  The world has always been like this but the rate of change today is faster than ever before.  This is the age of disruption and every long held belief about the way the world operates is being reviewed and evolved.

This applies to the external world of course, the context that Jack was speaking on when he coined this phrase, but it applies equally well to our own individual growth as contributors and leaders. To remain relevant we must intentionally growing our skills, talents, and capabilities, in a constant and disciplined manner.  If we don’t then our ability to impact those around us and achieve our goals is constantly diminishing.  

Think of it like two cars on the highway where one car is going 75 MPH and the second car is going 60 MPH.  The first car is continually putting more distance between the two drivers.  After an hour it is only 15 miles, but after two hours, 30 miles, three hours 45 miles, etc. 

That’s our world today.  Someone somewhere is finding a way to go faster.  What are you doing to grow your expertise, skills, talents and capabilities to go faster and close the gap?  How are you working to ensure that the end isn’t near?

 

Why are you planting seeds?

“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

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Rose at the Grape Leaf Inn, Healdsburg, CA

For a seed to grow it needs good soil, sunshine, water, and fertilizer.  The right combination of ingredients leads to amazing flowers.  But which of these elements gets the credit for the flowers when they bloom? 

It really doesn’t matter does it? The credit for the end result is less important than the beauty that is achieved.  Yes, there is joy in the process of growth, and all the players matter, but not more than the achievement of the goal.  

It works the same way when we as leaders are focused on the end results, not on who gets the credit.  

 

Good ideas become great when they have the benefit of the input of others.  Are you planting seeds for you or for a greater good?

There are just two types of people…

“We can choose to be affected by the world or we can choose to affect the world. ”

Heidi Wills

For as long as I can remember one of the driving principles of my life has been the belief that there are just two types of people in the world.  Those who the world happens to, and those who happen to the world.  I have always focused on being in the latter category.

Today’s quote says basically the same thing but with a  slight different perspective. Is it overly simplistic and generalizing?  Probably.  But just maybe it isn’t.  Happiness is a choice. Determination is a choice. Focus is a choice. Everything we do is a choice we have the freedom to make.  

I think many people, myself most certainly included, get lost in the “big picture.” Because we can’t control what happens at the macro level we choose not to manage ourselves at the micro level. But we have to choose to affect the world at the micro level, taking ownership of our decisions and behaviors daily.  When we do this we have much more influence on the world around us.

When you wake up in the morning are you going to define your day, or be defined by the day that happens to you? Ask yourself tonight which person you were today.  Did you affect your world?

Embrace the suck…

“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.”

Seneca

How easily we understand the need to change our body by challenging it with difficulty.  We get up early, we go to the gym, we push out just one more repetition on the bench press.  We know that by challenging the body we become stronger.  Embracing the suck is what we do to get stronger physically.  It’s easy to do because we have a goal we are striving to accomplish.

It works the same way with mental difficulties of course, but those aren’t as easy to embrace.  I’m not talking about learning new things and seeking new knowledge, that’s different.  I mean the times when life is challenging us, when things aren’t going our way.  Those difficulties aren’t as easy to embrace as strengthening opportunities, until you set aside emotions and personal pride and truly seek to learn from whatever challenge life has thrown your way.  That’s when the breakthroughs happen.  That’s when we get stronger…

Attitude of gratitude…

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I began a daily “gratitude journal” several years ago where I would write down the 3-5 things that happened within the past 24 hours that I was especially grateful for.  It started as a 21-day challenge that was nothing more than a simple bullet list of specific items. Over time this became an exercise of deeper and more reflective journalling.  Invariably “life” would take over and I’d miss a day, then a week because of the time it took to write all the pages that I now expected myself to produce.  So I stopped.  Why? Because I created an expectation of myself that missed the point of the exercise entirely. I made it formulaic instead of remaining connected with the essence of the exercise.  It was a religion versus a spiritual connection.

Why do we humans do this?  Why do we take the simple and make it complicated and overwhelming?  Maybe I am the only one who does this but I don’t think so.  I see it happen at work, I see it happen in my personal life.  I see it happen when I am not taking time to be grateful for the good things that are there and instead focus on all the ways I think things should be. Make no mistake, it is okay to be discontent with the status quo.  In fact, I think it is AWESOME to be relentlessly discontent with the status quo. But don’t sacrifice thoughtful gratitude in an effort to get better.  Gratitude is a launching pad for even greater things…

I have met the enemy…

“Incompetent leaders spend too much time evaluating others and not enough evaluating their own leadership.”

Unknown

Well snap. And I don’t mean in a “snap, crackle, pop” rice krispies kind of way either. Yes, I fully recognize that I am not demographically qualified to use the term “snap.” I validate that by knowing that Snap, Crackle and Pop are the names of the gnomic elves that pitched Rice Krispies for decades. Don’t believe me?  Check this out. Hmm, now I’m not sure where to go from here. Oh yes, incompetent leaders…

snap crackle popPerhaps real leadership only exists when self leadership is there first? How much easier is it to say “it was their fault” or “they are a horrible leader” than it is to ask the question “how can I improve my leadership?” If it is their fault then I have nothing to worry about right?  WRONG.  I speak from experience.  If I “snap” and excuse it because “they” did it, deserved it, or earned it, then then I’m an incompetent leader.  Period. Thank goodness leadership growth is a journey.  Leave the snap for the cereal.

Time keeps on slipping into the future…

“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”

Earl Nightingale

The first thing that I thought of when I read this quote was the great Steve Miller Band song “Fly Like an Eagle” Not sure it had a direct correlation of meaning but the opening lyric really says it all for me, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’, into the future.”  That’s what time does right?  Next year becomes next month, becomes tomorrow, becomes today, and then it is just a memory.  Unless we DO more.  Unless we make the time today count.  Then it has the chance to not just be our memory anymore but might even become THE MEMORY for someone else. What on earth am I talking about?  Listen further into the song.  

“I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle
Till I’m free
Oh, Lord, through the revolution”

Eagles inspire.  People see them flying and they are so majestic and grand.  I think that people who work hard to achieve their dreams do the same thing.  They inspire, they motivate, they plant within others the spark they might need to follow their own dream(s).  So think of this.  What if you by NOT chasing your dream you aren’t only stealing from only yourself?  What if you are also impacting someone else’s ability to make their dreams come true because they won’t have you their “fly like an eagle” and show them the way?  The time is going to pass, what are you going to do with it both for you AND for others?

What if you impact others the most by chasing your dreams in a way that inspires them?

“Feed the babies
Who don’t have enough to eat
Shoe the children
With no shoes on their feet
House the people
Livin’ in the street
Oh, oh, there’s a solution”

Less is more…

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Herbert Simon

This is our society today isn’t it?  There is so much information available that we can only consume it in 140 character soundbites.  Or so much information available that we never want to make a decision because we can always find “just a bit more information” to ensure our decision is the right one.  What if we had less information, but more focus?  Is the old adage that “less is more” more appropriate now than ever before?  

I have been spending a ton of time lately reading everything I can get my hands on regarding focus and intentionality. I am actively seeking out secret tips and special tactics to be more productive with my time. I found myself reflecting back to the “good old days” when there wasn’t a constant barrage of information coming at us 24/7.  But then I picked up my copy of “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker (a gift from a very wise friend) and challenges back then were the same challenges we face today.  (By the way, that book was written 50 years ago)  How do you make the best and biggest impact with the time that you have?  As much as we’d (me especially) like to make it a modern problem, it isn’t.  I’d say it’s a human problem.  Why do you think that is?

One step forward…

“You will either step forward into growth or you will step back into safety.”

Abraham Maslow

Growth is uncomfortable if you are stretching yourself.  It’s fun right?!  It’s exciting and it’s scary.  But in a good scary kind of way.  The kind of scary that makes your heart beat fast and your palms sweat.  Like the first day you drove a car by yourself.  Or the first time you had the courage to pick up the phone and call your crush and ask her out.  But what if we never did?  What if we were always safe? Safety scares me more than growth.  Because “safe” means stagnant, or complacent or perhaps death. I mean, what if we still thought the world was flat?  That would have been the “safe” choice back in the day…

What do you think?

 

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