Never waste a mistake…

“When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it: admit it, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.”

Paul Bear Bryant

When was the last time you made a really big mistake?  I mean the kind where you knew you had a real mess to clean up?  Was it fun?  Of course not.  If it was a mistake that really mattered there can’t be anything fun about cleaning it up.  But the flip side is that without making some big mistakes you can’t really engage in big learnings.  The kind that shake you to your core and make you really dig into yourself and who you are. 

To learn from these types of mistakes you first have to admit that you have made one.  For some reason that always seems to be the hardest part.  Maybe it is pride, or ego that clouds your judgment.  Maybe a long history of success has created an aura of self-righteousness.  Whatever it is, if you can’t admit a mistake, then you can’t learn.  If you can’t learn you are going to repeat that same mistake.  

While screwing something up and making a mistake is never fun, learning from it and acting to resolve can be.  The joy comes with the doing and growing.  Never let a good mistake go to waste.  There is so much than can be learned…

 

Actions speak louder than words…

“You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

There are so many ways that one can take and interpret this quote.  Today I read this as being aware of the importance of knowing that even when you don’t say something, your behaviors might reflect what it is that you are thinking.  You are responsible for those behaviors in the same vein as if you had spoken the words.

The key difference here is that when you speak the words you can invite dialogue about the meaning behind them.  When people are left to interpret behaviors there is no dialogue unless you have created a place where that kind of conversation is safe and encouraged.

It is far easier to reconcile the words you have spoken than it is the behaviors you have demonstrated.  Words have specific meaning, and while misunderstanding is very common, at least there is a platform to create a conversation and come to a common understanding.  Not so with your actions, those are interpreted through the filters by which others see the world and dialogue and understanding is not nearly as easy to come by.

So what does all this mean?  Recognize the importance of your actions and know that even if those actions line up with the words that you have in you mind, that no one else is hearing those words.  They will interpret them through the lens through which they view the world.  You are as responsible for those actions, and how they are interpreted,  as the words you speak…

But not you…

“Let others lead small lives, but not you. Let others argue over small things, but not you. Let others cry over small hurts, but not you. Let others leave their future in someone else’s hands, but not you.”

Jim Rohn

How often do we ask ourselves these types of questions? Why do we dream small?  Live small?  Settle for less than we are capable of becoming? Why do we let others define us? Why do we focus on “can’t” instead of “I can” or “I will?” 

“But not you…”

It can be easy to fall into the trap of self-pity and excuses and become one of the “others” mentioned in the quote.  Easy, and incredibly dangerous because once you start down this path it is hard to climb back out.  It reminds me of one of my favorite, and incredibly funny, sayings.  “Beware the lollipop of mediocrity, lick it once and you will suck forever.”  Crass, yes, but oh so true.  

“But not you…”

The only way not to be small is to focus on your God given gifts and refuse to settle for being less than the person that God designed you to be.  If you haven’t figured that out yet, that is OKAY!  We are all learning and growing.  The key is is to understand that this isn’t supposed to be easy.  You can’t grow without going through the crucible and learning from the challenges.  

How do you choose to live a life that exemplifies these words?

“But not you…”  

 

Asking good questions is the key to the future…

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.”

Albert Einstein

I recently finished reading a biography on Einstein,  (Einstein: His Life & Universe by Walter Isaacson) that was a fascinating look inside the mind and accomplishments of one of histories great thinkers.  He had an insatiable curiosity and hated conformity throughout his life which framed his ability to question everything.  He was flawed as a human, as we all are, but is a truly fascinating study and this book is a very worthwhile read.  

I tend to think about the world in a slightly different order than outlined in the quote above.  For me it is Future, Past, Present.   For example, taking some time regularly to think about questions framed out in this way: 

Questions for tomorrow: What is truly important?  What do I hope and dream about?  Why does this stir my soul?  What is my purpose?  How can I live that authentically? 

Questions for the past: What did I learn?  Why did this happen?  What could/should I have done differently?  What was my greatest regret?  Greatest joy?

Questions for today: What should I be doing differently right now?  Given what I know about the past, and where I want to go in the future, what is my focus for today?  How am I actually living versus how I desire to live?   What will I need to do today to make this happen? 

There are tons of other questions to ask yourself in each of these buckets.  Ultimately our ability to grow is based on asking great questions, learning from the answers, and implementing changes today based on those answers.  

I firmly believe that if we ever stop asking questions, we stop growing.  The potential future self that is locked inside all of us dies with those unasked questions…

 

Take a day…

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”

Maya Angelou

How is it that you recharge?  What do you like to do that helps you relax and refresh so that you can step back into the fray with your full focus and effort?  

I will fully admit that I am not good at all at doing what Maya outlines above.  My mind is always working on something and it is typically about work in some way.  Frankly, my best thinking, the time when I can achieve the most clarity, is when I have changed environments and given myself the space to think through relaxation and rest.  Research has shown again and again that the brain functions at it’s peak ability when it is properly rested and refreshed.  

Find a way to give yourself a break and disconnect from the challenges you face for a day.  They just might not look as daunting when you come back…

Talking with versus about others…

“Never find fault with the absent.”

Alexander Pope

This is a great reminder and one than can be a a tough pill to swallow.  At times it seems much easier to talk about people than to talk with them.  It is something that we all do, but a practice that we must guard against if we want to increase our influence.  What are the dangers that this creates as a leader?

First, if you are finding fault with someone, and talking about it with others, then you are tearing down the walls of trust, not building them up.  The person that you are discussing someone else’s faults with can never be sure that you aren’t doing the exact same thing when they aren’t present.

Second, putting the focus on the person not the problem distracts from whatever the real issue at hand might be.  If you want to be effective in fixing something, then you have to address it head on.

Third, your example to others be creating this type of environment encourages politics and individual agendas.  It does not enhance teamwork or collaboration.  The most effective leaders set the example that others will emulate.  Do you want your team talking about others behind their backs, or addressing challenges with and for each other?

Ask yourself this one question.  “Would I have this conversation with the person in the room?”  If the answer is no, then why not?  Isn’t that the more pressing challenge to figure out?  Talking about people is easy, and cowardly.  Talking with people can be challenging, but courageous.  Which type of leader do you want to be?

Sometimes “done” is just the beginning…

“One’s destination is never a place, but always a new way of seeing things.”

Henry Miller

adventure alps amazing beautiful

Do you climb the mountain to get to the top, or to see how the world looks from the peak?  Is it the journey that matters or is it simply a task to be checked off the list?  

How often do we achieve some dream, goal, or destination to simply mark it “complete” and then move on to the next thing?  I know that I am guilty of this all too often and I that by doing so I am missing the real value of achievement; what you learn from having experienced something new and building a new set of lenses through which to view the world.  

Why is this so hard to do?

Is it simply easier to numb yourself with the next new thing than it is to look internally and say “how could I have done this better?” or “what did I learn that can help me the next time?” Or perhaps it is simply that achievement has become the idol in life where the pursuit of more is the way of our modern world and this takes precedence over reflecting on what we have learned and how we have changed.  

Maybe getting to the destination isn’t the goal at all.  It is simply the beginning of a new journey.  A journey that will be forever different because of our experiences and the lessons learned on our way to the our last destination.  The next trip is different because of what we have experienced.  But only if we take the time to pause and reflect on what we have seen.  

 

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.

 

Make your bed…

“If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

Admiral William H. McRaven

I remember my Dad reinforcing the classic line “anything worth doing is worth doing well” over and over with my brother and I as we were growing up.  For him it didn’t just apply to the big things, but it was the small things too. My Dad grew up on a dairy farm and one of the life lessons I learned from him was regardless of what you WANTED to do the cows NEEDED to be milked every day.  There was no such thing as a “day off” or the shirking of your responsibility.  Doing the little things, every day, the right way was just how it was done on the farm or else you wouldn’t have positive results and be able to provide for the family.  

If you haven’t seen Admiral William McRaven’s commencement address to the University of Texas in 2014 it is an instant classic.  Frankly it is one that I need to watch several more times to get all the pearls of wisdom that are contained within these nineteen minutes.  Enjoy and go change the world!

Do you own, or do you rent?

“Responsibility equals accountability equals ownership. And a sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have.”

Pat Summitt

Ownership.  What does it mean? Think of the difference between renting a home and owning a home.  When you rent, you treat the home differently.  You don’t worry about the little things, you don’t put the extra effort in to care for or protect the property.  For example, you might ignore the roof that only leaks when it really storms, or the sink that leaks on occasion.  Maybe instead of ignoring the problem, you just call someone else, the owner, because it isn’t your problem.  You don’t have to fix it.  But if you own the home you pay attention to these problems.  You know that if you don’t address them quickly it is likely to become far worse, and much more expensive to repair.  

If you are the owner, you write the checks.  And by checks I don’t just mean in terms of money.  You have to fix the problem.  You are accountable for how you, the asset, the team, the organization performs.  It starts, and stops, with you.  You must look to yourself first before you look to others, regardless of fault because you are responsible and accountable for fixing the problem, whatever that problem might be.  

Have you ever heard the saying “drive it like a rental?”  What exactly does this mean?  It means when you rent a car you don’t treat it the same way you would if you owned it.  You don’t have to care about the maintenance, what it is going to drive like next week, next month, next year.  You don’t have to care because you aren’t accountable for your decisions, or in some cases the lack of a decision.  The rental car won’t be your problem in the future. For renters it is someone else’s problem.  Even if you caused it…

We all have an active decision make, do we own or do we rent?  This project, this initiative, this team, this relationship.  Yes, sometimes ownership sucks.  It isn’t fun to have to fix problems, especially if you caused them, whether intentionally or not.  But it has to be done, because if you don’t, who will? If you don’t look inwards first with self-awareness and reflection and have the accountability to own it, you are just renting your space as a human and a leader.  Don’t be a renter…

Start today!

“You will never win if you never begin.”

Helen Rowland

Starting something new can often be the hardest part.  The work can appear to be  overwhelming when you look at the goal and how much needs to be done to make it a reality.  The key is to break whatever it is into the smallest tasks and just start today.  

I signed up for my first Ironman race having only done one sprint triathlon and one half marathon. I was in way over my head and had no business trying to take on that extreme of an endurance race.  But when the race morning arrived one year later I was very relaxed and I knew, barring any unforeseen accidents, I had already won the day and finished the race.  It wasn’t because I had discovered some unknown physical gifts, it was simply because one year earlier I had committed to my goal and then planned my work out to achieve that goal. The Ironman race itself ended up being a reward for all the work that happened in the year it took to prepare.  Finishing the race was the easy part once I had a plan and committed to the daily effort.  Just starting every single day with the task for the day was the key.

Whatever it is that you want to achieve find the one small thing that you can do to start today and do it.  Even if it is simply writing the goal down and capturing why it is important.  It starts today.

The challenge of being real…

“You cannot talk about grit—you have to embody it. You cannot talk about faith—you have to live it. You cannot talk about the desert—you have to cross it.”

Dr. Dragos Bratasanu

When I read this quote the very first thing that popped into my head was one of my favorite sayings of all times, “It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching” by St. Francis Assisi.  This is leadership by example in a nutshell.

Then I thought of how dissimilar this perspective is in today’s social media driven “look at me” culture. The comparison and envy that is created by showing “perfect” pictures of someones life.  Instead of “leadership by example” it creates “envy by example.” It is a focus on living life outwardly, based on what you want other people to think, as opposed to focusing inwardly on your personal values and the decisions that you make that aree manifested in action, not in words.  

Living a life of actions and behaviors that are 100% consistent with your words and beliefs is hard. I am very thankful to have a few incredible people in my life that will help hold me accountable when my words might outpace my actions or my choices.  We might not be able to talk about the desert, but we don’t have to cross it alone…

The power of taking action…

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough, we must do.”

Leonardo da Vinci

leonardo-vitruvian-man-bI have just finished a fascinating book titled “The Leading Brain” which delves into how our brain works and the reason why we make the decisions we do.  Understanding the neuroscience behind our behavior as humans and particularly as leaders is really really interesting and has given me much greater insight to my own behaviors and how to change them for the better.  

One of the things I learned was how precisely how powerful small habits can be and the science behind why breaking the big things down into reasonable and attainable actions creates long term and sustainable success.  I thought I used to do this fairly well but now  knowing the importance of “doing” as this quote from Leonardo points out, I recognize how critical these actions are to rewire your brain.  By breaking things down, starting with small actions, creating wins that give you brain the dopamine boost it craves you literally rewire your neural paths and reinforce the way you want your brain to work.  Incredible!  (yes, I recognize that I am a geek for this stuff…)

Find your big thing, break it down, start with an action that matters.  Today…

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?

The ripple effect…

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

Nelson Mandela

close up water drop photography

Life (and leadership) is like tossing a pebble into a pond.  A big splash and then nothing remains on the surface.  

Except that’s not really true is it?  There are always ripples leading away from where your toss landed.  

It’s interesting that when you toss a pebble the ripples have to move away from the point of impact.  No matter how much we want to make life about ourselves, or try to focus on our own wants and needs, our behaviors and actions send waves out that intersect with others and impact their lives, for positive or negative effect.  

What is the impact that you want to happen today based on the pebbles you toss?  Are you tossing pebbles without thinking of the effect beyond yourself?  Are you living a life that will impact others and that they will say was significant?  

 

 

Walking a path of purpose…

“I truly believe that everything that we do and everyone that we meet is put in our path for a purpose. There are no accidents; we’re all teachers – if we’re willing to pay attention to the lessons we learn, trust our positive instincts and not be afraid to take risks or wait for some miracle to come knocking at our door.”

Marla Gibbs

One of the most profound exercises I have ever done in my life was the creation of a  “Faith Map”  timeline.  In this exercise I created a map of the people that God has put into my life to further my journey.  I call it a faith map because I literally drew it out on large paper so I could visualize the impact that people have had on my life and understand the broader picture.  Taking the time to think through all the  people that I have been blessed to know is truly astounding. I can say with absolute certitude that I wouldn’t have nearly the blessings I have today I certain people hadn’t been placed on my path. If you are interested in digging deep and doing a similar exercise sit down and ask yourself these questions:

  • How did I get here?  Who specifically influenced my journey? (I find it easier to start with more recent relationships)
  • What did I learn from them?  How did they influence my journey?
  • Where would I be without that intentional nudge?  What would my life be like?

I know it sounds corny, and it probably is, but for me it gave me a much greater sense of how intentionally God has worked in my life.  It gives rise to an interesting question.  Because God was so intentional with our creation that he knows every hair on our head and we were created in God’s image, doesn’t that mean are supposed to be intentional with how we spend our lives?  

 

 

 

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