My teenage son just returned from a long hiking trip. He was on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina–his first “real” hiking trip with backpack, tent, food, first aid kit, etc. (He learned that raw eggs don’t travel well even if you have a burner to cook them.)
As a mother, I was concerned he would get lost. He did. Thankfully he was with a friend.
He said they got to a point when they weren’t sure if they should go down a new path that was unfamiliar or backtrack on the path they had taken. Storm was coming. They decided to go back on the path they knew to get them to safety.
As a leader, your job is to help people get to a destination.
Too many people are simply trying to get through the day. They are doing the work, but they’ve lost sight of the big goal. They’re hiking a familiar trail. Some are moving in circles.
Like lost hikers, they revert back to what they know. They don’t have the clarity or courage to move on a new path that might take them to their destination more easily.
They need leadership.
Where is your team trying to go?
One of the best exercises you can do with your team is to have a discussion dedicated to:
a) clarifying the destination–that means understanding the overall team goals (including why the goals are important)
b) determining the best trail–identifying new ways to get to the destination.
It’s especially important if you’re trying to get better results or encourage innovative thinking.
Include that discussion on your next retreat agenda or hold a special short meeting to get some quick ideas.
Confirm if you’re on the right path. Ask, “Are we getting the best results possible?”
Challenge your team to identify improvements. Ask, “What other ideas, strategies or improvements should we consider?”
Get commitment. Ask, “What’s one thing you’ll do differently to help us accomplish our goals?”
Beware of the path you know that’s comfortable and familiar. Be willing to take yourself or your team on a new path if needed.
Prepare for resistance …and growth.
You’ll likely arrive at a destination that’s even better than what you were hoping for.
What are your top three specific priorities for the month?
If I asked you that question, would you be able to name them quickly?
If not, you’re like many executives I know.
Intuitively you may know what’s most important, but instead you’re reacting to problems or requests as they arise. You may find yourself thinking, “Where did the time go?” or “I don’t have enough time.” or “I have a “time management problem.”
When you think of time as something that needs to be managed, it seems like an external force you must control. So you try to organize it, structure it, manipulate it, etc. It’s a creature you wrestle.
But true time management is not about time, it’s about clarity—clarity about priorities. Think of it as managing your mind. True time management requires more internal work—understanding how you think and why you think what you do.
For example, if you give yourself an hour to work on an important priority but your phone rings, would you answer it?
If you believe that being immediately responsive is important, you’ll probably answer your phone quickly. If you believe that reasonable responsiveness means you’ll call back in an hour, you might let it go.
It’s your belief about responsiveness (or client service or professionalism) that influences you more than the actual commitment on your calendar.
One key to executive effectiveness is being able to discern where you will invest your time.
What activities will produce the highest ROI for you or your business over time?
Make a quick list now. Name just three.
What are some possibilities on your list?
Building business partnerships?
Profitability? Financial growth?
Developing new business? Marketing?
Nurturing current clients?
Structuring processes? Improving technology?
Whatever is on your list, be sure those areas fit your strengths–what you do well naturally.
Stop trying to do so much. Instead do less so you can free yourself to focus on work that really matters at your level.
Time management is not about trying to pack in as much as you can in a day.
It’s about deflecting what really does not have to get done—at least not by you.
Time flies. So don’t try to catch it.
With clear beliefs and priorities, you’ll accelerate results instead.
If this message resonates with you, download a free copy of my latest print newsletter on the topic of time management. You’ll learn what to do if you have a case of “brain clutter.”
“I thought I was ready, but had no idea what I was getting myself into. What if I’m not really cut out for this?”
No matter how much experience you’ve had, it’s easy to doubt yourself and wonder if you’re “good enough” to get to the next level.
In working with many leaders over the years, I see their thought process as they contemplate ways to expand their impact and advance their careers.
Some are frustrated. They’re not moving fast enough into roles they think they deserve. Perhaps they have leadership blind spots.
(If you missed my Special Report on Overcoming Leadership Blind Spots, you can download a free copy here or below.)
They view their situation as something beyond their control.
“You have to know people at the top to get anywhere in this company.” “I’ll just have to wait for my turn. I don’t want to rock the boat.” “Nobody knows the real work I do.”
The reality is that, in many cases, you can be your own worst enemy. You might be sabotaging yourself with secret thoughts that threaten your confidence.
Do any of these thoughts sound familiar?
“I don’t have the experience they expect to even be considered for the position.” “I never finished my degree.” “I don’t have a mentor or advocate.”
Self-confidence is one of the most important leadership attributes you can have. Without it, you risk jeopardizing your performance, and in some cases, ruining your own career.
Insecurity manifests itself in a variety of ways. Some people show up as fearful or anxious. They work in the shadows and draw little attention to themselves.
Other people may appear overly confident or egotistical.
But deep down there are serious insecurities they’re attempting to mask.
Here are four ways to build self-confidence in your leadership role:
1. Note your strengths and best qualities.
If you need reminding, talk to family members or friends who are closest to you. By focusing on what you have instead of what you (think you) lack, you’ll create an image of yourself that is strong and capable.
Weaknesses or deficiencies will become less important. Bring whatever you have now to the table. Don’t worry about the rest.
If you’ve been afraid to try something new or tackle a difficult project, consider it an “experiment.” You’ll take pressure off yourself to achieve perfection.
Instead view the situation as a learning opportunity. Be prepared to observe what is happening as you go through the experience. Anticipate setbacks.
Be willing to move yourself or your project in a different direction if needed. If it doesn’t work, it’s just an experiment. Keep trying.
3. Help someone else.
Ultimately leadership is about service. This is a fundamental aspect of leadership that executives often miss. Instead they are overly concerned about how they are perceived. If they care more about their own image, they lose sight of what matters most–other people.
Keep your focus on those you serve–your team, your internal or external customers. Ask:
“What do they need now?” “How can I be of help?” “What action can I take today to make a bigger difference–to them?”
Shift the focus from yourself to others.
4. Face your fear.
If there is one thing that you know is in your way, face it head on!
In my case, the one thing that was holding me back in my career and leadership role was my fear of public speaking. So many years ago I decided to begin working on that skill. I participated in Toastmasters International and other development programs for years to practice and build my confidence. Sometimes it was painful.
Confidence comes through practice and by surrounding yourself with other people who want to see you grow.
Now I speak professionally as part of my work.
Everything flows from your confidence as a leader. We all have insecurities. It’s natural for your confidence to waiver over time, especially as you grow and take on new challenges.
You are stronger and more capable than you realize. Your potential is much greater than you can imagine.
Step boldly into the new iteration of who you are becoming. You’ll be even better as a leader.
It’s good for yourself and those you serve.
In case you missed it…
Get a copy of my latest print newsletter. It’s about how to overcome leadership blind spots.
On the path to improvement, there’s one thing for certain–you’re going to hit a roadblock.
It’s inevitable. Could be a number of reasons:
Perhaps you fall back into patterns that give you problems in the first place. Human beings are creatures of habit. (“I’m doing what I know how to do on autopilot.”)
Maybe you have a negative attitude to begin with that makes you skeptical about your chances of making the improvement in the first place. (“I knew it would never work.”)
Or maybe something surprising or unforeseen happens that throws a wrench in your plans. You weren’t prepared for it. (“Well, I never expected that to happen!”)
Depending on the situation, you might feel like a failure, want to give up, or blame the problem on someone else.
Much like a person who says, “I want to lose weight.” He makes the commitment to stop eating unhealthy foods, yet a few days later, he can’t resist the donuts during a coffee break. He gives up trying to diet or rationalizes the situation to discount his commitment. Or he blames the person who brought the donuts.
The same principle applies to teams. In my recent work with a number of teams in different organizations, it’s clear that they want to improve performance.
Some teams are working on how they communicate. They want to strengthen interpersonal relations and understand each other better to function at their best. Other teams are working on their productivity. They get along well, but they want to get better results.
As they explore new best practices and commit to taking action, they’re fired up. They start on a new path that looks promising. They’ve talked through many issues and everyone seems to be on the same page.
But there’s often a missing piece of the process that goes unnoticed. They forget to develop a “correction mechanism.”
It may sound counterintuitive, but the more success you want, the more failure you should expect. Failure is not the opposite of success. It’s a part of the success process.
So what’s your correction mechanism?
How will you know what to look for to know when you need to make a turn, try a different approach or abandon a specific project?
Wouldn’t it be nice to have something like a GPS that recalibrates directions for you when you’re off path in your work?
Although each team is different, I see them hitting some common roadblocks like:
Returning to a group of silos when they committed to working as a greater whole.
Blaming the team leader for the problems instead of assuming greater accountability themselves.
Allowing personality clashes to escalate so they impede productivity.
Whatever your team’s situation, I encourage you to identify how you will handle roadblocks in advance.
Know that challenges, frustrations, losses, etc. are a normal part of the process. Determine what the expected response will be. Don’t let it throw you off course.
To help you move forward more easily, here are a couple of suggestions:
First, know when you’ve hit a roadblock. Some people don’t even acknowledge them. They’ll worker harder and faster wondering why they’re not making progress.
It’s like hitting a nail as you’re driving down the road. Your tire is deflating, but you’re speeding up to try to get to your destination.
Secondly, act quickly. Address the issue as soon as possible. Don’t let it linger.
Talk to the team member where there may be a conflict. Put an issue on the table that needs to be discussed as a team. These kinds of actions could be part of your accepted “auto correction” process.
What tools or sources for correction will work best for you?
What’s your process to get you back on the right path?
Only you can determine your correction mechanism in a given situation.
Here are a couple of possibilities to consider:
Revisit team or company vision/strategy. That way, you’ll align or realign what you’re doing so it makes sense in the bigger context. Determine if your actions are really leading you to the right destination.
Talk to someone you trust. It could be your boss, partner or team member. You might not be able to see the view you need on your own. You’ll get better perspective as you determine next steps.
On a personal level, when you’re thrown off course, your best correction mechanism may be a family member or close friend. For the most difficult challenges or roadblocks, your correction mechanism may be your faith or values.
In business and life, it’s not always about accomplishment, but about alignment–aligning yourself with what really matters to you.
By doing so, you’ll be guided as opposed to pushing so hard.
You’ll navigate the roadblocks more easily and enjoy the journey a lot more.
PS – Sometimes you hit roadblocks because of leadership blind spots. That’s the topic of my latest print newsletter about how to overcome leadership blind spots.
Have you been watching the Olympics? It’s inspiring to see the spirit and determination of such extraordinary athletes.
Makes me want to work a little harder to achieve my goals — to improve my performance.
What would be possible if you improved just one aspect of your leadership performance?
Even Olympic athletes can’t work on everything at once. They pick one area. Depending on the sport, it could be something like: focus, strength, breathing, flexibility, speed or stamina.
They work on their mindset as much as their physical skill. So it is with leadership.
The best leaders fuel their mind with commitment, determination and positive expectation. They are preparing themselves to make an impact beyond building a successful business.
Mission in Action
I recently had the pleasure to meet a very impressive Olympian, Marilyn King, who is doing work that matters.
Marilyn is a two-time Olympian whose 20-year athletic career includes five national titles and a World Record. In 1979, she was injured in an automobile accident and was unable to train physically for her third Olympic Team in the grueling five-event Pentathlon.
Using only mental techniques, she placed second at the Olympic trials for the 1980 Moscow games.
We met as part of a small group of entrepreneurs from around the country who came together to share our mission and strategize about our businesses.
Marilyn is on a heartfelt mission to apply skills learned through sports to business, education and peace.
We talked about what we are doing to develop leaders.
I was struck by her relentless conviction to make a difference. She has big vision and contagious energy.
Here is Marilyn’s quote from her Olympian Thinking program:
An Olympian’s Challenge:
If you have passion plus vision, but no action, you’re daydreaming.
If you have vision plus action, but no passion, you’ll be mediocre.
If you have passion plus action, but no vision, you’ll get there, but find it the wrong goal.
Now, Your Challenge:
This month, pick one aspect of your leadership to improve. What will it be?
Vision? Passion? Action?
Will you work on a specific skill: Communication? Speaking? Strategic thinking? Coaching your team? Building alliances? Something else?
Building a successful business requires growing yourself as a leader — and as a person. Like an Olympian, you’ll have disappointments and moments of glory.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you need an extra dose of resilience. Keep trying. Pick yourself up when you have to. Keep going.
Continue building your leadership. It’s the foundation for your work and the ultimate multiplier in your business.
By working intentionally on your leadership, you’ll expand your influence and deepen your impact in ways you cannot even imagine now.
Pay attention to the needs around you and what’s burning inside you.