Choose to Be #1

A couple weeks ago, my company had our annual Year Beginning Meeting.

For those of you unfamiliar with these types of events, picture a concert venue with 2,000-3,000 of your closest friends from across the nation gathered together to listen to the leadership team share the vision and direction for the new year and get fired up with some good ol’ fashion rah-rah-rah!

I love these meetings!  You can feel the energy and excitement crackle in the air!  But no meeting is complete without some catch phrase or mantra that whips the crowd into a frenzy.

And this year did not disappoint!  

As our senior leaders stood on the stage, they would shout, “WE CHOOSE TO BE…”

And the crowd would shout back, “NUMBER ONE!

Particularly dynamic was our EVP of Operations, Todd Harbaugh.  Todd is a fantastic public speaker and always seems to bring it all home.  His carefully crafted, yet genuine delivery makes you want to break through walls, swim oceans, and run through fire to be your best.

This particular message from Todd drove home the point that we have a choice every day to do our best….or not do our best.

If you think about this logically –‘doing your best’ more often than not has a fairly positive outcome.  NOT doing your best usually has a less than desired result.  So, why would we not want to do our best?  Have you ever woke up at the start of your day and thought, “Man, today I think I am just going to be #2.”  Or “I really don’t want to do my best today.”  No.  If this is who you are, you usually don’t think anything.  You slide by in your day only to wonder later where the day went and why you didn’t get anything accomplished or why you’re not progressing in your career.

Choosing to be #1 is a mindset shift.  It’s a purposeful choice.  You have to be intentional about delivering your best….and then have the moxie and will to follow through on it.

But what does “doing your best” really mean?

Todd further drove this home for the crowd.  Todd shouted, “We Choose to Be…” and the crowd would roar back “NUMBER ONE!”  Then he would continue, “…in Talent Development…” “…in Innovation” and so on .  There were five areas in all.  But with each topic, he explained exactly what he meant and what he expected.

Todd’s message focused on the things that were right for our company.  But what is right for you or your organization?  What should you be #1 in?  After all it’s a choice.

Is it sales?  Creative/artistic design?  Talent development?  Project management?  Innovation?  Customer experience?  Leveraging Influence?  Philanthropy?  Volunteerism?  A special pursuit? A specific skill?

It’s really up to you.  So, here’s the exercise.

Sit down with your favorite writing utensil and a post-it note.

At the top, write, “I CHOOSE TO BE #1 IN:”

Try to come up with 3 areas that you should (or want to) give your best in.  More is okay – but you don’t want too many as you lose focus.  Try not to exceed 5.

Once you’re done, read aloud – “I CHOOSE TO BE #1 IN …..”

Now, don’t be timid.  Say it like you mean it!

Repeat it until you believe it.  After all, the only person you have to convince is yourself.

Now take that note and post it somewhere you’ll see it at the start of your day (e.g., your bathroom mirror, on your coffee machine, on your treadmill, in your office, on your rear view mirror of your car, etc.).  They key is to remind yourself early in your day that you are choosing to be #1 at these things.  And when you see that note, read it out loud – with conviction!

As I said earlier, choosing to be #1 is a mindset shift.  You can’t be flippant about it.  Be intentional.  It will make a difference in your life.

Personally, I CHOOSE TO BE #1 in developing people, serving my customer, and innovating well-thought out solutions.

This works equally well in your personal life.  For me, I CHOOSE TO BE #1 as a husband and father.

WHAT DO YOU CHOOSE?

A Quick Friday Leadership Lesson

As is always the case, I had a different plan for a post this week, but changed my mind at the last minute. But it’s okay…..because it’s Friday.

Last night, a colleague of mine forwarded out a great summary of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell. You may know John Maxwell for his many lectures or books on leadership (e.g., The 5 Levels of Leadership, Talent Is Never Enough, and Everyone Communicates, Few Connect just to name a few).

I haven’t read this book in particular, but have been exposed to many of the teachings.  As I read through the summary, I thought this would be fantastic to share with those of you that haven’t seen it before or at least it would be a great reminder for those of you that have seen it. The information is very timely as we are off and running in 2012.

Why? Because every organization needs great leaders at all levels. And they need them now.

To drive this home, the end of the summary included the five sentences below. I’ve brought them to the front because I think they make a great point.

Personnel determine the potential of the organization.
Relationships determine the morale of the organization.
Structure determines the size of the organization.
Vision determines the direction of the organization.
Leadership determines the success of the organization.

Are you the leader you need to be? Are you determining and/or driving the success in your organization?

I’ve included the summary of the laws below. While they are all great points, my favorites are #20 and #21.

Thank you Sonia Spinks for sharing this with our team! We appreciate your leadership!

Enjoy!

Jason

_____________________________________________

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell

1. The Law of the Lid. Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness. The higher you want to climb, the more you need leadership. The greater the impact you want to make, the greater your influence needs to be. Even though there is a lid, you can raise it.

2. The Law of Influence. The true measure of leadership is influence-nothing more, nothing less. If you don’t have influence, you will never be able to lead others. True leadership is not awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that can’t be mandated. It must be earned. The very essence of all power to influence lies in getting the other person to participate. If you want to find out whether your people are capable of leading, send them out to volunteer their time in the community because if they can get people to follow them there, then you know that they really do have influence.

3. The Law of Process. Leadership develops daily, not in a day. Becoming a leader is a lot like investing successfully in the stock market. If your hope is to make a fortune in a day you’re not going to be successful. What matters most is what you do day by day over the long haul. Successful leaders are learners. And the learning process is ongoing, a result of self-discipline and perseverance. The goal each day must be to get a little better, to build on the previous day’s progress. You can be a great leader, but it won’t happen in a day. Start now. You don’t become a champion on the field or court. You become a champion in your daily routine.

4. The Law of Navigation. Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course. Have a vision for the destination and understand what it will take to get there. A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others do. Navigators draw on past experience, listen to what others have to say, examine the conditions before making commitments, and make sure their conclusions represent both faith and fact. The secret of the Law of Navigation is preparation.

P redetermine a course of action.
L ay out your goals.
A djust your priorities.
N otify key personnel.

A llow time for acceptance.
H ead into action.
E xpect problems.
A lways point to the successes.
D aily review your plan.

5. The Law of E.F. Hutton. When the real leader speaks, people listen. True leaders have character, relationships, knowledge, intuition, experience, past success, and ability.

6. The Law of Solid Ground. Trust is the foundation of leadership. You can’t take shortcuts no matter how long you’ve been leading people. You start with certain amount of change in your pocket, then with every decision thereafter, you are either building up more change or paying it out, and then when you are out of change, you’re done. To build trust, one must exemplify competence, connection and character. Character makes trust possible and trust makes leadership possible.

7. The Law of Respect. People naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves. When people respect someone as a person, they admire them. When they respect her as a friend, they love them. When they respect them as a leader, the follow them.

8. The Law of Intuition. Leaders evaluate everything with a leadership bias. A leader has to read the situation and know instinctively what play to call. People need a goal to galvanize them. Know who is for you and who is against you. Whenever leaders encounter a problem, they automatically measure it, and strive to resolve it.

9. The Law of Magnetism. Who you are is who you attract. You draw people to you who possess the same qualities you do. Birds of a feather flock together. You tend to attract and be drawn to people of similar attitude, generation, background, values, life experience and leadership ability. The better leader you are, the better leaders you will attract. If you think the people you attract could be better, then it’s time to improve yourself.

10. The Law of Connection. Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand. Connections happen between individuals. A great leader stands in front of his team and sees more than the collective group, he sees individuals. To connect with people in a group, relate to them as individuals. Leaders initiate connection with people. Walk slowly through the crowd and shake hands and encourage and express gratitude. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. To lead yourself, use your head; to lead others, use your heart.

11. The Law of the Inner Circle. A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him. Associate with good people. Look for these type of valuable people – potential value, positive value, personal value, production value and proven value. As iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other. Hire the best staff you can find, develop them as much as you can, and hand off everything you possibly can to them. You have more potential that you haven’t reached, and if you want to get there, surround yourself with the best people possible.

12. The Law of Empowerment. Only secure leaders give power to others. Lead by lifting up others.

13. The Law of Reproduction. It takes a leader to raise up a leader. If you try to keep others down, then you go down with them. Raise giant-killers like David who raised up a group of mighty men. We teach what we know and reproduce what we are. Spend time with great leaders.

14. The Law of Buy-In. People buy into the leader, then the vision. The leader finds the dream and then the people. The people find the leader and then the dream. People at first don’t follow worthy causes, they follow worthy leaders who promote worthwhile causes. People want to go along with people they get along with. Leader + Vision = Result.

15. The Law of Victory. Leaders find a way for the team to win. When the pressure is on, great leaders are at their best. 3 components of victory: 1) unity of vision, 2) diversity of skills, and 3) a leader dedicated to victory and raising players to their potential.

16. The Law of the Big Mo. Momentum is a leader’s best friend. Constantly fight negative momentum. Two keys – preparation and motivation. It starts with a little progress. Momentum helps teams perform better. Momentum is easier to steer than to start. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do.

17. The Law of Priorities. Leaders understand that activity is not necessarily accomplishment. Pareto Principle: If you focus on the activities that rank in the top 20% in terms of importance, you will have an 80% return on your effort. Three R’s: What is required? What gives the greatest return? What brings the greatest reward? Increase focus, but reduce number of actions.

18. The Law of Sacrifice. A leader must give up to go up. Leadership means setting an example. When you find yourself in a position of leadership, people follow your every move. Sacrifice is an ongoing process, not a one-time payment. When you become a leader, you lose the right to think about yourself. As you rise in leadership, responsibilities increase and rights decrease. If leaders have to give up to go up, then they have to give up even more to stay up. The higher you go, the more you give up.

19. The Law of Timing. When to lead is as important as what to do and where to go. 4 possible outcomes: 1) The wrong action at the wrong time leads to disaster. 2) The right action at the wrong time brings resistance. 3) The wrong action at the right time is a mistake. 4) The right action at the right time results in success.

20. The Law of Explosive Growth. Leader’s math: To add growth, lead followers, but to multiply growth, lead leaders. It’s the leaders responsibility to build the people who are going to build the company. Leaders who develop followers add one at a time. Leaders who develop leaders multiply their growth.

21. The Law of Legacy. A leader’s lasting value is measured by succession. Leadership is one of the things you cannot delegate. You either exercise it, or you abdicate it. A legacy is created only when a person puts his organization into the position to do great things without him. Success is not measured by what you’re leaving to, but by what you are leaving behind.

3 Lessons from Walking Across the Office

Yesterday morning, I was reminded of some very important leadership lessons.  The funny thing is that they all occurred in a walk across the office that took less than 5 minutes.

On this particular walk, I was in heavy thought.  I was trying to process some complex information before getting to my destination.  As a result, my head was down, my eyes were on the floor, and I was walking briskly.  I wasn’t my normal friendly, approachable self.

And in that short walk from one side of the building to the other, this is what I learned:

Lesson 1:  Eyes on the floor and walking briskly are not a good combination.  It’s a recipe for disaster.   In my brief journey, I successfully ran in to another person coming around a corner,  ran in to a box of marketing materials,  and nearly ran in to a structural column.  Where was my “Danger, Will Robinson, danger” alarm? Simply, I wasn’t paying attention.  I was lost in my own world and was not cognizant of my surroundings.  Besides being a physical threat to myself and others, the lesson is a great leadership metaphor. 

Leaders need to keep their eyes on the horizon to successfully navigate changes in their environment.

Lesson 2:  I am a pretty friendly person and am a strong believer that a leader’s attitude is contagious, which is why I am quick to greet people, give a smile, or slap a high five.  With my head down and lost in thought, I was not acting like I normally do.  And as I walked by a colleague without looking up, he said, “Good Morning, Jason!” in a friendly, yet challenging tone.  I say hello to this guy every time I see him, but this time I didn’t – what was I thinking?  I’ve set a standard and expectation for my behavior, but failed in this moment. He realized it and said something.  I stopped, went back to him, shook his hand and apologized saying, “I’m sorry.  I was lost in thought.” 

What’s worse is that he wasn’t the only one that I did that to on this walk.  I was no more than 50 feet from him before the same situation repeated itself.  And I found myself apologizing in the same fashion.  “I’m sorry.  I was lost in thought.”  What a pathetic excuse.  It really didn’t matter why I didn’t say hello, the fact is that I failed again and was called on it again.  How many people did I pass that didn’t call me on it?

People not only pay attention to your actions, but also to your inactions. …and they hold you accountable.

Lesson 3:  A little later in the day, well after my brief walk, I was back to my normal self.  At our office coffee bar, I greeted an associate and asked her how she was doing.  Instead of responding to my question, she said, “I saw you this morning.”  And then softened her voice and turned her eyes down and finished, “…but you didn’t see me.”  Those words cut me straight to the core, “you didn’t see me”.  It’s every leader’s nightmare.  I asked her, “Where were you?”  She responded, “I walked right by you.”  Ugh! What was I doing?  I asked her why she didn’t say hello.  She responded that she thought I looked really busy and didn’t want to bother me.

I pulled my lame apology back out for the third time.  She said, “It’s okay.”  But I finished with, “No.  It isn’t.  And I am really sorry.”

People not only pay attention to a leader’s action and inaction, but they are impacted by them.

That was a lot of learning for such a short walk.  It goes to show that leaders are “on” all the time.  Whether you realize it or not, people are watching your every move and are impacted by what you do and don’t do. You don’t get “down time”.

While this may seem like a tough concept for leaders to accept, the fact is that more is required from you because of your position – whether formal or informal.  My favorite bible verse is Luke 12:48 because it speaks such truth for leaders –  To whom much is given, much is required.

I appreciate these associates for calling me out and helping me get back on track, because as leaders we are judged by our weakest moments.

So, keep your head up, eyes on the horizon, and make sure your actions positively impact others.

What lessons have you learned while walking across the office?

Put Some Jingle in Your Jangle!

I love this time of the year!  It’s so much fun!

Festivity abounds through the sights and the sounds; the giving and goodwill; the camaraderie of colleagues, family, and friends; and, well…..this time of year just makes me feel really good.

And for many of you, I bet this time of year makes you feel good too!

However, the holidays are not time to sit back on our leadership laurels and simply soak up the merriment and cheer.

It is the time for leaders to lead more than ever!  It’s time to put some pep in your leadership step.  Some extra glide in your leadership stride.  Some jingle in your leadership jangle!

“How do I do that?” you ask?

Here are 4 ways:

  • Set the Tone!  All year long, your teams look to your example for how to act.   I was about to say that this time of the year is no different, but that’s not true.  It’s very different.  This is the time of the year that is filled with all kinds of extra activities and demands on time – and quite frankly, your folks are going to be looking to you even more for what’s acceptable and what isn’t.  Should they go to the Divisional Christmas party or do they stay at their desk and work?   Should you go to the team charity event or not?  Should they pass out Christmas cards and gifts to each other?

You (the leader) need to set the tone for how to act and engage during the holiday season.  If there are rules to be followed, then say so and be clear and consistent.  Demonstrate the acceptable behavior.  For the good of the group, you may have to get outside of your own comfort zone to set the proper example (e.g., go to the department holiday party so that they know it’s okay to attend – even though you’d rather sit alone in your Grinch cave drinking eggnog by yourself).

  • Don’t get distracted!  While everyone may be worried if Santa Claus is coming to town or not, it’s not time to lose focus on what needs to be accomplished at work.  Set expectations and clearly communicate with your teams what needs to get done (and when) during this frenzy of activity, parties, parades, events, and vacations.  Without being Scrooge, help guide your teams to find the balance in their hectic schedules to make it all work.  Lead by example and make sure that you are getting your work done too!
  • Be highly observant!  While the holidays are generally a time of joy for most, there are those that may be struggling.  It could be that they miss their friends or family.  Or they have lost a loved one that won’t be there this year during the holidays.  Or maybe they are struggling financially to make ends meet for their family.  Regardless of the circumstance, you as their leader need to discern the situation and be sensitive to their plight.  It’s time to show compassion and care.  It’s time to provide encouragement and support.  Be a good shepherd and keep watch on all of your sheep!
  • Spread Joy!  This is one of the most important components of holiday leadership!  It is time to inspire and spread joy!  One of the best things you can do during this time of the year is share a smile, laugh, or word of encouragement or appreciation with those around you.  I wrote an article this last April that fits perfectly here.  Click here to learn 5 Ways to Spread a Little Joy!

What other ways can you step up your leadership game during the holiday season?

A Conscious Legacy

Last night, I was doing some blog surfing when I came across a blog by a gentleman named Rick Forbus.  In one of his posts, he was recanting the recent loss of his father and the importance of the legacy that he left.

Rick made a great statement in his post, “Leaders are conscious of their legacy.

As the night went on, my mind kept drifting back to this statement.

I think there is real truth and power in this statement.  I have one small tweak though  – “Good leaders are conscious of their legacy.”

And not only are they conscious, but they are also deliberate, passionate, and diligent when it comes to the legacy that they are creating.

They realize that they have the power to build up, grow, nurture, develop, encourage and inspire others; just as much as they have the power to do the opposite.  The question though is, “What will they choose to do with their time?”

One of my favorite leadership quotes is from baseball hero Jackie Robinson who said, A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” 

As stated by Al Duncan, what Jackie meant was “Do something to breakdown a barrier or carve out a path for someone else, not once, but as often as you can.”

Leadership is not about one time; it’s about as many times as possible.

There are many types of legacies that leaders can leave, but what I want to focus on here are four words for those of you aspiring to be good (or even great) leaders.  In thinking about the legacy you will leave, be:

  • Conscious.  Be aware of what you are doing.  Know what your words, body language, and actions really say.  Know how they impact others.  Be self-aware of the message you send – always.  Leaders are always “on”.
  • Deliberate.  Be intentional about growing and developing others.  Seek out opportunities to nurture others – don’t be a passive bystander.   The greatest legacy you will leave behind is that in which you have invested in others.   Purposefully and actively think through how those within your sphere of influence will best be encouraged – and then act on it.
  • Passionate.  Be fanatical in your advocacy and support of other people.  Clear their path, give them the tools, and then get out of the way – and not just once – do it over and over again.  When they don’t think they can do it, lend them your energy and inspire them to new heights.
  • Diligent.   Be tenacious.  Developing others is hard work. It may take you many attempts with some people, but I promise you that the reward of seeing them blossom is absolutely worth it.

Leaving a legacy is not something that happens after you’ve left this earth.  Leaving a legacy is about now.  It’s about the investments that you made yesterday, today, and the one’s you’ll make tomorrow.

So, be conscious – be deliberate – be passionate – and be diligent in the legacy that you are creating in others.

What are you doing about your legacy today?

3 Reasons to Become Audacious

Do you have the audacity to be audacious?

Do you desire to be bold, courageous, or even fearless?

If your answer is yes, then what’s stopping you?  If you answer no, then maybe this article isn’t for you.  If you hesitated or didn’t know the answer, then read on.

So, what do I mean by ‘being audacious’?

I mean to be bold.  Be brave and/or daring.   Step outside of your comfort zone.   Be unrestrained by the conventional way.  Purposefully learn something that’s outside of your norm.  Gain a new or broader perspective. Be adventurous and inquisitive.  Step up and do something different!

Why should you become audacious?  Here are three good reasons.

  • You’re sleepwalking.  Most of us have been here for either a brief time or perhaps are still stuck here in lifeisboringsville.  You do the same things every day – day in and day out – over and over.  It’s repetitious…and you’re tired of it!  It’s time to wake up!  It’s time to jump the rut and do something different with your life!
  • You’re living scared.  Most of us have been here too.  We’ve all been scared from time to time – but being scared and being too petrified to move or act are two very different things.   If we allow our fear and worry to imprison us, we may never break free and may never meet our true potential.  But if we can find the courage and strength, we may be able to overcome our self-imposed prison to find new amazing success and achievement.
  • You want something more or different.  Ahhh….one of my favorites.  You know that you have more in you to give.  More in you to share.  More in you to accomplish.  This reason is the one that focuses on the positive of untapped potential – and quite honestly has the greatest opportunity for success – if only we take a leap of faith and step out.

If you find yourself relating to one of the three situations mentioned above, then it’s time for you to take a step into audaciousness.

Don’t know how?  Try one (or all) of these:

  • Set one Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG – as author Jim Collins puts it) with a time limit.  Don’t set some little wimpy arbitrary goal.  Really put something specific out there that is just out of reach, but realistic.  Something that will challenge you to learn, grow, stretch, and evolve.
  • Push past your comfort zone.  If you know yourself well enough to know your boundaries, start poking beyond those.   If you can only run a 12-minute mile – push yourself to hit a 10- minute mile.
  • Create accountability.  Invite others to hold you accountable.  Share your goals and desires.  Tell them what you’re doing and have them help you succeed.
  • Meet one new person a week.  Proactively introduce yourself to others.  Choose people that you wouldn’t normally meet and/or create a list of people you want to meet (and seek them out without becoming a stalker). Be proactive in growing your relationships.  But don’t just develop acquaintances.  Develop a real relationship where you invest time in learning about others.  What drives them?   What experiences have they had?  Why do they do what they do?
  • Ask more questions than you make statements.  This is one of my favorites. Use open ended questions (who, what, when, where, why, and how).  Listen more, learn more.

These are just a few things you can do to jump start your new audacious life!  What others can you think of?

As a personal goal, I want to step out even more this next year.  I want to be more bold in the way that I live life, work, play and relate to others.  I won’t settle for less.

You only get one turn on this earth.  Live your life everyday!  Make it the best!  Make a difference!

I will be audacious!  What about you?

Three Lessons From My Great Race

I blame my parents for my competitive nature.  While not the most athletic lad growing up, I certainly was taught to “strive for excellence”, “do my best” and to “never give up”, which fuels this competitive fire inside of me.  While I wasn’t great at sports, I most certainly learned some valuable life lessons from sports, of which I will use this post to share three.

When I was a teenager, two friends of mine convinced me that I should take up long distance running.  There was a 5k race approaching and they talked me into training for it.  My friends were on the cross-country team at school and had much more experience than I.  I trained hard and prepared for race day, but was still nervous about the race.  I didn’t know what to expect or how I would perform.  I just knew that I would do my best and try not to embarrass myself too badly.

Before the race, as most young men do, we ribbed each other and I remember one of them saying, “Just try to keep up.”  Of course, I responded in kind.

As the race was getting ready to start, my parents reminded me to “do my best”.

As we lined up with the crowd of racers at the starting line, I looked at the other racers in admiration, hoping and believing that my mind and body were ready and they would not fail me. I reminded myself to just do my best.  The announcer started the count and at a gunshot, we were all off and running.

I was excited in the beginning because I was keeping pace with my friends.  I think I was full of adrenaline, because I felt great and wasn’t winded!

At about the one-mile mark, one of my friends started stumbling and slowing.  He complained of side pains and started breathing heavily.  Because he was slowing, my other friend and I started to outpace him.  He started yelling that we needed to stay together (which meant that we would have to slow down to stick with him).  The faster friend and I decided that we needed to “run the race” and not slow down.

We told him what we were going to do and started pulling away.  Our friend was clearly not happy with our decision.  His curses grew softer and softer as he faded into the distance behind us.

The two of us were moving at a pretty brisk pace when, at mile two, my friend (the more experienced runner) started to slow. For a moment I didn’t know what I was to do, but was comforted when my friend told me that I needed to go on and do my best.  I nodded and started to pull away from him, but this time I didn’t hear curses.  I heard him cheering me on saying, “GO! GO! GO!  You can do it!”  This fueled my pace.  And I heard his encouraging words grow softer as he faded into the distance as well.

Now I was by myself.  I had outlasted my two experienced friends.  I was moving at a good pace, but didn’t really have a gauge for whether I was doing good or bad. The only thing I could do was increase my own speed and focus on what was in front of me.  So, I ran faster.

I started to pass other runners, which quickly gave me new purpose.  After I would pass a runner, I would set my sights on a new target in front of me and try to run past them.  I did this over and over.  So, I ran faster.

Finally, before I knew it, I was in the home stretch and I could see a crowd of people.  I could hear them cheering.  So, I ran faster.

Before long, I was sprinting as hard as I could almost to the point of hyper-ventilating.  Yet, I kept the sprint up until I passed the finish line.

My parents were probably more surprised than excited at my achievement.  My mom didn’t get any pictures at the finish because they didn’t think I would finish that quickly.  I definitely surpassed everyone’s expectations.

I finished third in my age bracket with a time of around 20 minutes.  Not a super fast 5k race time, but not to shabby for my first race.  It was a very proud moment for the Jackson household.

I share this story with you not to relive a glory day (although some great memories came back while writing this), but rather because sports always seem to provide great life lessons and this parable had some for me that I’ve applied in both my personal and professional life.

So what did I learn from My Great Race?  Here are three lessons:

PLAY TO WIN

When you’re in the ‘game’, you have several choices.  Among others you can choose not to play, play not to lose, or play to win.

Each choice has a different mindset behind  it and each elicits different results.

My personal opinion is that if you are in the game, ‘choosing not to play’ really isn’t an option.  Although, I can think of countless stories where I have watched people sit on the sidelines and/or give up along the way.  Not playing is simply not acceptable.

‘Playing not to lose’ is an example of what I would call an incremental (and sometimes mediocre) effort.  It falls in line with other choices where you set a specific limit or goal and then play only to that goal and then stop.  For example, if I set the goal of doing 30 pushups in my morning workout.  I will almost always hit 30, but rarely go beyond that.  In business, it may mean performing to match or stay slightly ahead of a competitor’s performance.  Or performing to a specific number (e.g., comp sale, volume number), but not blowing it away.

We often have to set incremental goals in our mind or on paper, but how we truly view that goal is what will determine our level of success.  There is a time and place for setting these types of performance goals, but if you constantly ‘play not to lose’ you will rarely meet your FULL potential.

Playing to win means that you ‘show up’ and strive for the greatest result possible (doing your best) regardless of the goal.  Doing so will propel you towards meeting your potential and surpassing everyone’s expectations – even your own (as happened with me)..

In the race, had I stayed with either of my friends as they slowed, I would have met my goals of finishing the race and not embarrassing myself, but I never would have met my true potential that day.  So, ALWAYS do your best!

BELIEVE IN YOURSELF

Believing in yourself is something that I am sure you have heard many times before.  Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, the author of the Power of Postive Thinking, captured it well when he wrote, “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”

This is often easier said than done.  There are many factors that contribute to whether or not you believe in yourself.  A major factor is what those around you say.  Depending upon your sensitivity to others’ comments, they can lift you up to the highest of highs or bring you down to the lowest of lows.

Few roles open you up to more scrutiny than the role of a leader.  People always have opinions and comments about your performance.  Sometimes good, sometimes bad.  As I have told many, you can’t control what someone says, but you can control how you react to it.

Part of being a leader is learning to listen to others, determine the value of the information and then choose a course of action and drive forward.  You can ignore it, ask for more information, change your behavior, or let it fuel you.  Regardless, you have to learn to accept the cheers and the jeers.

Thinking back to the race, my first friend (perhaps out of frustration) cursed us for outpacing him.  He tried to hold us back and guilt us in to staying with him, which would have hindered our performance.  My second friend, cheered me on when I outpaced him and encouraged me until I couldn’t hear him anymore.  Two very different reactions to my performance, but because I believed in myself it was easy to process the information; one I ignored and one I let fuel my efforts.

SET YOUR SIGHTS FORWARD

There was an interesting point during the race that I found myself without a benchmark.  When I was in the last mile by myself, I entered the “okay…what now?” phase.  I didn’t know how I was performing, but instead of just running down the road aimlessly, I decided to set my sights forward on beating the next racer, then the next, then the next.  This helped me go faster and achieve greater results.

This definitely has application to how we function in the business world.  While we need to be aware of our surroundings, we should constantly be looking forward at how to achieve even greater results and higher heights.  Don’t be satisfied with the status quo.  Don’t run the race at the same pace as others.  Run faster.

I hope that you’ve found these three life lessons to be valuable.  I know that I have and practice them regularly in my career, leadership, and life.

What life lessons have you learned?

Enjoy!

~Jason

Is That the Best You Can Do?

This week, we were honored to have Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, speak at our workplace.  She is a very interesting and dynamic speaker.  Many that attended found her brutal honesty to be refreshing.

Among the many experiences and stories that she told was one about the speechwriter for Henry Kissinger that I think was very intriguing.  So much so, that I did some research on the story.  I found out that earlier in his career, Winston Lord was Kissinger’s speechwriter before he later became the ambassador to China.  The story basically goes like this:

Lord was preparing a speech for Kissinger and delivered a draft.  Kissinger called him in the next day and simply said, “Is that the best you can do?”  Lord said, “I thought so, but I’ll try again.”  He returned a draft to Kissinger, only to be called back again and asked the same question, “Is that the best you can do?”  This back and forth continued several times until Lord, who was exasperated and exhausted, finally said, “Yes!  I know it’s the best I can do.  I can’t possibly improve one more word.”  Kissinger then replied, “In that case, now I will read it.”

While I found that there were a few variations of this story (even as told by Lord himself in interviews), I found that the moral of the story remained constant and rings true; are you giving your best the first time?  The story is popular and I found it used in several blogs on leadership , articles and speeches. 

So the story begs the question, “Are you delivering your best work the first time?”

All Kissinger really wanted was an assurance and confidence in the fact that this was in fact his speechwriter’s best work.  If the speechwriter would have said “Yes” the first time Kissinger probably would have accepted it, but by repeatedly issuing the challenge he ultimately received his speechwriter’s best.

As I think about the application of this story to leadership, I think about it in two ways.

First, as leaders, do we elicit the best work from our people? How do you know?  What are you doing to challenge your  people to be better?  Are you teaching and developing them to produce quality work?  Do they convey their confidence when submitting work product? Do they strive to provide their best the first time?

Second, as leaders, do we set a good example and provide OUR BEST work the first time?  To your boss?  To your subordinates?  To your colleagues and partners?  To your customers?  Are people seeing your best work the first time?  Or do you scrape drafts together and submit them haphazardly just to get by? 

Here’s 5 tips on helping you achieve your best work the first time:

  1. Chuck laziness aside!  Don’t procrastinate!  You may be thinking, “Ha!  Easier said than done.”  Procrastination is one of the most widespread workplace diseases that there is.  Many even fall victim to the fallacy that “I do my best work under pressure.”  Well, then create artificial pressure to get you there, because leaving things to the last-minute generally leads to less than desired performance.  Force yourself to get started on things early.  If you can get in to this habit, you will be a step ahead of many.   This basic tip also sets you up for more effectively employing the next three tips.
  2. Plan for the Red Pen Plan time for the proof-reading, editing and review of your work.   Your boss shouldn’t be spending time red-penning (editing) your work.  Make sure this is part of your own project or work plan.  And honestly, once you learn to use it appropriately it becomes second nature. 
  3. Find Good Hole Punchers!  In addition to planning the proofing process in to your work, is the development of a list of trusted people who can review your work before you submit it.  Have them punch holes in your theories, format, content and anything else they can.  This list should be of people from a cross-section of your work environment because you may want different or multiple opinions on varying pieces of work.  Two key callouts though are that your list needs to be made up of people who have no fear of being brutally honest with you AND you need to be willing to accept any feedback that they provide with an open mind. 
  4. Sleep on it!  One of the great tricks of the trade, especially if you don’t have good hole punchers is to come to a stopping point in your work, put it aside, sleep on it a day or two, and then come back to it with a fresh set of eyes.  This gives your mind time to rest.  And when you come back to the work, you may see things you didn’t see before or think of new ways to phrase or say things.
  5. Obsess on improvement!  How many times has spell check saved your life in catching a misspelled word?  How many times since then have you misspelled that same word over and over only to have spell check catch it again?  I know it’s happened to me.  However, you won’t always have spell check around to save you.  So, wouldn’t it be good to get past being lazy and learn to actually spell the word right?  The same applies to all that you learn each time you submit a piece a work for review.  As people proof your work or provide you edits, learn the lessons they are teaching you and apply them to future work.  Learn to spell the word right!

What tips do you have for submitting your best work the first time?

Enjoy!

~Jason

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