While in graduate school I had the honor of studying under Dr. David Seamands, the author of the best- selling book, “Healing for Damaged Emotions”. It was Dr. Seamands belief that “Neurotic Perfectionism” was the biggest ailment affecting high performing individuals. While taking his course I could breathe a sigh of relief knowing that nobody ever accused me of being a perfectionist.
Words mean things. At least they did prior to the advent of the current “post-truth” era wherein sophisticated tactics of deception have become a fashionable way of life. The degree to which political, business, and, yes, even contemporary religious leaders have manipulated words to shape public opinion and influence constituents is, indeed, alarming. But what exactly is “post-truth,” and how can leaders avoid the hazards of its persuasive lure?
Amidst the chaos and busyness of this time of year it is important to slow down long enough to do a little reflecting. Out of those moments of reflection allow me to offer the following random thoughts.
Thank You: Thank you for caring about your leadership. Thank you for caring about the people under your influence. Thank you for a curiosity and desire to get better and grow as a leader.
Celebrate: Tis the season to remember that most of the people around you are people of faith. There may be significant and nuanced distinctions in the core tenants of their faith but the reality is that there is now an opportunity to recognize and celebrate something that at times is very personal. You can give permission for people to publically acknowledge and honor their faith.
Reflect: It does not matter if your fiscal year aligns with the calendar year, this is not a bad time to look in the rear view mirror of 2016. A pause to savor the victories and learn from the defeats is always a productive activity. In what ways have you improved, and how does this past year offer insight to where you need to direct your energy in 2017?
Prepare: The difference between December 31 and January 1 may only be a day. But as we have learned many times throughout recent years, sometimes in a single day everything can change. In advance of the push that often begins on the first day of the new year, when everything goes back to 0, prepare yourself. May I suggest rest, reading, writing and relating.
I don’t know about you, but one of the most difficult challenges I face on Monday mornings is what challenge do I tackle first. I am convinced that if we could remain focused on our most strategic and profitable opportunities for the first 3 days of the week, it would transform our life and business. Here are some things I do passionately on Monday that have served me well. Tell me what works for you.
Yesterday I enjoyed one of those E.F. Hutton moments. I was walking with my daughter amongst a crowd of people when she asked me for my opinion. For those of who are parents of teenage daughters we know how flattering this can be. For a moment time stood still, and I did not want to be shallow, superficial or unwise. As an ENTP I have two abilities that served me well in the moment, rapid mental processing and verbal processing. Most of the time those abilities only allow me to stay incredibly mindless things at inappropriate moments, but in this moment I was provided a flash of insight. I don't need to go into great detail about the situation, only to say I wanted her to understand something about decision making and how I view the world. How do I encourage my daughter to make her world bigger without feeling lost? These are the words that flowed from my brain, through my mouth to her ears and the unexpected listeners in the crowd. "Your enjoyment in life, and your usefulness to other people will increase if you make your world bigger, and your truths simpler. Tragically, many people are neither joyful nor useful because they make their world small and their truths complex." My daughter looked at me and said, "huh?" Others in the small crowd stopped their murmuring for a moment and said, "would you repeat that?" At that moment I was not completely sure what I meant by the statement, and in repeating it I found the need and opportunity to embellish on the thought. The world, along with all of the challenges and opportunities is a complex place. We live in a world where one size does not fit all, and because of that reality many people shrink the scope of their influence. There are some that greet this complex world with broad, very open minded, sometimes impractical, and often delusional solutions. My desire for the next generation of my family would be to carry simple, universal, timeless truth and figure how out the simple truth throughout history provides value to a complex world.
I believe these same truths can be applied to our worldviews and decision making in relation to entrepreneurship and leadership development. Would you agree?
My momma told me there would be days like this. Days when there is a sense of overwhelming weight in the air. Days when political wars are taking their toll on us and we watch our children learning about complex issues by hearing two adults throw punches at each other. In the background, I am aware that real people that I really care about are suffering. These battles come in many forms, whether worries about health struggles, the trials of family, relationships and parenting, work challenges, or financial crisis. The reality is that leadership does not always get to pause because there are real life events sucking energy from the leader. In fact, it is often at difficult moments that strong leadership is most often required. It is a worthwhile question to consider, "how can a leader lead in an exhausted state?". It does not matter whether the exhaustion is physical, emotional, spiritual or psychological, there are times when you must lead and you doubt you can. I am fascinated by the Earnest Hemingway quote, "Life breaks us all, but in the end some are strong in the broken places.". Accepting the mantle of leadership requires choosing a lifestyle that gives you the greatest chance to be "strong in the broken places". By way of encouragement allow me to suggest some aspects of that lifestyle;
- Community: Work at the discipline of surrounding yourself with people that are a part of your leadership community and with whom you can foster a leadership culture. It is imperative that there are others leaders inside and outside your world that understand the challenges of leadership and understand your personal constitution.
- Pace: Structure your calendar in such a way that you never go a long period of time without renewal, recovery or rest. Guard the pace of your life, it will serve you well.
- Transparency: Authenticity is a key ingredient of effective leadership and absolutely impossible without transparency. It is impossible to experience community without transparency, and community is necessary to be transparent.
- Principles: In a state of haze and confusion it is imperative to return to fundamental principles that have guided you well in the past. While exhausted, do not be afraid to verbally state the guiding principles that have shaped your leadership development life. May this encourage those that desire to be strong in the broken places. Lead well!
Jim Collins in his classic book "Good To Great", highlights the idea that blazing a path toward excellence requires "disciplined people engage in disciplined thought and take disciplined action." Building on that idea, I wanted to know specifically what disciplines are most important for leaders to master. In my first book, "Wide Awake Leadership; the Power to Overcome Mediocrity" I devoted a chapter to the five disciplines of self-leadership. The book encourages leaders to walk down this path toward disciplined leadership;
- Control your time
- Fuel your energy
- Temper your emotions
- Choose your words
- Exercise your power
In my own personal struggle against the temptation of mediocrity in life and business, I have pondered, what are the mile markers along the road toward greater discipline? Three simple principles keep showing up and warrant special attention. People that I respect and admire model these principles and inspire me to practice them consistently.
Principle 1: Delayed Gratification
Professor on Neuro-Psychology Bill Anton, emphasizes in his lectures on brain development that it is imperative that we must do the "harder thing first." Many are familiar with the now famous "marshmallow study" where kids were left in a room with a marshmallow in front of them, and told them if they held off on eating the lone treat, they would receive two marshmallows later. The study revealed that those that resisted the temptation to devour the sweet, soft candy in front of them showed a variety of signs of a higher level of performance throughout the course of their lives. The path toward disciplined leadership development must involve the ability to do the harder thing first. Front load your mornings and your week with complexity, difficulty, and less enjoyable efforts and a higher level of success and performance will follow.
Principle 2: Advanced Decision Making
When is the best time to make an emotional and difficult decision? I can assure you that it is not in the heat of the battle. Dwight Eisenhower is attributed as saying, "All plans fail in the heat of battle, therefore plans are dispensable but planning is not." The power rests in the planning, not in the plan. As the pace of life and business accelerates, it is rare that we value the time and practice of strategic thinking. However, success in the heat of battle requires that we have thought through tough issues in advance. What values will we not violate? What kind of person and or company do we want to be? Where are the potholes on our journey toward excellence and leadership development? Our better decisions are found in advance of encountering the enemy.
Principle 3: Small Celebrations Along The Way
I am convinced you become what you celebrate. Any time you experience success in your desire to practice discipline in leadership, it warrants some celebration. If there is an absence of enjoyment in your desire to be a disciplined leader, others will not follow. If there is no joy, no compelling nature to your leadership, you will be engaged in a constant battle. If leaders are wrestling continuously, exhaustion will undermine any progress on the road to disciplined leadership. Disciplined leaders celebrate victories, because they know the battle is never over.