When you started your career, did you intentionally set your sights on being a leader or did it sort of, you know, just happen? For most of us, it just happens. We start out in an individual contributor role and soon find out the only way to gain responsibility and earn more money is to get promoted into a supervisory position. Suddenly we find ourselves responsible for leading other people and we probably never gave much thought about what kind of leader we wanted to be or if people would even want to follow us.
If you’re currently in a leadership position, or are thinking about moving into one, you should consider one very important question:
“Why should people allow themselves to be influenced by you?”
People can choose whether or not they receive your leadership, you can’t force it upon them
The leader needs to have something worth giving
In an effort to help you answer that question, let me ask you a few more. Do you view your leadership role as a position, title, or form of power that will help you achieve your goals? Or do you view your leadership role as one of supporting other people to achieve their goals? Do you force your leadership influence upon people by coercing or demanding they follow your directives? Or do you earn the trust of your people by acting with integrity, being consistent in your behavior, taking a sincere interest in your people, and following through on your commitments? And what do you have to offer to your people? Do you have a track record of success and the expertise to share with others to help them in their own jobs? Do you have a desire to give people support, direction, and encouragement to reach their goals?
People want leaders who are authentic, genuine, and trustworthy, not those who play politics, are insincere, or out for their own gain. People want to know their leaders are invested in helping them succeed and will have their backs when times get tough, as opposed to hanging them out to dry when they make mistakes.
Why should people allow themselves to be influenced by you? Answer that question and you’ll reach a deeper level of insight into your leadership motivations than you’ve ever had before.
Admit it, you’re in trouble with your New Year’s resolution, aren’t you?
That’s okay, you’re not alone. Surveys show that just a few days into the new year, 22% of people have already broken their resolution, 11% have abandoned it altogether, and just 8% will actually keep their resolution the entire year.
So ditch the New Year’s resolution…go ahead, just do it. I give you permission. But do this one thing instead: choose a word.
A couple of months ago I spent a weekend at a men’s retreat with Jon Gordon and that’s where I learned the power of one word. Jon’s written a number of best-selling books including The Energy Bus, The Carpenter, and One Word, co-written with Dan Britton and Jimmy Page.
The concept is simple yet powerful. Spend time in solitude and reflection to determine one word that will provide focus, clarity, motivation, and purpose to your activities this coming year. Not a mission statement…not a phrase…but a word. Just one word.
The word applies to all dimensions of your life: mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, and relational. Choosing one word forces you to think deeply about what’s important, not just what’s urgent. It forces you to consider the impact you want to have on others and how you want to feel about yourself when the year is done.
Jon would say the word chooses you as much as you choose it and that was true in my experience. The word I chose during the retreat, and that I’m carrying over to this year, is invest.
I’m in a new season of life where I want to invest in relating to my sons (22 & 18 years old) as adult to adult and not just parent to child. My children don’t “need” me in the same way as they have in years past and sometimes that hurts. Occasionally I find myself mourning the change in our relationship rather than celebrating the season we’ve come through. Invest reminds me to get out of the victim mentality and be active in creating new ways to relate to my children. You never stop being a parent; it just changes complexion over the years.
I want to invest in rediscovering my wife of 26 years and developing new aspects of our relationship. Since our lives are no longer driven by the activities of our children, new doors are open to us that have been closed in the past. I want to invest in personal friendships that have taken a back seat over recent years as my focus has been on family and career. I want to invest in my physical, emotional, and mental health by developing healthy and nourishing hobbies, like cycling and golf.
I want to invest in being a better leader at work, by making a positive contribution to the organization and helping my team members reach new levels of success. I want to invest in my spiritual life by developing more regular times of prayer, meditation, and reading Scripture.
Invest…just one word but multi-dimensional in implication and potential impact.
Life gets busy and we find ourselves occupied with the urgent circumstances that arise. It takes intentional effort to focus our energies and simplify life and the one word process can help in that regard.
So ditch your new year’s resolution, if you haven’t already done so, and choose one word instead. Leave a comment letting me know your one word and why you chose it. I know Jon would appreciate you tweeting him with your one word also.
It’s hard to believe we’re about to tie a bow on 2014 and unwrap the present that will be 2015. This past year has seen a 29% growth in viewership for the Leading with Trust blog! I’m grateful for the community of people who take the time to read, comment on, and share the articles I write. My hope is they are beneficial to helping you lead in more authentic and genuine ways that build trust with those under your care. There is nothing more critical to the success of a leader than building trust with his/her followers. Leadership begins with trust!
As you reflect on your leadership lessons from this past year and contemplate areas for growth in 2015, these Top 10 articles from this year may provide some inspiration and guidance. Enjoy!
6th:8 Essentials of an Effective Apology – One of the most powerful ways to rebuild trust is to apologize when you make mistakes. But not all apologies are created equal and this post will help you learn how to do it the right way.
5th:Are You a Thermometer or Thermostat Leader? – Do you set the tone for your team or do you reflect it? This post from June 2013 will challenge you to be a leader that functions like a thermostat instead of a thermometer.
3 Reasons You Find it Hard to Trust People – Choosing to trust someone can be a difficult and risky situation. This post will help you understand three common reasons why you find it hard to trust people and what you can do about it.
Toiling in anonymity for 364 days of the year in the far reaches of the North Pole is the highest performing team known to man. This team labors all year in preparation for the one night when their work is on display for the whole world to see. Yes, I’m talking about Santa Claus and his team of elves. If there is anyone from whom you should take advice about building a high performing team, it is Santa.
Me: Hi Santa! I can’t thank you enough for meeting with me. You are always so gracious with your time.
Santa: Ho, ho, ho! It’s my pleasure Randy. I still owe you for that year you requested a bicycle and I delivered underwear instead. Even Santa makes the occasional mistake!
Me: No worries Santa, I really needed the underwear more than the bicycle anyway. I’ve always admired the team you’ve built at the North Pole. I can’t think of any team that performs better than yours. What is your secret?
Santa: Thanks for the compliment Randy. I wouldn’t say there is a single secret; there are seven! And they aren’t really secrets when you think about it, just common sense. The first secret of a high performing team is to have a clear purpose and values. The team needs to know why they exist, what they’re trying to achieve, and the values that will guide their actions. The team has agreed on challenging goals and deliverables that are clearly related to the team’s purpose. Each team member understands his role on the team and is accountable to other team members.
Me: I can see how that is evident in your team. Everyone clearly knows the purpose of your organization and how his/her role fits into the big picture. What is your second secret?
Santa:The second secret of a high performing team is empowerment. Each team member needs to have the responsibility and authority to accomplish his/her work. Information needs to be shared widely and team members have to be trusted to do what is right. Team members are clear on what they can or cannot do and they take initiative to act within their scope of responsibility. Empowerment is possible because of the third secret: relationships and communication. Trust, mutual respect, and team cohesion are emphasized and every team member has the freedom to state their opinions, thoughts and feelings. High performing teams emphasize listening to each other as well as giving and receiving candid, yet caring feedback.
Me: Empowerment, relationships, and communication are critical success factors for any team. What is the fourth secret of a high performing team?
Santa:The fourth secret is flexibility. Everything is interconnected in today’s global economy and change happens more rapidly than at any time in history. A high performing team has to be ready to change direction, strategy, or processes on a moment’s notice. Team members need to have a mindset of agility, knowing that change is not only inevitable but desirable.
Me: Considering your team pulls off the herculean feat of delivering presents across the world in a single night, I imagine your team has perfected the art of flexibility!
Santa: Do you know how many last-minute requests we get from children and parents around the world? Countless! Flexibility is part of our nature and it has led to us practicing the fifth secret of a high performing team: optimal productivity. The bottom-line for any high performing team is getting the job done. You have to achieve results – on time, on budget, with excellent quality. We are all committed to achieving excellence in everything we do.
Me: I know everyone appreciates you sharing all of this wisdom. How do you keep your team from burning out from all of their hard work throughout the year?
Santa: Great question! That leads to the sixth secret of a high performing team: recognition and appreciation. Our team places a high priority on celebrating our successes and milestones. We work hard but we have a lot of fun doing it! Individuals are frequently praised for their efforts and everyone feels highly regarded within the team. Rather than only focusing on catching people make mistakes, I make it a priority to catch the elves doing something right.
Me: So that brings us to the seventh and final secret of high performing teams.
Santa: That’s right. The seventh secret of high performing teams is morale. Team members are confident and enthusiastic about their work and each person feels a sense of pride in being part of the team. Team members are committed to each other’s success and to the success of the team. We fiercely protect the morale of the team by making sure we deal with conflict openly and respectfully. We may not always agree on each decision, but when a decision is made, we all agree to wholeheartedly support it.
Me: This has been a wonderful discussion Santa. You are truly a master at building a high performing team.
Santa: Thank you Randy! The credit really belongs to the entire team, not just me. We are all in this together. Merry Christmas to all!
In relationships, time is our most precious, non-renewable resource. It takes large doses of time to develop the rich, lasting, trustful relationships that we all desire, even if we’re afraid to admit it. It’s much easier to settle for surface level relationships through social media because it fits our busy lifestyles. A person can have hundreds or thousands of “friends” or “followers”, yet have very few, if any, deep relationships with high levels of trust.
There are no shortcuts to developing high-trust relationships. You can’t download a trust app to your smart phone to get it, order it from the drive-thru lane of your local fast food joint, or buy it online from Amazon or eBay—it takes time. Second after second, minute after minute, hour after hour. Time…pure and simple.
Here are four principles to keep in mind about the role time plays in building trustful relationships:
Quality Can’t Replace Quantity – Our “always on, always connected” digital culture has elevated busyness to higher (yet false) levels of importance. We wear busyness on our sleeves like a badge of honor, believing it signifies our importance at work or validates our out of control, misplaced priorities in life. We’ve bought into the lie that “quality” time is more important than the overall quantity of time we spend with others. Quality time is great, I highly recommend it. But if I had to choose between spending 15 minutes of quality time a week with those most important to me versus spending 2 hours, I’d choose quantity every time. It’s in those unstructured, relaxed periods of time with people that quality time emerges. Don’t fool yourself by thinking you can develop deep, trusting relationships by choosing quality time over quantity.
Your Use of Time Reveals Your Priorities & Values – I have a surefire way to help you discover what your top values and priorities are in your life—keep a time journal of your activities for a week or two. You may not like what it tells you but at least you’ll know the truth about your priorities. How many hours a week do you spend mindlessly scrolling through your Facebook news feed, surfing the web, playing video games, or watching TV? None of those things are bad in and of themselves, but when they come at the expense of investing time in what we say we value (our children, health and fitness, friends, faith, etc.), then they have become activities that distract us from fulfilling our higher purpose.
You Reap What You Sow – The universal law of the harvest teaches us that we reap what we sow. If we invest the time and effort in cultivating deep relationships, we usually achieve long-lasting, high trust relationships. If we only invest in surface level, casual relationships, that will be what we usually achieve. It’s important to remember there may be longer periods between the sowing and the reaping than what we would expect or prefer. Many citrus trees start producing fruit when they are 2-4 years old, while pear or apricot trees may take 5-7 years before they mature. Not all of your relationships will develop at the same rate. Be patient, keep sowing, watering, and tending. The fruit will come.
You Can’t Get it Back, So Choose Wisely – Most of us don’t give much thought to ever running out of time, mainly because we don’t like to think about death and the end of our lives. Whether it has to do with spending time with our children, investing in our education, or pursuing our career goals, we often devalue time because we feel there will always be more of it available tomorrow. Someday tomorrow won’t come. Each of us has a finite number of days on this earth, and each day that goes by is one less day we have to invest in those we love. The best investment we can make in life is the investment of time in other people. All the stuff we accumulate in life—money, degrees, power, fame, possessions—disappear when we pass away; we can’t take any of it with us. The one thing that will remain after we’re gone is the investment we placed in other people—the love, encouragement, concern, belief, and confidence that those people will carry with them for the rest of their lives and hopefully pass on to others as well. We would do well to heed the words of Psalm 90:12 that says “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” You can’t get time back so use it wisely.
Time is essential to developing long-lasting, high-trust relationships. We all have the same amount of time in a day. The question is, how will we use it?
If you think you’re leading and no one is following,
then you’re only taking a walk.
Leadership is about going somewhere. It’s about getting a group of people to mesh their talents, work together, and move from point A to point B. In order to do that, leaders need to identify the place, clear the path, and set the pace.
Identify the Place – Leaders need to identify where the team is headed. It may be a specific destination, a particular goal, an ideal to strive for, or a vision of the future state the team or organization is trying to achieve. Regardless of what the “place” is, your team needs to know it and you need to identify it. If the leader doesn’t identify the place, the team will wander aimlessly wasting time, energy, and resources on misguided activities. There is a scene from Alice in Wonderland that captures the danger of not having the “place” identified. On her journey Alice encounters the Cheshire Cat and asks him, “Would you tell me please which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where–,” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
Clear the Path – Once the place has been identified, leaders need to clear the path. The path is the “how” – the strategies, tactics, and goals the team is going to employ to reach its destination. A common leadership pitfall is thinking that identifying the place and declaring the grand vision of the future automatically means people will know how to get there. Identifying the place is the easy part; clearing the path is where the hard work takes place. Leaders need to get their hands dirty by working alongside their team members to develop project plans, chart milestones, clarify roles and responsibilities, and monitor progress along the way. Clearing the path is easier when more people are involved so engage your team in developing the battle plan. Those who plan the battle are less likely to battle the plan.
Set the Pace – Leaders set the pace for the team. How fast or slow the team moves will largely be up to the tempo the leader sets from the front. But setting the right pace takes good judgment and discernment. Move too fast and you burn people out. Move too slow and your efforts fail from lack of momentum. Leaders need to make sure team members know the pace of the race. Is it a sprint, a marathon, or something in between? One of the primary reasons organizational change initiatives fail is leaders try to move too fast. Leaders, by their very nature, are often moving faster than the average team member, and they assume that everyone moves (or at least should move) at the same speed. Make sure you set the right pace so your team can keep up and finish the race strong.
The place, path, and pace. Identify it, clear it, and set it.
Those were the words used to describe Dan Hines at his memorial service last Tuesday. I didn’t know Dan that well, having met him just once, but those who knew him well, really knew him. By the stories told, the laughs shared, and the tears shed, it was evident that Dan’s legacy was clear to those who knew him best.
Are you intentionally living your legacy, or are you leaving it to chance? As a leader, what is it you want to pass on to others? What kind of lasting impact do you want to make? Have you even thought about it? If not, you should.
You will leave a legacy. Your leadership will have an impact on others no matter what you do. The question is, what kind of legacy will it be? Here are four steps you can take to identify the kind of leader you want to be and the legacy you leave to others.
1. Know your core values – Your values are those deeply held beliefs that guide your decisions and priorities in life. They are the guard rails on the highway of life, keeping you on track and pointed in the right direction. Sadly, many people don’t take the time to thoughtfully consider and explore their core values. If you don’t know your values, how can you expect to live them out? A good place to start is by doing a values identification exercise. As you go through this exercise, get the input of others who know you well. Once you identify your core values, you’re ready to move to the next step.
2. Craft a personal mission statement – I used to think this was a bunch of warm, fuzzy, namby-pamby leadership nonsense. Until I wrote one. It helped me take the jumbled mess of thoughts, values, and ideals that I knew in my gut were my personal mission, and express them succinctly and coherently. My personal mission statement is “To use my gifts and abilities to be a servant leader and a model of God’s grace and truth.” The great thing about personal mission statements is they can be whatever you want them to be! You don’t have to follow any specific formula, but here’s an easy one to get you started. First, brainstorm a list of personal characteristics you feel good about (these will be nouns). For example, “computer skills,” “sense of humor,” “artistic,” “enthusiasm.” Second, create a list of ways to effectively interact with people. These will be verbs like “teach,” “motivate,” “inspire,” coach,” “love.” Third, write a description of your perfect world. For example, “My perfect world is a place where people know their destinations and are enjoying their life journeys.” Fourth, combine two of your nouns, two of your verbs, and your definition of your perfect world. For example, “My life purpose is to use my energy and my people skills to teach and motivate people to know their destinations and enjoy their life journeys.”
3. Share your leadership point of view with those you lead – Your leadership point of view is the combination of your personal values, mission statement, beliefs about leadership, and the expectations you have for yourself and others. It explains the “why” of your leadership. Sharing your leadership point of view with those you lead builds tremendous levels of trust and helps your team clearly understand why you do what you do as a leader. It helps your team know you on a more personal and intimate level and is a way to express your vulnerability and authenticity as a leader.
4. Surround yourself with truth-tellers – There are a couple common pitfalls of moving into higher levels of leadership. One pitfall is you begin to think you know all the answers. After all, that’s how you got to where you are, right? Another pitfall is people around you may become less willing to challenge your beliefs and actions because of your title and position power. The combination of these two things results in you being blind to areas where you may be falling short or not living up to your values. That’s why you need to surround yourself with truth-tellers. Truth-tellers are those trusted confidants who have your best interests at heart and are willing to engage you in those difficult conversations when you aren’t living true to your leadership purpose. I’m fortunate to have several of those people in my life and they are worth their weight in gold. They keep me on the right path of living my leadership legacy.
Dan Hines left college and joined the Army during the Vietnam War. He went on to become a helicopter pilot and was shot down three times. He refused a Purple Heart medal because he felt he was just doing his duty and his actions weren’t as significant as other soldiers who sacrificed more. He loved his wife and daughter deeply and his actions showed it. He adored his grandchildren. He pulled pranks on friends and family and enjoyed life. He strove to live by his principles and do the right thing.
Fifty years ago this week, Jim Ryun failed his way to success when he became the first high school track athlete to run a sub-4 minute mile. Ryun decided to try running only after being cut by a church baseball team and his junior high basketball team. Ryun said, “I’m glad those failures were there because I didn’t linger in a sport that I couldn’t do anything in. I failed on to the next thing, until I found something. That was a gift from God to me.”
“I failed on to the next thing, until I found something.”
In reading about Ryun’s story this week, I was struck by his positive point of view about failure. It reminded me of key lessons I’ve learned over the years through my own experience (yeah, I’ve failed a lot!), as well as from John Maxwell’s excellent book on the subject, Failing Forward.
1. Redefine success and failure — Too often our society views success as a win-lose proposition. You know the mindset…if you’re not a winner, you’re a loser. We have distorted definitions of what success and failure mean, and unless you change the way you perceive success and failure, you’ll never feel satisfied with your lot in life. Failures are just life experiences that didn’t turn out the way you intended. Learn the lessons and move on. Don’t obsess over the situation and don’t use absolute language like “I’m never going to succeed,” or “I’m always going to fall short of my goal.” Don’t dwell in self-pity by ruminating on “Why me?,” but instead focus on “What can I learn?”
2. Be purpose driven — It’s easier to recover from failures when you’re living on purpose. Your purpose is your reason for living, the values and beliefs that drive you to be more of the person you want to be. If you aren’t clear on your purpose in life, you’re like a ship without a rudder, your direction controlled by the randomness of the current. When you’re unclear on your purpose, failures seem more catastrophic and debilitating. When failures occur within the context of pursuing your purpose, they become learning moments for growth and maturity. John Maxwell says that, “More than anything else, what keeps a person going in the midst of adversity is having a sense of purpose. It is the fuel that powers persistence.”
3. Persistence pays off — Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Woody Allen famously said, “80% of success is showing up.” Both quotes convey the same idea – persistence pays off. Orville Redenbacher (yes, the famous popcorn guy) spent 15 years perfecting the corn hybrid used for his popcorn. He spent another 10 years making his popcorn the best-selling brand in the world. When asked about his philosophy, he said “I’ve followed the classic homespun principles. Never say die. Never be satisfied. Be stubborn. Be persistent. Integrity is a must. Anything worth having is worth striving for with all your might. Does it sound corny? Honestly, that’s all there is to it. There is no magic formula.”
4. Separate you from your performance — Our tendency is to derive our self-worth from our performance. If we succeed, then we’re worthy people. If we fail, we’re losers. The reality is that when it comes to achieving success, many things are out of our control. We can do everything right trying to achieve a goal, and something completely out of our control happens that causes us to fall short. Does that make us a failure? No, it just makes us human. Erma Bombeck, the famous humorist and writer, suffered many failures throughout her life but kept them in perspective. She said, “What you have to tell yourself is, ‘I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.’ There’s a big difference…Personally and career-wise, it’s been a corduroy road. I’ve buried babies, lost parents, had cancer, and worried over kids. The trick is to put it all in perspective…and that’s what I do for a living.”
Tell yourself, “I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.” There’s a big difference.
Fear of failure holds us back from taking risks. We paralyze ourselves, stuck in a state of inaction that leads to resignation and dissatisfaction – a zero life. Instead, we can become our own heroes by learning to redefine failure as opportunities for growth. We can discover our purpose and pursue it with persistence, all the while growing in understanding that even when we fail at a certain goal or task, we aren’t failing as a person. That’s what it means to go from being a zero to a hero – learning to fail forward.
That was Kentucky coach John Calipari’s advice to one of his star players, Julius Randle, during half-time of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game this past Monday night. Coming into the game, Randle had been averaging over 15 points and 10 rebounds, yet entering half-time he had scored just 6 points, grabbed 2 rebounds, and was clearly fazed by the pressure-packed environment of the championship contest. Calipari knew his player was out of rhythm, trying too hard to contribute and forcing the action, rather than relaxing and letting the game come to him. Calipari wanted Randle to get lost in the game, to be in the flow.
The flow is the metal state you’re in when you’re fully immersed in an activity that consumes your entire focus, energizes your attention, and produces a deep level of satisfaction and joy through the process. In the groove…in the zone…wired…in the moment…on fire…and my personal favorite, beast mode, are all ways of expressing this condition. It’s when we do our best work and experience the most fulfillment in our activities. It’s also a rare and fleeting circumstance to be in the flow.
How can we be in the flow more often? How can we get “lost in the game?” First, we have to understand the conditions that lead to flow experiences. Second, we have to take steps to create the environment for us to get in the flow.
Conditions for Flow Experiences
There are three basic conditions you need for flow experiences:
A clear goal – This is why you often hear athletes talk about being in the zone or having tunnel focus when it comes to their activities. Whether it’s trying to hit a pitched ball, complete a pass, score a goal, make a last second shot, or cross the finish line ahead of others, there is a clear goal that lends purpose, structure, and process to the task at hand. A lack of clear goals is why we often don’t experience the flow at work. Unclear goals make it difficult to narrow our focus and attention and leaves us feeling stuck or overwhelmed with the work in front of us.
A balance between your skills and the challenge of the task – If you perceive you have the skills to meet the difficulty of the challenge ahead of you, it’s easier to get in the flow. If you believe you’re ill-equipped or don’t have the talent to accomplish the goal, anxiety and stress will prevent you from achieving a flow-state. Conversely, if you believe the goal is not challenging enough given your experience and skills, you’ll encounter boredom or apathy. You need the goal to be challenging enough to capture your attention, while simultaneously having enough skill to give you the confidence that you can tackle the situation.
Real time feedback on your performance – You can feel when you’re in the flow. It’s those occasions where you lose track of time because you’re completely immersed in an activity and things just, well…flow. And when you’re not, you feel like you’re trudging up a muddy hill, taking one step up and sliding back two. Flow is sustained by receiving feedback on your performance. When you see you’re performing well, it increases your confidence and desire to stay in the flow. When you see you’re off course, you can make adjustments to get back on track and in the flow.
How to Increase Flow Experiences
We can take concrete steps to help increase flow experiences at work that will allow us to perform our best. Here are six suggestions:
Connect your work to the bigger picture – Too many of us view our work with a microscope rather than a telescope. A microscope allows you to zoom in on the details of a particular object, ignoring the surrounding area. A telescope, on the other hand, allows you to see long distances away—the big picture. Rather than being uninspired by the small tasks you have to do, connect them to the importance of the big picture. Figure out how your work contributes to the betterment of the world. How does your work help improve the lives of people by meeting their needs or desires? All work has redeeming value and it’s up to us to discover it. Tapping into the bigger picture will add motivation and commitment to your work and help you achieve flow in your activities.
Clarify and prioritize goals – If your goals aren’t clear, work on gaining clarity. Figure out specifically what you’re trying to accomplish, what the standards are, the deadlines to meet, or the deliverables being produced. If you’re challenged with too many goals, work on prioritization. If you have conflicting priorities from multiple stakeholders, you may have to involve your supervisor to help you. Get clear on what you need to accomplish and then apply laser-like focus to your activities.
View work as a game – Games in general, and video games in particular, lend themselves to flow experiences because they are immersive in nature. We get wrapped up in figuring how to reach the new level, unlock the next treasure, or beat the “boss.” You can apply the same principles to your work. Engage your mind in thinking about how can you accomplish things faster, better, or easier. Are there other ways you can approach tasks or activities that may bring more fulfillment? Look at work as a game you’re trying to master and let your creativity run wild.
Seek out bigger challenges and/or improve your skills – Complacency, boredom, and apathy are flow killers. If you find your work lacking in challenge, seek out new ones. Work with your supervisor to see if there are increased responsibilities you can take on, project teams you can join, or other ways to add more challenge in your work. On the flip side, worry, stress, and anxiety are also flow killers. If you find your work is too challenging, explore skill development opportunities. Go back to school, read books, get a mentor, or seek out additional training to boost your confidence and capability to meet the challenges you face.
Find your sweet spot – Your sweet spot is where your skills are matched appropriately to the challenge, and when you find that place, you have the greatest chance of achieving states of flow. Finding your sweet spot might mean following point #4 above, or it might mean transforming how you do your work by changing/improving processes, delegating it to someone, or collaborating with others.
Choose your motivation – Your supervisor is not responsible for motivating you. You, and only you, control your level of motivation. You can choose to be disinterested in your work or feel like others are imposing work on you, or you can choose to shift your motivational outlook by focusing on areas of your work where you can exhibit autonomy in your activities, mastery over how well you do your job, and satisfaction in the relationships you build with others.
Kentucky ended up losing the championship to UConn and Julius Randle never really got into the flow of the game, finishing with just 10 points and 6 rebounds. However, it doesn’t negate the wisdom of Coach Calipari’s advice. We do our best work when we get lost in the game.
“It’s too overwhelming to look up the mountain and see how far we have to go” my wife said, as we were enjoying a Valentine’s Day hike this past Friday. “I’m just going to focus on the next step in front of me.”
She continued to lead the way up the hillside when about five minutes later she exclaimed, “Uh, oh. Where did the trail go?” Because she had been looking down at her feet, glancing ahead just one or two steps, she had missed a small directional sign indicating the trail turned to the left. She had started down a path that would have taken us off course. Fortunately we caught our mistake quickly and got back on the proper trail.
It’s easy to miss the directional signs along our leadership journey. We think we’re leading our team down the right trail, only to look up one day to find ourselves wandering aimlessly down the wrong path with no one following behind.
Here’s three tips to keep your leadership on course:
1. Know your destination – This tip seems like a no-brainer, but many leaders neglect to formulate a clear vision of where they want to go, either individually or with their teams. To keep your leadership journey on course, develop goals to guide your efforts. Personally, I like to have 3-5 key priorities for my team each year along with a “theme” or rallying call to focus our efforts. On a personal level, it’s critical to have a clearly defined leadership point of view (LPOV). Your LPOV describes who you are as a leader, identifies the key values that drive your decisions, and explains your beliefs about motivating and leading others.
2. Map your journey – Once you know your destination, you need to map your journey to get there. If we were taking a long car trip in the old days (like 15 years ago), we would have to pull out a map, examine the various roads, use a ruler to measure the distance and calculate our travel time before we even hit the road! Nowadays, our GPS or travel apps do all the work for us. Unfortunately, mapping our leadership journey is more like the old days; it takes work. Create a plan, schedule milestones, have quarterly review meetings…whatever it takes to keep you on track, do it. You don’t want to miss the directional signs along the way.
3. Make course corrections – There are few guarantees in life, but here’s one: change. The question is not if you’ll need to change, but when. You’re going to have to make course corrections to keep your leadership journey on course, and one of the best ways is to plan for it. Build in regular occurrences to review your leadership goals and make adjustments as needed.
Focusing only on the steps ahead, as my wife and I did while hiking, is an effective strategy for breaking down a large goal into smaller ones, and it keeps you from getting overwhelmed by the immensity of your task. However, if you don’t periodically look up from your journey to assess where you are in relation to your final destination, you run the risk of wandering off course.
The very term is an oxymoron. Is “work” something you do apart from your “life?” Does your “life” not consist of your “work?” And think about the definition of the word balance – “a state of equilibrium or equal distribution of weight or amount.” We have bought into the idea that having fulfillment in our personal and professional lives means we have to give them equal weight and priority. It sets up a false dichotomy between the two choices and leads to perpetual feelings of guilt and remorse because we never feel like we’re giving 100% in either area.
Instead, we need to seek work-life harmony. Consider the definition of harmony – “a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity.” Work-life harmony is rooted in an integrated and holistic approach to life where work and play blend together in combinations unique to each individual. I can’t define what harmony looks like for you, but I can share five ways to help you discover it for yourself.
1. Be clear about your purpose in life – First of all, you need to know that you matter. You are not here by accident. You were created for a purpose in life and there is no one else like you on this planet. Second, clarifying your purpose provides focus, direction, and energy to every area of your life. My life purpose is to use my gifts and abilities to be a servant leader and ambassador of God’s grace and truth. It’s the unifying force that energizes how I live, determines my priorities, illumines what’s truly valuable in life, and provides perspective and purpose to all I do. If you need help writing a personal mission/purpose statement, check out this five-step process from my friend and colleague Jesse Stoner.
2. Seek contentment, not happiness – Our society is good at selling the lie that you can have it all. We buy into the myth and then wonder why we’re discontent and unhappy when we discover it’s not possible to be the brilliant CEO, perfect parent, super coach of the sports team, and committed community volunteer. “Happiness” is the pop-psychology topic du jour and there’s no shortage of literature and experts telling us that achieving happiness should be our primary goal in life. Happiness is dependent on your circumstances, whereas contentment comes from a deep-seated joy and satisfaction of living out your life purpose. Happiness is fine, but true work-life harmony comes when you find contentment. Happiness comes and goes; contentment sticks.
3. Understand the seasons of life – Life is defined by seasons, just as we see in nature as Spring leads to Summer, which turns to Fall, which gives way to Winter. In different seasons of our lives we will have different priorities. Whether it’s completing our education as young adults and getting established in our careers, to raising a family, to increasing our influence and impact in the work we do as seasoned veterans, or ushering in a new generation of leadership, our focus areas will ebb and flow. When driven by our sense of purpose, they all fit harmoniously together at the right time in the right way.
4. Establish reasonable boundaries – When you are clear on your life’s purpose, core values, and beliefs, you are able to make wise decisions about the use of your time, talent, and treasure. You can support work-life harmony by setting up systems and structures that keep you focused on the most important priorities in your life. The banks of a river provide the boundaries that support the direction and flow of the water. Without those boundaries, the river becomes nothing more than a large puddle. Setup healthy boundaries that keep you focused in the right direction.
5. Be present – Because we operate from a mindset of work-life balance instead of harmony, we tend to engage in a constant mental battle of worrying about how much time we’re devoting to one particular area of our life. It creates stress, tension, and guilt, because we always feel we’re out of balance, spending too much energy on one aspect of our lives at the expense of another. The result is we’re never fully present and invested in all areas of our life. When we’re at work we’re mentally consumed with what we should be doing at home. When we’re home we’re not engaged with our families because we’re preoccupied with what we need to do at work. Enough already! Being present and focused in the moment increases our joy and satisfaction tremendously which benefits us in all areas of our life.
Achieving work-life harmony isn’t easy. It involves trial and error, learning what works and what doesn’t. There is constant assessment and re-calibration of how you’re investing your time and energy, but the payoff is less stress, peace of mind, and increased devotion and passion toward all you do in life.
There is but one place where people without any problems reside—the cemetery. The only people without problems are dead, otherwise, for people like me and you…we’ve got problems! The question is, do we have ethics? Do we have the moral principles or values in place to guide our decisions when faced with ethical dilemmas or difficult situations?
One of my favorite books is The Power of Ethical Management, written by Ken Blanchard and Norman Vincent Peale. In their book, Blanchard and Peale discuss the five principles of ethical decision-making which they call the “Five P’s of Ethical Power.” I find myself returning to these principles time and again when faced with challenging decisions. Hopefully they can be as helpful to you as they have been for me.
Purpose—Your purpose is the road you choose to travel, the meaning and direction of your life. It’s the driving force of why you do what you do. For some it may be rooted in their spiritual faith. Others may find their purpose is something they feel called to do, such as serving those in need, raising responsible children, or leaving the world a better place than they found it. Aligning the activities of your life according to your purpose gives you a clear sense of direction, so when you’re faced with challenging circumstances or difficult decisions, you’re able to filter those occasions through the lens of your purpose and make choices that keep you on track.
Pride—Unlike false pride, which stems from a distorted sense of self-importance that causes people to believe and act like they are better than others, a healthy sense of pride springs from a positive self-image and confidence in one’s abilities. A proper sense of pride mixed with a good dose of humility is the balance you’re seeking. Being driven by false pride causes you to seek the approval and acceptance of others which can overly influence you to take the easy way out when faced with a tough situation.
Patience—Patience is in short supply in our culture. We live in a hyper-connected, instantaneous world where virtually anything we want is just a click away. Blanchard and Peale describe patience as having a faith and belief that things will work out well, as long as we stick to our values and principles. Giving in to instant gratification is one of the biggest temptations we face and it causes us to make decisions that aren’t in alignment with our purpose and values. Enduring the struggles and challenges life throws our way helps develop the strength of our character. Much like prematurely opening a caterpillar cocoon leads to a weakened and under-developed butterfly, choosing the path of expediency leaves us with an under-developed character and weakens our ethical power.
Persistence—This component of ethical power is about staying the course, staying true to your purpose and values. Persistence is about commitment, not interest. When you have interest in something you do it when it’s convenient. When you’re committed, you do it no matter what! One of my favorite “Yoda-isms” from the Star Wars movies is “Do or do not. There is no try.” When it comes to making ethical decisions, there is never a right time to do the wrong thing. Persistence keeps us on the straight and narrow path.
Perspective—All the other elements of ethical power emanate from the core of perspective. Perspective is about having the big picture view of situations and understanding what’s truly important. Too often we make snap decisions in the heat of the moment and neglect to step back and examine the situation from a bigger perspective. Maintaining the proper perspective is also about paying attention to our inner-self and not just our task-oriented outer-self. Taking the time to enter each day with prayer, meditation, exercise, or solitude helps foster self-reflection which is needed to help us maintain the right perspective about life.
Many people believe there is a huge gray area between right and wrong and they use that as rationale to operate by situational ethics. What’s right in this situation may be wrong in the next. I don’t agree. I believe in most cases we can distinguish between right and wrong if we take the time to examine the situation and rely upon our ethical power.
So I ask you: Got ethics? Share your feedback or questions by leaving a comment.