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Leadership Thought #468 – The Biggest Mistake Leaders Make

The biggest mistake leaders make is to think it is all about them.   They believe that success or failure is a direct result of their own personal behavior rather than a team effort.  Show me a successful leader and I will show you a person surrounded by good people who each do their own jobs exceedingly well.  While it is common practice in this country to celebrate the individual, no one builds a high performing organization by themselves.  This doesn’t mean that the leader isn’t an essential ingredient; however, he/she needs other ingredients to complete the recipe.

We all have strengths and weaknesses.  There are situations in which we will naturally thrive and others where we will inevitably struggle.  A leader’s job is to maximize the organizational benefits of their talents while minimizing the impact of their weaknesses.  The best way to mitigate individual limitations is to seek out other people who supplement our own deficiencies. Visionary leaders often need colleagues who excel at focus and implementation.  Detail-oriented people often require team members who push them to be more decisive and think outside of the box.  Someone who has great people skills may lose sight of harsh business realities.  If you’ve worked for any considerable amount of time, you will notice that your favorite leaders often knew where they were lacking and made sure they dealt with this reality rather than ignored or overcompensated for it.

In addition, there are limits to what any one person can physically accomplish.  You can only personally sell so much or manage a finite number of clients.   No one person has the market cornered on good ideas.  As smart as you may be, you won’t have the requisite knowledge to effectively address every issue that pops up.  Moreover, there are only so many hours in a day. Anyone who pushes too hard for too long will burnout and start making bad decisions.   The first growth roadblock for most businesses is when they’ve exhausted the professional capability of the leader.  Sadly, many companies don’t get too far beyond this point due to ego issues and/or short-sightedness.

A leader’s job is not to be a superman or superwoman, who can personally overcome any obstacle strewn in their path.  Their job is to build organizational resilience through teamwork, shared commitment and sacrifice, building and leveraging the talent base available to the company, establishing critical operational redundancies, and maintaining the ongoing pursuit of common objectives (despite obstacles).  If you take a prolonged vacation, the business shouldn’t fall apart. Employees shouldn’t panic at the first sign of a crisis and look to your strong leadership to solve all the tough problems.  The biggest mistake is to place yourself at the center of the organizational universe and view others as simply inhabiting your orbit.  Instead see yourself as part of a constellation of stars serving a more important purpose.



Leadership Thought #461 – Success Must Be Earned

I’ve witnessed a disturbing trend lately amongst many entrepreneurs.  They want to work the hours of a successful person without yet attaining actual business success.  I think all this talk of work-life balance has people a bit confused.  It you want to run a business that supports a flexible lifestyle, you can certainly choose working for yourself as an option, but financial success usually requires very hard work especially at the beginning.  You can’t enjoy the experience of having climbed the mountain without having done the hard work to climb it in the first place. You can’t be all things to all people including yourself; you must make some tough choices about how you spend your time.

You can’t have a business fraught with cash flow and sales problems and leave work early to coach soccer practice. You can’t volunteer for multiple boards if your own company is lacking direction itself.  You can’t give yourself a raise or distribution to cover increased living expenses if you can already barely make payroll.  You can’t have a policy of not working weekends or being home for dinner every night when you can barely keep the doors open.  You can’t regularly show up to work late when your customers typically arrive early.   You can’t limit your client geography because of commuting headaches if your clients exist beyond your travel comfort boundaries. You can’t take long vacations if your business requires you to have an active daily presence.  You have to be honest with your spouse about networking responsibilities and pressing deadlines rather than attempting to meet unrealistic family expectations during the work week.

There is a big difference between starting a lifestyle business and running real business.  The former is more of a personal job program where you prioritize quality of life over economic benefits.   Many people do this and are happy, but they know their economic limitations and do their best to live with in them.    Most of these businesses at best only employ a handful of people.  The latter has the potential for great economic benefit but more often than not requires significant personal sacrifice, significant risk taking and delayed gratification.  You are building something over time and as with most construction projects there is a lot of design and build work at the front end.  Delays and problems will inevitably happen, but if you stay focused, follow the plan and work hard, the rewards can be great at the back-end.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but they are few are far between, this is why we call them exceptions. I am very worried that our society is becoming addicted to short cuts, personal convenience and unrealistic expectations. We want what we want and we want it now with minimal sacrifice on our end.  America was not built on this mindset. We got to where we are by hard work and personal sacrifice.  We outworked our competition and did our best to consistently grow our capabilities and network of contacts.  We pushed economic boundaries and raised the bar on what was possible through sheer determination and effort.  We prioritized progress and success over personal self-exploration and leisure time.  We did what was necessary to get the job done and didn’t complain about how hard this was to accomplish.  You can’t have it all despite what some supposed experts try to tell you – no one can, but you can always prioritize what’s most important at a given point and time and then live with the consequences.  Success must be earned and you can never take for granted what it takes to get there.

Leadership Thought #450 – Spend Your Time Wisely

Time Selector

Time Selector (Photo credit: Telstar Logistics)

I have always liked the idea as viewing your time similar to currency.  You get to decide how you spend it and what types of investments you make.  Sadly, just like with our money, many of us make bad or misinformed decisions.    Time is finite.  There will be a time when it grows short and then disappears.  Our children will only live with us a relatively brief time before they grow up and move away to begin their own lives.  People we care about will run out of time and all that will remain will be the memories we made with them while they were still here.  Our career will follow a natural arc and eventually our lives will be less about what we do for a living (despite our past accomplishments) and we will need to redefine ourselves.  Knowing this, what can and should we do differently.  I believe it all starts with priorities.

Always remember that how we spend our time is a proxy for what we value.  I hope the following questions spark some useful self-reflection:

If we spend most of our time at work and not enough time with our family, what message does that send to our loved ones?

If we clock watch at work and leave at the first chance we get, then what do expect will happen with our career?

If more time is spent on the golf course (or doing something similar) then cultivating our close relationships, then what do we expect will inevitably happen to those relationships?

If we spend a majority of our free time on leisure activities but ignore our physical fitness and health, then what do we expect will happen as we age or have to deal with major life stress?

If we spend more time on fun and relaxation than on learning and growth, why should it surprise that the complexities of life become overwhelming and others pass us by?

If we spend too much time spending rather than making and/or saving money, then what is the inevitable consequence?

If we are more focused on taking or receiving rather than giving, then why should it surprise us that our social circle eventually narrows and others we hope care about us lose patience with us?

If we spend no time on ourselves, then why is it a surprise that we end up feeling unhappy with who we have become and the demands placed on us to maintain that person?

If we ignore our basic human need for spiritual understanding and development, then why is it a surprise when mid-life crises emerge and our lives feel less fulfilling despite the supposed rewards of success and/or material acquisition?

As with most things in life, operating at extremes is rarely the answer. Balance and flexibility is key and we need to be able to flex up or flex down as needed.  It’s important to know where you stand in life and what your time priorities should be or where there are obvious time deficits. Ultimately, the person we become and the personal legacy we leave is directly correlated to how we spend and invest our time.

Birthday Greetings – Thoughts on Life

I typically ask my friends and clients to share some wisdom about life when it is their birthday.  I am always impressed by what they come up with.  The following is my own humble attempt to offer ten thoughts on the same topic:

A life is defined by the quality of your relationships.

The highest quality relationship we can have is unconditional love – endeavor to give it and aspire to achieve it.

What you decide to do for a living is choice and don’t be afraid to make changes if it isn’t bringing out the best parts of you.

You can often get a true sense of someone’s character by how they treat those who are more vulnerable than themselves especially pets, children and the elderly.

Everyone needs things that ground them in life and reminds them they are part of something bigger than themselves.

People are multidimensional and shouldn’t be viewed in singular terms.  We all have reasons for doing what we do.

Be wary of becoming too judgmental. More often than not you don’t have all the information necessary to make an accurate determination and life has a way of eventually altering your perspective.

The issues we have with other people often say more about us than them.

Start each day by looking in the mirror and asking yourself, “am I becoming the person I want to become?” If not, explore why and make the necessary changes.

End each day by counting your blessings and expressing gratitude to those who helped make your journey easier that day.

I feel fortunate to have made it this far in life.  Not everyone gets to live this long.  As we age it becomes more obvious that time is finite.  I wish you well on your own journey and that the time you have left is well spent.

Leadership Thought #410 – 22 Things You Could Do Wrong Today

Life is about habits and behaviors.  All time represents is a series of moments and actions stitched together that seemingly always exist in the present.  We can reflect on what we have done in the past, think about what we may do in the future, but we can really only ever control now.  Part of my job is observation.  Sadly, my best case study is often myself when it comes to areas of needed improvement.  I never cease to amaze myself with what I consciously do wrong and regret later although I am getting better.  I am also certain my human experience isn’t unique.  You may catch your self doing some of the following things over the course of any given day that inhibit rather than promote feelings of self-satisfaction and happiness:

  1. Eating something you know isn’t good for you;
  2. Drinking too much caffeine or alcohol;
  3. Not exercising enough or at all;
  4. Not allowing enough time for sleep;
  5. Doing something dangerous or reckless behind the wheel of a car;
  6. Attempting to multi-task and prioritizing your tasks badly;
  7. Not really listening to what someone else has to say;
  8. Missing a deadline at work or home that you agreed to and/or set yourself;
  9. Not allowing yourself enough time to do something well;
  10. Avoiding doing something necessary that you just don’t like doing;
  11. Spend too much time in front of the TV watching something of no real discernible value;
  12. Getting annoyed at something inconsequential;
  13. Being impolite or exhibiting bad manners;
  14. Closing your mind to an alternative point of view;
  15. Rushing to judgment about someone or something you don’t know well enough to judge;
  16. Making a decision without enough facts or understanding of the situation;
  17. Treating attractive people better than everyone else just because of the way they look;
  18. Buying something you really don’t need;
  19. Lying or not telling someone how you honestly feel;
  20. Saying yes when you should say no;
  21. Being unaware of or unthoughtful about your body language and tone of voice;
  22. Blaming a mistake or misstep on someone or something else.

As with all things, awareness is the first step.  I encourage you to print out and take this list with you and put it in your briefcase, purse or wallet.  I also like to tape it to my desk and put it in my glove compartment.  Briefly review it several times throughout the course of the day.    When you knowingly do something on the list put a check mark next to it as close to the occurrence as possible.  At the end of the week see how many check marks you have and which items are you biggest weaknesses.  Rethink how you could have handled the situations differently.  No rationalizations are allowed.  Over time you will notice that the number of check marks will go down markedly.  Don’t strive for perfection just incremental daily improvement.  After a month I guarantee you will notice a big difference in how you feel and how others are responding to you.

Leadership Thought #397 – Vacations Matter

I’ve always felt that vacations should mandatory.  Everyone needs some time away from their work to recharge and reflect.  There should be moments where it is just about having fun and enjoying life without the constraints of the work week.  You never just want to narrowly define yourself by what you do for a living.  We are all so much more than that.

I am fortunate that I truly enjoy my work and the people I work with.  I do look forward to the weekends especially the increased time with my children, but I am never bummed out on Monday mornings.  Even I need some time away from work every now and then.   I find that when I am away for a bit I appreciate what I have even more.  I’m also able to step away from the “busyness” of my typical week and think about things with a different perspective.  If you always have your head down moving forward it is too easy to get stuck in a rut and/or operate on autopilot. 

Work is only a part of life.  It is not the reason we live.  I’ve seen people literally give up decades of their life to their job taking minimal or no vacations.  Being a workaholic ultimately takes a toll on them and those around them.  I’ve had many conversations with people like this who finally reach a point where they wonder what happened and why their life has become so one dimensional.  Sadly, they have also usually adversely affected the important relationships in their life as a result (often beyond the point of repair).

Some of my happiest memories from childhood relate to family vacations.  I imagine many of you reading this feel the same way.  There is a certain level of family bonding which takes place when you are away together that is hard to duplicate in our  typical daily routine.  Part of being a parent (and spouse) is creating experiences that our loved ones will cherish a lifetime.  It’s one of the few things we do which is all about us and having fun with the important people in our lives.  Of course, we shouldn’t wait for vacations for this to happen, but it is one of the rare times where we have so much concentrated uninterrupted time together.

Vacations matter!  I sincerely hope you have taken or will be taking a nice vacation this summer.  Don’t try to squeeze in too much activity, but instead focus on downtime with the people you care about and allowing yourself the opportunity for spontaneous fun.  Work will be there when you get back…

Leadership Thought #396 – 15 Tips On How To Manage Your Time Better

Time is finite. No matter how hard we try, we can’t create more of it, so we have to manage the time we have in the best way possible.  A leader typically has no time to waste. You need to minimize distractions and maximize your focus. Here are some tips on how to manage your time better:

  1. Create time boundaries and stick to them. e.g., being home by a certain time, not working Sundays, etc.;
  2. Use a calendar/time management system – create a daily routine;
  3. Avoid taking on more obligations than you can reasonably handle – learn to say no;
  4. Hire an Executive Assistant and use them proactively to schedule/protect your time and manage administrative tasks;
  5. Create a daily “to do” list and prioritize action items as best you can;
  6. Be more realistic about deadlines and how much effort it takes to get something done (and always build in a cushion);
  7. Schedule things you don’t want to do for first thing in the morning to get them out of the way;
  8. If you don’t know how to do something, then seek out help and/or think it through first – learning while doing can waste alot of time;
  9. Always ask yourself if you are the best person to take on a particular assignment/activity or is there someone else better suited to it;
  10. Try not to do too many things at once – it’s been proven that multitasking doesn’t work;
  11. Schedule free thinking time or it won’t happen;
  12. Only check your email/voice mail/text messages at certain times during the day. Don’t give the impression that you are always accessible and instantly responsive (and don’t expect this of others);
  13. Minimize non-productive time (e.g., excessive commuting, troubleshooting your own computer problems, office gossip, etc.);
  14. Seek out, befriend and learn from other people who use their time well – they are always easy to identify and exposure to them will rub off on you;
  15. Focus on quality not quantity time with the people you care about and be fully present in those moments.


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