Time to Act

time to act ext on wooden cubes on a wooden background“It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.”

I’ve seen this insight, and variations thereof, credited to a number of different people — probably because of the innate truth of the statement. And yet, how often do we as leaders get so hung up on developing our plans . . . to change the culture, to launch a new initiative, to pursue a strategic direction . . . that we never really get around to doing anything.

Now let me be clear, I am a big proponent of plans (as anyone who works with me can attest). According to Google, the definition of a plan is “a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something; an intention or decision about what on is going to do.” The end result of the effort is to do, to act . . . not to create the perfect plan!

Have you ever had a plan thrust on you from some external source and thought the concept probably made a lot of sense to someone sitting in an office somewhere, but from a practical application standpoint it was not possible/made no sense/had numerous unintended consequences? Yep. What do you think the chances are that someone has ever had that thought about one of your well-crafted plans?

That is why it is better to view plans as fluid, living documents. Get a basic understanding of your end goal, get the project rolling, and then adapt as you get new information. Act your way into a new way of thinking. Because here’s the deal . . . there is no way to anticipate all of the variables you will encounter at the beginning of an initiative — no matter how much time and effort was put into developing the plan. Detailed plans may make us feel better . . . rigidly sticking to them, however, may actually diminish our results.

I can’t tell you how many times we have encountered totally unexpected opportunities because we acted, and then were willing to adapt our plan along the way. Hear me loud and clear, adapting a plan doesn’t mean the plan failed . . . it means the plan moved you to the point that you had new information with which to make a better decision.

Get clear on your end goal — your intent — and then yes, identify the best that you know at the time, along with the unknown but important variables, to develop a plan. Don’t expect it to be perfect. Expect it to be enough to start, to move you in the right direction. And then . . . it’s time to act.

Listen up!

bigstock--Listen upIt seems that listening is becoming a bit of a lost art, to everyone’s detriment. Without the ability to listen, we doom ourselves to never moving beyond the limits of our current thinking — and such thinking is limiting, regardless of how we might like to convince ourselves otherwise.

Listening is different than hearing. According to Merriam Webster, hearing is “the process, function, or power of perceiving sound.” This definition made me think of Charlie Brown’s teacher . . . waa wa waa wa wa. Yes, in today’s 24/7 environment, there is more sound out there to perceive than ever before. But are we listening, or do we simply see people’s mouths moving and filter what they are saying as good or bad . . . as supporting our position or challenging it?

Webster defines listening as “to pay attention to sound, to hear something with thoughtful attention, give consideration.” Giving consideration is a very different thing from perceiving sound. Which do you do most often?

Giving consideration isn’t about being “wishy washy,” or politically correct, or not having a strength of your convictions. To the contrary, the willingness to listen — really listen — requires a great deal of confidence. Are you confident enough to give thoughtful attention to a different perspective, and perhaps adjust your thinking a bit as a result? Are you confident enough to strive for the “best” in a situation rather than being “right”? (Best is about others, right is about you). Best comes from considering multiple perspectives . . . from listening . . . before you make a decision.

Leaders who don’t listen — who filter out input from anyone who doesn’t see the world as they do — often end up on an island of their own making, cut off from a large expanse of perspectives, insight, and potential. Islands can be cozy places, but they limit how far you can go. As a leader, if you find yourself on such an island (which happens more easily than you might think), what can you do? Listen.

Listening builds bridges. If all you are hearing is people who agree with you, then you need to ask for diverse perspectives. Seek to understand. Listening is not about waiting your turn to tell someone why he or she is wrong. It is about giving consideration, walking a mile in their shoes. Ultimately, you may not agree with the person or perspective, but by listening you start to build a bridge off that island. You expand your possibilities for future success. You lead.

Maybe it’s time to listen up.

Drink Up!

Water splash poured into a glass, blue background, refreshing, fLast week, I had the opportunity to spend two days absorbing nuggets of leadership wisdom from top experts at the Global Leadership Summit. Simulcast to hundreds of sites throughout the world, this annual showcase of leadership thought leaders provided a fire hose of insight and encouragement for the leaders in attendance. One fellow attendee, who follows this blog, commented that she couldn’t wait to see what I wrote about this week. Clearly, there was much rich content to chose from, but my biggest take away was not what any one speaker said, but what I felt during the event.

I felt thirsty. Well, actually, I didn’t realize I was thirsty until I started to drink in the suggestions, support and insight offered by those who took the stage. It’s not that I, and probably many of you, don’t have a full awareness of the need to drink in new knowledge and refresh one’s thinking. It’s just that we are so busy with the day-to-day tasks of leadership — of supporting others, striving toward important goals, and positioning our organizations to respond to the challenges before us — that it is easy for leaders to unwittingly go extended periods without replenishing themselves, and building up their reserves.

So how do leaders make sure that they stay “well hydrated” in terms of their own growth and development?

First and foremost, they need to give themselves permission. This sounds simple, but many leaders are wired to meet the needs of others first — taking a “leaders eat last” perspective — and it feels less urgent and/or selfish to prioritize time for growth and reflection for themselves. It’s not. There’s a reason that airlines advise parents to put on their oxygen masks first

Secondly, it needs to be a regularly scheduled — and guarded — time on your calendar. It is one thing to pencil it in, but if you approach your own development as an optional appointment that can be bumped at the first sign of a conflicting demand, it simply won’t happen. You will always be too busy.

Also, it is important to shake things up from time to time. I do a lot of reading and reflection on leadership topics. It is less common for me to listen to podcasts or attend seminars. Perhaps that is why the summit was so impactful for me last week — it was like using a different muscle, and so the information stuck with me in a different way.

Finally, I think the answers we are searching for as leaders shift along with our circumstances. As Heraclitus noted, you never step in the same river twice. The opportunities and challenges before us change from day to day, and so we become thirsty in new and different ways. Thankfully, there are lots of ways that we as leaders can stay hydrated. We just have to recognize the importance of staying hydrated . . . and then drink up.

How Will They Know?

Christmas Tree and Gifts. Over black background

Have you ever noticed that moments of insight, or reminders, often come in the most unexpected of ways?

Last weekend my boys were home from college, so they had the opportunity to help out a bit as I started decorating for Christmas. I am, perhaps, a bit enthusiastic about this task. As my oldest son finished setting up the third tree he commented, “That’s the last one, right?” “Almost, there is one more little one for the porch.” To which my son replied, “Mom (insert eye roll here) . . . they will know we are Christians by our love, not by the number of Christmas trees we have . . .”

We both chuckled at his comment, but it echoed in my head all weekend. How often, as leaders, do we get so caught up in what we are doing . . . the meetings, the projects, the initiatives, the never-ending to-do lists . . . that it seems to overshadow the why? Sure we often need all those things to accomplish the why, but if we are not careful, over time, we can focus so much on the details of the new endeavor, overcoming the identified foe, reaching projections, that we forget why we were doing all of that in the first place. Is it to grow by X%, to capture more market share, to bolster our own ego?

I hope not. I hope that you started on the leadership odyssey because you believed in something . . . something that tugged on you in such a way that you could not sit on the sidelines . . .that you saw important work and knew you had the gifts and graces to move it forward. And I hope that mission still drives you, because that is what will keep you going among all the minutia that is required along the way. Sure, we all occasionally get consumed by the “stuff” of leadership, but when that happens I challenge you to ask yourself, “How will they know?”

How will your people know your “why”, the mission that compels you, and hopefully your entire organization, forward? Will they know it through your words and actions, or are they left to draw their own conclusions? Do you talk frequently and openly about the underlying purpose of why you are doing what you are doing? When your people see you keeping the “why” front and center, they will be encouraged to do the same. Not only that, but leading off discussions with the why also opens up possibilities that might not be considered if people are only focused on a task, rather than a larger mission.

Meeting performance indicators doesn’t tell people your “why” any more than a fourth tree does. If you are going to accomplish great things you, and your people, have to be clear on the why. So the question remains . . . how will they know?