Stop Expecting People to be Perfect

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I have written many times that leadership is a people business. It’s about motivating and challenging people to accomplish big things. If you don’t like people, you shouldn’t be a leader. The truth is, people are messy. They have fears, anxieties, quirks, annoying habits, hangups, issues, and problems. Each member of your team is probably struggling with something at home or at work that is affecting them in some way. Leading people is not simple and can be frustrating at times. But that’s OK.

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” Donald Miller

Reading Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, made me think about this leadership issue again. People are amazing and they can truly surprise you with what they can do, but, if you expect them to be perfect every day, you are going to be discouraged. So, as Miller suggests, stop expecting perfection from your employees and enjoy who they are and what they bring to your team. Embrace the mess and keep motivating them towards great things.

What do you think? Why do we seem to focus on the negatives? How can we look past the quirks and annoying habits to see the best in people? If we simply accept people as they are, how much more could they contribute to the team? Let me know in the comment section below.

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3 Reasons Why the Struggle is More Important than the Goal

58733825_lI’m not a runner, but I ran six half-marathons once. Growing up in New England, it was always a dream to one day run the Boston Marathon but training for and running six half-marathons was all I needed to realize how difficult that would be. I learned that running is hard and running long distances is even harder. Although I only conquered the 13.1 mile race, I learn a lot about myself and what I could do if I didn’t quit.

“If you’re going through hell, keep on going. Don’t slow down, if you’re scared, don’t show it.” Rodney Atkins

The truth is, long distant running is not about bragging rights, personal records, t-shirts or race medals. It’s about challenging yourself to do something difficult. Most people see what happens on race day but they don’t witness the months of training and the hours spent grinding out the miles day after day. There is excitement the day you sign up for a race and the day you finish a race, but the real work and struggle is done in the middle.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” Theodore Roosevelt

I have been reading Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and it has me thinking about the importance of the hard work in the middle of any difficult challenge and how it changes you. As an entrepreneur, I can fully relate. There is excitement in starting a new company and setting out on a new course. But, after the newness wears off, the hard work begins. Most people never see all the effort that goes into getting a new business off the ground and how it affects the people involved. Miller talks about this in a passage called “The Thing about a Crossing.”

It’s like this when you live a story: The first part happens fast. You throw yourself into the narrative, and you’re finally out in the water; the shore is pushing off behind you and the trees are getting smaller. The distant shore doesn’t seem so far, and you can feel the resolution coming, the feeling of getting out of your boat and walking the distant beach. You think the thing is going to happen fast, that you’ll paddle for a bit and arrive on the other side by lunch. But the truth is, it isn’t going to be over soon. The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of the story is never about the ending, remember. It’s about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle.

As Miller suggests, the hard work in the middle of any difficult challenge is more important than the ending. There are three distinct reasons for this:

The struggle builds character. An easy life is one that doesn’t change you. Challenge brings about change. The struggle requires determination, courage, intensity and perseverance. Some days it takes everything to keep going especially when the end seems nowhere in sight. It’s those moments, like being on the ninth mile of a half marathon on a bridge in the cold, windy, pouring rain, that you find out who you are. If you don’t quit, you learn you can do amazing things.

The struggle builds relationships. As I wrote in 5 Reasons to Celebrate the Tough Times, persevering through a difficult challenge with a team or another person builds strong bonds that last a lifetime. When you suffer and struggle together, you build a defining moment in your relationship. You build mutual respect. You create a mental catalog of similar experiences. This is why I can instantly reconnect with shipmates from the Navy or the people I worked with during a difficult labor dispute. Donald Miller learned this while biking across the country with fifteen strangers. After the first three weeks of struggling, he said, “the pain bound us together.”

The struggle builds the story. Every great story has a hero’s journey. The main character must struggle and overcome a major obstacle or challenge. As an audience, we become endeared to the hero as he endures hardships and trials. This is the same with people and organizations. We are attracted to those who have faced trials and overcome. We appreciate the cancer survivor, the wounded veteran, and the entrepreneur who struggles for years to build a great company. We love stories like that of J.K. Rowling, who lived on welfare and struggled to get by as a single mother before she became the world’s most famous author. The tougher the story, the more people are interested in you.

“Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering.” Theodore Roosevelt

The thing is, if you find yourself in the middle of a struggle with seemingly no end in sight, you’re in a good place. The hard work in the middle of any difficult challenge is more important than the ending. You are growing as a person and learning what you are capable of. You are building your character and the relationships with the people around you. You are also building a story worth remembering. So, if you’re going through hell, don’t stop. Keep going.

What do you think? Have you experienced growth in the middle of a difficult challenge? How has that changed you as a person? If growth comes through a struggle, why do we always seek out a comfortable life? What does it take to become comfortable being uncomfortable? Let me know in the comment section below.

The Discipline of Getting Things Done

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Zen Garden on Beach Photo Credit: Mari Armstrong

I love being an entrepreneur. I love being my own boss. The freedom to operate my business the way I want to is everything I hoped it would be. The downside is, I had no idea how much work it would be. With only a small team, the quantity of work to be done by each person is often overwhelming. The challenge is determining what to work on first.

“If you want to get your ducks in a row, you must first get your head above water.” Unknown

My CFO and I were having a conversation on this topic last week and we agreed that we need to be working on those critical items that are most essential for the business. The key to getting things done is learning how to prioritize actions and having the discipline to follow through until they are complete. It also means saying no to less important activities.

Prioritizing actions when you are overloaded is easier said than done; however, there are some simple steps you can take to determine which activities need to be done first and which actions can be stopped, delegated or put aside. I suggest using the Action Priority Matrix as a tool to help you walk through these steps.

“In order to say yes to your priorities, you have to be willing to say no to something else.” Unknown

The Action Priority Matrix can help you choose the activities you should prioritize to work on and the ones you should avoid. It’s important to weed out the “wish list” from the actions that are needed for the business. This screening process is critical, especially when you have limited time and resources.

 

Keep in mind, the Action Priority Matrix is for individuals but it needs to be tied to the overall business goals as well. Therefore, before using the Action Priority Matrix, it’s essential to understand the high priority goals for the business. If you don’t already have a list of the Top 10 Business Goals, you should develop one jointly with your management team.

Once you understand your business goals, using the tool is simple. Mindtools.com even has a worksheet you can download. Follow these 4 steps:

Step 1. List all the major activities that you need to complete.

Step 2. Score each activity on business impact using your Top 10 Business Goals as a guide (from 0 for no impact to 10 for maximum impact).

Step 3. Score each activity on effort involved (from 0 for no real effort to 10 for a major effort).

Step 4. Plot the activities on the Action Priority Matrix.

Once all your major activities are plotted on the matrix, the next step is to prioritize all your activities. Here are some simple guidelines to deal with the activities in each quadrant of the matrix:

Quick Wins (High Impact, Low Effort). Quick wins are the most attractive projects. They provide a strong return with relatively little effort. Get these actions done first. Completing quick wins will give you a feeling of accomplishment and create momentum to complete other tasks.

Major Projects (High Impact, High Effort). Major projects are critical to the business but they can be very time-consuming. Be careful here because one major project can “crowd out” many quick wins. Set aside time each day (2-3 hours) to work on your major projects but don’t stop working on the quick wins.

Fill Ins (Low Impact, Low Effort). Stop worrying about these actions. If you have spare time, do them, but try to delegate them or drop them altogether if you can.

Thankless Tasks (Low Impact, High Effort). Avoid these activities. They give little return and they soak up valuable time that should be used on quick wins and major projects. Delegate these tasks or drop them altogether.

The Action Priority Matrix is just one of many tools that can be used to help you prioritize your actions. The key to making progress, however, is being disciplined to follow through and complete each high impact action item. Lists are great but actions are better. Your focus should be on completing the high impact action items as quickly as possible and not get bogged down in thankless tasks.

What do you think? Have you tried the Action Priority Matrix? How has it worked for you? What other methods have you used to prioritize actions? What other ways can we tie actions to the business goals? Let me know in the comment section below.

None of the Above

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Fair warning, this is not my typical article. It’s not about leadership, business, careers, culture, entrepreneurship, or the military. But it’s related. This post is about the importance of finding common ground and learning how to work with people you disagree with. In the vitriolic, bitter, hateful and often venomous climate that seems to exist in America today, I felt it was time to say something.

If you’ve read my articles, you know I have addressed this subject before but mostly in a business sense. In an article called, 10 Leadership Lessons I Learned Living on a Nuclear Submarine, I wrote about one interesting aspect of submarine life, there is no escape from a bad colleague. Once on board, you were stuck with the crew that was deployed.

“I like working with people with strong opinions, loosely held.” Jordan Harbinger

From this experience, I learned to get along with people I had differences with. I learned to resolve conflicts and seek common ground. I learned to look for win-win outcomes which has served me well in business. Unfortunately, I’m beginning to think this is a rare trait. I’m also becoming increasingly aware that, in the news and political world, getting along is not what gets ratings or votes.

“I ran away from politics, It’s too bizarre at home.” Jimmy Buffett

Maybe it’s because I turn 50 this month that I’m seeing things differently. I’ve always been a news and political junkie but the last year has cured me completely. The hatred that is present in news and politics today seems over the top. Honest debate, decency and respect no longer exist. It’s become clear to me that news outlets are just trying to get ratings to sell commercials and politicians are just hustling votes. Dividing Americans helps both be successful and they are doing a good job.

I’m not buying any of it though and I wish more Americans would as well. In response to the current political climate, I’ve completely stopped watching and listening to political news and I’ve turned to reading, podcasts, and audio books. In truth, my life has become much better. Instead of getting angry and picking sides in latest silly debate, I’m filling my days with learning, writing content and growing my business.

“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Neil Peart

My choice for political party, candidate, and news outlet is simple, I choose “none of the above.” Instead, I’m just going to stay quiet, mind my own business, work hard, love my neighbors, respect those I disagree with, and do my best to create a company that my vendors, community, employees and customers are proud to be associated with. In my opinion, that’s the best choice.

What do you think? Am I wrong to opt out of the current political scene? Are there more people like me who are simply choosing to say no? What’s wrong with selecting “none of the above?” Let me know in the comment section below.

The Secrets of Morning People Revealed

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For most of my life, I couldn’t stand morning people. They seemed so annoyingly happy. They got up early, they planned their day, they worked out and they always seemed to be in a good mood. I was the guy who maximized the snooze alarm, quickly got ready and rushed out the door with my extra-large cup of coffee. It was only until I tried getting up early that I learned their secrets.

“Love it or hate it, utilizing the morning hours before work may be the key to a successful and healthy lifestyle.” Jennifer Cohen

I must confess, I’m a convert. Where once I enjoyed staying up late and sleeping in, I now treasure my mornings. I understand why they are so important. Since I’ve started to get up early, I’ve had much more control over my life and I’m not the only one. According to research, morning people are more proactive and productive than night owls and tend to be more successful in their professional lives.

“On its own, waking up early isn’t a superpower or anything special. Its real power is that you gain access to the highest quality hours of the day.” Srinivas Rao

Why is that? Why is early rising a common trait found in many world leaders, successful CEOs and other influential people? Srinivas Rao suggests the main reason is that you are accessing the highest quality hours of the day. Early morning is a time when you can do deep work and focus on activities that add meaning to your life. He also points out that mornings are uniquely important in five distinct ways:

  1. Your willpower is at its highest
  2. Your mind is less scattered
  3. You’re less likely to be interrupted
  4. You increase the availability of time
  5. You start your day with a sense of accomplishment

“Most of the people spend their mornings running around trying to prepare for the day, and spend whatever is left of the day in much of the same way – in a rush.” Roxana Jones & Arnaud Saint-Paul

Successful people understand getting up early is essential because it sets a positive tone for the work day before it even starts. Jonathan Chan suggests this is because the entire day is in front of them. Night owls tend to be playing catch-up because most of the day is already gone by the time they get up. Instead of being super productive in the morning, they tend to be working to keep up with everything they wanted to do that day. They end up stressed, filled with anxiety and unable to fall asleep which continues the cycle.

“It’s simple: If you want to be more productive, get up early.” Ryan Holiday

I get up at 4:00 am every weekday. I know that sounds crazy but this is my favorite time of the day. Since my official work day starts at 8:00 am, this gives me four hours to prepare for the day. Here are six things I do every morning.

Serve. The first thing I do every morning is prepare the house for my family. I make coffee, I empty the dishwasher, I take out the trash and I organized the kitchen so it is neat and tidy when my family gets up.

Create. The morning is when I read the latest leadership and business articles from my favorite writers. I also write content for my blog. I find I am most creative first thing in the morning.

Think. I use the morning to visualize my week and my day. I try to think about the most important activities I need to get done.

Plan. I like to map out my day by looking at the key things I need to get done. I also know I’m most productive in the morning, so I put the most difficult tasks in my schedule before lunch.

Sweat. I enjoy working out in the morning and I look forward to my time in the gym. I have a home gym (which I highly recommend) so there is no excuse for not working out. I exercise for about an hour while watching the news. I accomplish two things through this, I burn calories and get up to speed on current events.

Learn. I have a long morning commute so I spend the time listening to leadership podcasts and audio books. I also record voice memos of the things I’m learning to journal them later in the day.

“If you’re changing the world, you’re working on important things. You’re excited to get up in the morning.” Larry Page

I have gone from hating morning people to becoming one. Since converting, I have found I am more productive, organized and focused. I now start the day accomplishing big things like thinking, writing, planning, learning and working out. I feel like I am gaining extra hours in the day. While the world sleeps, I’m up getting things done. Being an early riser isn’t for everyone but it’s a practice I will continue for a long time.

What do you think? Have you become an early riser too? How has that changed your productivity and performance? What are some things you do in the morning? Can night owls be just as productive? Do sleep habits change as you get older? Let me know in the comment section below.