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Beating Procrastination at Its Own Game – and Ways to Thrive

People often ask me about ways to beat procrastination. I usually say “I’ll get back to you.” Just kidding.

Everyone procrastinates sometimes, but 20 percent of people chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions—which, unfortunately, are increasingly available. Procrastination in large part reflects our perennial struggle with self-control as well as our inability to accurately predict how we’ll feel tomorrow, or the next day.

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If you do a Google search, there are over 380,000 references to “overcoming procrastination”.

Procrastinators may say they perform better under pressure, but more often than not that’s their way of justifying putting things off. The bright side? It’s possible to overcome procrastination—with effort.

Procrastination is not a problem of time management or of planning. Procrastinators are not different in their ability to estimate time, although they are more optimistic than others. “Telling someone who procrastinates to buy a weekly planner is like telling someone with chronic depression to just cheer up,” insists Dr. Ferrari (1).

I too struggle with procrastination. From my own observations with decades of clients behind me, plus my own ever-present struggle with it, here are the key reasons for procrastination.

  1. Desire to achieve perfection –  When a normally high energy, high achiever procrastinates, it’s usually due to the desire to achieve perfection. Perfection though is unachievable, especially in most business settings.
  2. Lack of direction –  You can’t leave for a trip if you don’t know where you’re going. Without a good sense of where you want to go with a project or a task, you likely wont want to start.
  3. Self-talk – Procrastinators tell lies to themselves. Such as, “I’ll feel more like doing this tomorrow.” Or “I work best under pressure.” But in fact they do not get the urge the next day or work best under pressure. In addition, they protect their sense of self by saying “this isn’t important.” Another big lie procrastinators indulge is that time pressure makes them more creative. Unfortunately they do not turn out to be more creative; they only feel that way. They squander their resources.
  4. It’s unpleasant –  Not everything we need to do each day is fun and exciting. Things can be downright unappealing, so we put them off.

Here are the most popular ways to overcome procrastination (2).

STEP 1: Recognize you ARE A PROCRASTINATOR.

Here’s a fun little test for you to take. CLICK HERE

Here are some useful indicators that will help you know when you’re procrastinating:

  • Filling your day with low priority tasks from your To Do List.
  • Reading e-mails several times without starting work on them or deciding what you’re going to do with them.
  • Sitting down to start a high-priority task, and almost immediately going off to make a cup of coffee.
  • Leaving an item on your To Do list for a long time, even though you know it’s important.
  • Regularly saying “Yes” to unimportant tasks that others ask you to do, and filling your time with these instead of getting on with the important tasks already on your list.
  • Waiting for the “right mood” or the “right time” to tackle the important task at hand.

Step 2: Work Out WHY You’re Procrastinating

Even if you’re organized, you can feel overwhelmed by the task. You may doubt that you have the skills or resources you think you need, so you seek comfort in doing tasks you know you’re capable of completing. Unfortunately, the big task isn’t going to go away – truly important tasks rarely do. You may also fear success as much as failure. For example, you may think that success will lead to you being swamped with more requests to do this type of task, or that you’ll be pushed to take on things that you feel are beyond you.

Step 3: Adopt Anti-Procrastination Strategies

Procrastination is a habit – a deeply ingrained pattern of behavior. That means that you won’t just break it overnight. Habits only stop being habits when you have persistently stopped practicing them, so use as many approaches as possible to maximize your chances of beating them. Some tips will work better for some people than for others, and for some tasks than others. And, sometimes, you may simply need to try a fresh approach to beat the “procrastination peril”!

These general tips will help motivate you to get moving:

  • Make up your own rewards. For example, promise yourself a piece of tasty flapjack at lunchtime if you’ve completed a certain task. And make sure you notice how good it feels to finish things!
  • Ask someone else to check up on you. Peer pressure works! This is the principle behind slimming and other self-help groups, and it is widely recognized as a highly effective approach.
  • Identify the unpleasant consequences of NOT doing the task.
  • Work out the cost of your time  to your employer. As your employers are paying you to do the things that they think are important, you’re not delivering value for money if you’re not doing those things. Shame yourself into getting going!

If you’re procrastinating because you’re disorganized, here’s how to get organized!

Use Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle to help prioritize your To-Do List so that you cannot try to kid yourself that it would be acceptable to put off doing something on the grounds that it is unimportant, or that you have many urgent things which ought to be done first when, in reality, you’re procrastinating.

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If you’re putting off starting a project because you find it overwhelming, you need to take a different approach. Here are some tips:

  • Break the project into a set of smaller, more manageable tasks. You may find it helpful to create an action plan.
  • Start with some quick, small tasks if you can, even if these aren’t the logical first actions. You’ll feel that you’re achieving things, and so perhaps the whole project won’t be so overwhelming after all.

If you’re doing it because you find the task unpleasant:

  • Many procrastinators overestimate the unpleasantness of a task. So give it a try! You may find that it’s not as bad as you thought!
  • Hold the unpleasant consequences of not doing the work at the front of your mind.
  • Reward yourself for doing the task.

Here’s a bonus. Have you seen the story about rocks, pebbles and sand? Watch this video

(1) Quotes courtesy of Psychology Today and Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, and Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

(2) Other references courtesy of Mindtools.com

Accountability. What a Concept.

accountability

Yet who can really define it? Let’s take a look at leadership accountability.

Google the word and you get some interesting thoughts. Here are a few.

Accountability eliminates the time and effort you spend on distracting activities and other unproductive behavior. When you make people accountable for their actions, you’re effectively teaching them to value their work. When done right, accountability can increase your team members’ skills and confidence.

Accountability means living in integrity, with all your thoughts, words, and actions are consistent with one another and in alignment. Commitment is one thing, but accountability is vital to sustaining long-term success

In other words, the term doesn’t mean punishment; instead, it describes a willingness to accept responsibility for our own actions and their impact.

Henry Evans, the author of Winning with Accountability, defines it as “Clear commitments that — in the eyes of others — have been kept.” Here, the phrase “in the eyes of others” is key. In our organizations, accountability is not just about making and keeping commitments — it is also about transparency. When we make our commitments visible to our teammates, everyone is empowered to ask follow-up questions, check on progress, and help move work forward.

The Rub

Marine LTC Stuart Scheller has made news by denouncing his chain of command in Afghanistan for allowing the bombing at the Kabul Airport that resulted in the deaths of 13 U.S. Service members. He has gone so far as to resign his commission and forego his full retirement after 20+ years in the Corps.

Scheller’s basic call to action is to return to accountability in leadership. From his view, commanders were demanding accountability from subordinate troops yet abdicating their own accountability…

..all the way to Washington, D.C. His contention is that leaders (anywhere) must themselves be accountable.

I happen to agree with Scheller. My sense is that our political leaders (all of them, both parties) have abandoned basic principles of accountability. They have built systems and agencies to shield their collective actions to cover up any true visibility of the ramifications of their choices and actions.

What is any American able to do to connect all of the dots? When an executive order is issued, how can any of us really know the impact it has, whether positive or negative?

If you happen to have voted for the party in office all you can do is hope they are doing the things you thought they promised you. But are they? Where’s the accountability?

In recent years I’ve heard frequent mention of how overwhelming various Bills that have come out of Congress may be. Speaker Pelosi herself was once asked, “Do you know everything in this Bill?” Her reply was “No, let’s see what happens.” Really? That my friends, is not much accountability.

Power Corrupts

There is an old saying “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I’ve experienced that myself on a very small scale. When I was a young Lieutenant in the Army, I was put in temporary command of a troop unit with some 450 soldiers who were assigned for training. Under the terms of the UCMJ (the Uniformed Code of Military Justice), I had simultaneous powers as prosecutor, judge, and jury.

If a soldier committed an infraction, they were brought to my ‘court.’ It became intoxicating for me. I could levy penalties, garnish wages, demote rank and impact a wide range of punitive actions. Unchecked I could seriously influence those under my command.

But for me, personally, I had a commitment to God. I was a Christian with real beliefs in a much higher power than my own. I was accountable to Him for what I might do to others here.

That accountability was called into action one day when I was feeling particularly smug about my command and the powers of the UCMJ. I won’t go into all the details, but the significance of the moment was that I checked in on my accountability. I was reminded of the vows and promises I had made to God about being the person He wanted me to be.

Invoking all the strength and might of a code written by other men (the UCNJ) was not the standard I was being called to honor. I changed my mindset about power. I was humbled to realize the code was important but had to be administered with honor and human decency. Yes, discipline could be applied, but the soldier who was subject to that discipline needed to be redeemed.

The Elected Career “Leader”

Anyone who has engaged in elected office as a career cannot possibly have the same sense of balance. How can I say that? I say it because I have known several Congressmen and Senators in my day. The ones who live by higher standards don’t make Washington a career. They go, serve, and try to impact the system. But in the end, they retreat.

They don’t run for re-election after a few terms. The system beats them down. They run headlong into the reality that to survive there, you must compromise everything. You cannot live by the higher standards. You cannot permit total transparency.

Why? Because deals must get made for the ‘system’ to work. Those deals are not always good for the constituents you say you represent. There is no leadership accountability. Those deals may not represent the real values you intend to live by.

This gets us back to leadership accountability.

Will your actions stand the test of the words you speak? Real leaders, elected or not, are accountable. In fact, they demand it. First of themselves and then from others.

Lead by example is an easy phrase to utter. But living by it day by day is a much bigger challenge. We need leaders who are accountable.

LTC Scheller, I am with you Sir. Soldier on!

Become a Better Leader: 4 Steps to Boost Your E.Q.

understanding eq

Most of us think of a leader as someone with a great deal of education and experience in a certain area. While knowledge and experience are important qualities, one’s ability to communicate and work well with others is just as important to being an effective leader.

A hot topic on the scene these days is Emotional Intelligence or E.Q. While research and numerous studies have proven the concept, understanding how to use it in your leadership toolkit is another story.

Having a high degree of emotional intelligence (E.Q.) allows you to be able to inspire and motivate others to co-operate with you to accomplish a shared objective and vision. There are several ways that you can strengthen your interpersonal skills.

Try these methods to dramatically raise your E.Q. and accomplish more together:

FIRST

Increase your self-awareness. Self-development is the foundation of excellence. Before you can lead and inspire others, you must first understand your own motivations and behavior.

  • Develop your vision by learning to listen to your inner values and dreams. Trust yourself. Try not to compromise your values to achieve a goal or for other temporary gain.
  • Embrace passion by learning to be motivated by your internal compass rather than external forces and situations.
  • Keep your energy fully recharged, so you can give your best effort. You can stay energized by taking the time to learn what activities re-energize you and which ones drain your energy.
  • Respect yourself. Know the limitations of your body, mind, and spirit and strive for balance between your responsibilities in all areas of your life.
  • Become aware of your flaws and limitations. Seek ways to improve yourself and be open to change.

Next

Strengthen your discipline and self-management. Learning to be responsible for your behavior, attitudes, and actions can raise your performance level as well as help you to build trust and authority with others. 

  • Seek the input of others. Ask how you can help them, or what you need to do differently to communicate more effectively and manage them better.
  • Hold yourself accountable for your actions and performance.
  • Don’t be afraid to delegate responsibilities and tasks. Be confident enough in yourself to surround yourself with talented, qualified people.

Then

Develop your social awareness. Be aware of your own attitudes and the power you have to motivate others.

  • Show genuine concern for others and learn how to actively listen. Doing so will create lasting bonds and a strong team that will work with you rather than against you.
  • Give others a reason to support you and your vision. Let others know when they have done a good job and look for ways to openly recognize and reward excellence.
  • Help others to buy into your vision by making them stakeholders in the attainment of your goals. Seek their advice when setting goals and making plans on how you’ll achieve them.
  • Help others to increase their abilities and fully utilize their talents by providing opportunities for training, scholarship, and self-development.

Finally

Emphasize greater relationship management. Learn how to bring out the best in yourself and others. Utilize everyone’s best qualities and minimize their limitations with effective assignment of tasks and delegation of responsibilities.

Regardless of your education or experience, you can achieve greater success by learning how to use your people skills to fully harness the talents and energy of others. These strategies will allow you to increase your E.Q and inspire others to fully enlist in your cause of their own free will.

The Meeting Before the Meeting

meeting with the boss

There’s a subtle yet powerful way to make change happen. It involves doing your homework and some legwork before a big meeting. I call it the ‘meeting before the meeting.’

Larger businesses often rely upon leadership meetings or Board meetings to make big decisions. The person or teams bringing requests for approval have big challenges to get it right. Rather than waiting for the final big meeting to happen, you need to do prep work. You need to work the process.

The Back Story

I learned about this approach in my banking days. My bank was a bit old school. We had Loan Committees that approved big deals coming into the bank. By this, I mean the loan requests from customers. Millions of dollars were at stake.

Businesses needed the bank to help finance operations and growth. The bank had to make sound and solid loan decisions to keep the bank stable and profitable. It was a difficult balancing act. Loan officers worked very hard to build the banking relationships. When a customer decided to ask for help, it was important for the officer to be able to make things happen.

This meant going to loan committee.

The committee prep work was daunting unto itself. Analysts combed through spreadsheets and the customer financials. Proposals were carefully written and justified. But it would be certain death to go into the loan committee without doing something else first.

The Meeting Before the Meeting

This is where this special step became so important. The meeting before the meeting.

It meant a diligent loan officer would walk the proposal to every member of the loan committee for a one on one review and discussion. Basically the LO was having to lobby a vote from each member.

Our ‘big’ committee, where only the largest deals got done, had a single ‘no’ vote rule. One vote ‘no’ meant disapproval. The customer request would be denied and the LO would have to start over.

From a career standpoint, it was also death to an LO. Not literally, but figuratively. You couldn’t loose many and be considered a good credit person. Your career could hit a ceiling real fast.

However, using the meeting before the meeting helped grease the skids, oil the machine, and smooth the glide. LOs learned pretty fast how to get real good at lobbying their deals. They learned which senior officers asked what questions. They carefully crafted the right answer to persuade each committee member to vote yes.

On one hand, we were in the business to make loans, but we thought they needed to be good loans. There were plenty of ways to make sure that happened. By letting the committee members have a shot at the deal without risking the one no vote, LOs could make adjustments to the package. It helped them gain insights that could otherwise be embarrassing in front of the whole committee.

Then, when the big day came to actually present to committee, it was often more a formality rather than a process. Of course there might be group discussions, but usually everyone already knew what the vote would be. There were seldom any surprises.

Use in Your Business

Regardless of the business or industry you may find yourself, if you have these larger organizational meetings to make big decisions, you can take a page from this book.

By investing in the preparation and effort to garner support via the meeting before the meeting, you can greatly improve your chances of success.

I had a client recently who was responsible for a big organizational change that had been mandated by senior leadership. While the overall change was understood, there were strategic decisions that had to be made by a leadership council. These decisions drove P&L results and impacted vertical lines of business.

It was going to be vital that the council agreed to the plans that had been designed. Otherwise the whole change initiative would have to be scrapped and redesigned.

I recommended the meeting before the meeting. My client and her team got busy arranging the sessions. One by one they huddled with the individual members of the council. All of it was done before the big meeting.

When the day arrived for the vote, the presentation was made (with great edits and adjustments suited for exact satisfaction of various members). The vote was unanimous YES!

My client and her team came away victorious. Champions for the cause for change and recognized for great work to get there.

As we talked after the fact, she shared with me how powerful that little extra effort became. It helped galvanize the change effort. It crystallized the clarity and sealed the deal.

You should try this approach the next time you are trying to push through a big initiative at work. Take time to make these meetings before the meeting happen. You’ll be glad you did.

call a coach

Burn the Boats – The Toughest Leadership Command

burn the ships

We all like Plan “B” options that afford us an escape when things don’t work out. In 1519, Captain Hernán Cortés landed in Veracruz to begin his great conquest. Upon arriving, he gave the order to his men to burn the ships. How’s that for bold leadership?

What Cortés did was force himself and his men to either succeed or die. A retreat was not an option.

In order to achieve the highest level of success we each desire, there are times when we need to “burn the boats.”

The obvious question becomes “what are my ships or boats”? For starters, your ship may be anything that you are afraid to let go of.

Read more

Leave It Better Than You Found It

hiking and camping

Many years ago, when I was a boy Scout, my Scoutmaster had a mantra. Wherever we went camping, we were supposed to leave the surroundings better than we found it. That meant that before we left the area, we had to do a thorough cleanup, pick-up, and canvas of the area.

If there were rocks lining the paths, every rock had to be properly in line whether we had disrupted them or not. If there were trash cans in the area, each one had to have the lid properly secured. Any litter that was found had to be picked up, again whether we had created or not. As we left, we even brushed the pathways behind us, erasing our footprints in the dirt. A little extreme? Perhaps. But the teaching stuck.

Later, as I apprenticed with a master woodworker/craftsman, he too had a similar mantra about borrowing tools and equipment. If he borrowed something from someone, it had to be returned in better condition than it was first received. That meant cleaned, lubricated, polished or dusted off. This too was a further reminder of the basic teaching. The mindset got fixed in my brain.

tools in a box in a garage for repair work

We don’t hear that principle shared much anymore these days. Yet there is so much that can be learned from it. The concept applies to leadership in its highest form.

If you are selected to lead a team or organization, why not leave it better than you received it? Leaders are supposed to accomplish things, right? But what about truly trying to leave things better off than they were before you started.

Before we get into more details, there’s one other key element here we should discuss. If you know you’re going to be doing a big clean-up at the end, you are more likely to take care of things during the stay rather than have to do a big bunch of work at the end.

The same is true about leadership dedicated to this kind of mantra. Do little things daily to create the end result that is better than before. That way you don’t have to make a big push at the end to accomplish the same result.

The Leadership Influence

Choosing to apply this ‘leave it better than before’ principle to your leadership mindset will build a lasting legacy with those around you. If you become the leader that strives to make everything better, you will create a memorable impression that won’t go away.

Sadly, the opposite is equally true. How many of us have worked for bosses who left scorched earth behind their reign? You were happy to see them leave.

But the boss or mentor who looked out for your well being and helped you grow in your career or skill set will long be remembered.

Ways to Leave It Better

What are the ways a leader can make things better? Here are a few I’ve benefitted from.

First, genuinely learn who your people are and what they know how to do. Get into the details of their experience and skill set. Let them know you care about their ability to contribute. If you see gaps, encourage them to grow. Give them tips and ideas on ways to expand their tool kit of abilities.

Be a mentor. Be ready and willing to come alongside your people to show them ways to grow.

Help people with networking inside and outside. This is a tricky one. In today’s complex business world, people are feeling overwhelmed with knowing they need to be able to network more, but they are either afraid of doing it or don’t know how.

Stop solving all the problems. Nurture the growth in your team by using key questions when they bring you problems. Encourage them to propose a solution to every problem before they merely lay the problem on your desk. Then share with them the logical process you use to get to a good answer.

Model the right behaviors. Whenever and wherever you show up as a leader, people are watching. Even the most subtle behaviors can become big influencers for those who are following you.

You likely will never win 100% of the time. Accept the 84% rule. A local Texas politician shared this one with me. He had won his election for Mayor by an 84% popular vote. While that is huge by today’s standard for electoral margin, he decided to not alienate the 16% that didn’t vote for him. Instead he started to earnestly reach out to them and include their views in decisions facing the city.

Give people some slack or you might call it grace. People will make mistakes. The way you as a leader respond to those moments is what will make the difference.

Decide to break old habits. If the bosses you worked for modeled bad habits, don’t let those be yours to keep. A company’s culture evolves in time. The patterns of employee/employer relationships are what really define a culture, not some poster on the wall.

Handing it down

The Conclusion

I once coached a senior executive who was responsible for a national network of high-dollar manufacturing facilities. There was big machinery operating under high pressure with potentially toxic environments. People could get hurt or killed. In the day when he was rising up the organization, being a site manager and having to report a problem to the big boss meant getting a chewing out before you got to talk about the details. It was automatic.

I asked this exec about that dynamic. He sheepishly admitted he tended to do the same thing to his people. I asked if it made any difference. He said no. He knew they felt bad and were already dealing with the disappointment. His adding to the dogpile didn’t help. So he agreed to stop doing that.

Things still happened in the plants, but the team culture changed. Site managers realized the big boss was there for them, not a voice to condemn what had happened. They needed his wisdom to orchestrate the resolution. He began focusing on administering those coaching and mentoring moments to help them grow rather than berating and belittling them.

His decision as a leader to show up differently, and make things better than before, broke a legacy of old-school management practice that had lived for decades. In one turn in the leader’s seat, he engrained a newer, more positive mindset in the hearts of the various site managers who would one day be the big boss themselves.

That, my friend, is how you can make a difference, leaving things better than they were before you got there.

Daniel Mueller on Leadership

leadership banner

From time to time, anyone working as a manager needs to decide whether they really are a leader. Several years ago, I began an association with a long-time executive coach, Daniel Mueller. He’s a pioneer in the field of executive coaching having served senior executives across most of the Fortune 500 companies. Daniel has graciously shared some of his information with me. Here is a discussion about leadership.

Change Agents

A leader, by definition, is a change agent. Leaders have the ability to look beyond the status quo, determine the change needed, and introduce it in such a way that the organization successfully grows to the next level of effectiveness.

“Leadership . . . is the ability to step outside the culture to start evolutionary change processes that are more adaptive” (Schein, 1992).

Effective leaders are competent in gaining and maintaining followers. They communicate at an expert level, inspiring others to go in a certain direction while setting clear expectations of high-level roles and responsibilities. Leaders ensure that all employees understand the mission, vision, values, strategy, and overall direction of the company, along with their own area of responsibility.

They over-communicate, gain buy-in to key initiatives, and obtain strong commitment to achieving the organization’s mission. Developing and communicating the organization’s vision, philosophy, and values is an essential competency of effective leaders, who also model the right values by example, thereby gaining credibility and respect from others.

“Leadership is about articulating visions, embodying values, and creating the environment within which things can be accomplished” (Richards & Engle, 1986).

Developing Leadership Competentcy

Both nature and nurture play a role in developing excellent leadership competencies. It’s helpful, but not essential, to be born with the genetic predisposition toward leadership.

Nevertheless, leadership competencies can be cultivated and developed. Factors positively associated with the development of leaders include having at least one parent who is a leader; being the eldest child; taking opportunities to lead peers or siblings; having influential childhood role models (e.g., family members, coaches, mentors); holding leadership roles in high school, college, graduate school, or early in a career; taking leadership training programs; and undergoing leadership coaching.

It is useful for leaders to take regular behavioral assessments and to review their self-assessment reports with others who know them well. A spouse or significant other is a good place to start. This review may serve to further validate the report, as well as to remove blind spots that the leader may have.

Deciding on a Style

People tend to prefer their own styles, with a strong propensity to view the world through the filter of their behavioral styles, thus projecting those preferences onto others.

This tendency limits the ability to understand co-workers and others to the fullest extent possible. It is easy to see how this can lead to frustration with others’ behavior, which leads in turn to difficulty in developing high-performance teams.

Through the process of understanding their own leadership styles and being able to identify and understand those of others, effective leaders become more accepting of others’ styles, and others become more accepting of theirs. Each leadership style is valuable in the workplace.

People with the same narrow behavioral style will approach a problem in the same way, usually with sub-optimal results. A leadership team that encompasses a diversity of styles provides a diversity of thought, which leads to peak team performance. Leaders who understand their own behavioral styles are much better able to identify others’ styles.

As leaders grow in their understanding of, and their ability to control, their own styles, they may become more willing and able to adapt their styles to meet the needs of others and of the organization.

Being Adaptable

Demonstrated adaptability is a powerful approach, resulting in increased influence over others. In order to reach full effectiveness, leaders need maximum adaptability. An inaccurate understanding of their own behavioral tendencies will weaken the ability of leaders to effectively adapt their styles to the needs of others.

Effective leaders are able to develop or improve positive relationships in much less time than would normally be needed. Most effective leaders are unconsciously or consciously adept at identifying and adapting their leadership styles to the behavioral styles of the people with whom they work. The leadership quadrant comprises anything related to influencing people.

Finding a North Star in 2021

It seems the world is spinning out of control. But I choose not to believe that.

Rather, I believe we have temporarily lost our way. As someone who coaches, teaches, and writes about leadership, it is time to talk about one very vital aspect of what it means to be a leader.

While I spend a great deal of my time with clients and colleagues talking about casting a vision for their work, there is still one critical ingredient for determining the right vision. Just like in baking that delicious secret recipe your grandmother passed down, you cannot ignore critical ingredients. Otherwise, the cake will be a miserable failure.

The vitally important ingredient for leaders is their sense of True North, the “North Star.”

In the cosmos, the northern start stays almost constant while the rest of the night sky swirls around it. Ancient travelers in the northern hemisphere used this beacon to direct their travel.

north star
Time lapsed picture of stars swirling around North Star

Your Core Purpose Sets Your North Star

For leaders today, your sense of purpose becomes your North Star. If you don’t know why you are doing something or for what purpose your efforts are dedicated, you’ll live a groundhog’s day existence. Life will be about getting up and walk the same steps, doing the same things, day after day.

You can write great business plans and maybe even accomplish a few good things, but you will feel empty. You’ll have this nagging sense that there is more.

We have all been brought here for a purpose. You are no accident.

Your life is no accident, but the way you live it may be random.

Doug Thorpe

Finding and having a true sense of purpose becomes your North Star.

Lost Identity

In my book “STRIVE”, I share the experience of founding and running a career transition organization, coaching over 4,500 people through job search after the great recession of 2008.

In the early going, I discovered a deep need for people to reconnect with their sense of purpose. Losing a job for the first time in a career path of 10, 15 or 20 years, left people feeling lost.

When I really dug into that fact, I discovered the way out was to help people reconnect with their sense of purpose. Purpose has nothing to do with a job title or station at work. I began teaching people about ways to redefine who they were and what they were about.

THEN, they could think about targeting a new job. They were finding their North Star.

The same thing is being repeated today. People impacted by the COVID pandemic have lost their identities because the work they were doing has either shifted or been lost. The work should never be your True North. But your sense of purpose for the work you are doing is.

Managing a Team

Anyone in a position of responsibility, whether managing a team or owning a business, deals with not having a North Star. When you lose your purpose as a team, everything else in the circle of trust breaks down. (See more on that HERE)

Leaders need to have their own sense of True North and they should help their teams find and understand theirs.

Time and time again, I hear clients struggling with not knowing True North. They say things like “if only I knew true north…”

True North keeps us stabilized and centered. It helps us avoid wasted effort and meaningless pursuits.

Having the right sense of True North lets you go to bed a night with a feeling of accomplishing something because your day was focused on following that True North.

How Do You Know It’s Gone

How do you know for sure you’ve lost your North Star? Here are several key things to consider.

First, you feel very empty. You’re tired from all the effort, but there is no real sense of accomplishment. Trying to do more and be more just keeps you feeling that emptiness.

Next, people on your team may express their sense of being lost. They question everything. They challenge your authority. They’re not pointing the stick at you, but the chatter is about having no clarity. They no longer know what a ‘win’ looks like.

Finally, you feel like you’re in a fog. It’s hard to see things ahead of you. This actually happens literally out on the ocean. Ships trying to navigate by the stars lose all bearing when the sky is overcast of foggy. You lose the North Star so all other navigational effort is compromised.

Reconnect with Your North Star

If any of this sound familiar, it’s time to do the work to reconnect with your sense of purpose, your North Star. Strip away all of the distractions and re-center on who and what you think you are.

If you need help with this effort, I provide the whole second half of “STRIVE” to walk your through a personal purpose process. It’s a classic look at the areas of life that mean the most to you. It helps you chart personal values and aspirations into a clear, purposeful definition.

By having your personal purpose, you will be ready to cut through the clutter, the sense of being lost, and create more meaningful visions for your business, your family and your community.

We need leaders today who have this proper sense of purpose to guide and direct. I hope you’ll join me in becoming one of those kinds of leaders.

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PS – In some of my seminars, I ask the audience to stand up, close their eyes, and point to North. Then I tell them to hold their point and open their eyes.

Everyone is pointing in different directions. There’s a chuckle.

As they sit down I tell them that finding True North is a bit like this for the individual. While magnetic north and the North Star are fixed, your personal sense of purpose is going to be unique.

Cover photo courtesy of Credit Union Times.

Handling the Smartest Guy in the Room

smartest guy in the room

We’ve all been there before. You’ve either worked with or for THAT person; “The smartest guy in the room.”

They can make you feel small, disregarded, uncomfortable. They have ways of expressing their thoughts to make your ideas seem so wrong.

I once knew an executive who was always the smartest guy in the room. His IQ was off the charts. He could dissect any argument, slicing and dicing his way to outcomes that were usually his.

The story is told of this man one day actually being stumped by a new topic that had been brought up by a junior member of his team. He seemed stunned but undaunted.

The next day a follow-up meeting was held. This gent had gone home, opened his vast libraries and began studying the topic. His academic prowess proved once again superior.

As the new meeting began he was now and would evermore be the smartest guy on the subject. And he was.

Being the smartest person in the room is not just about academic skills alone. It can come from vast experience through years of exposure to all aspects of a business or industry. The knowledge that gets captures is retained.

Typically executives who are tagged the smartest guy have very little interpersonal skill. They plow through the day problem solving and sharing their superior knowledge, leaving hard working souls in their wake.

Working with these people is very hard to do. When they are stakeholders on a project, they can become the derailer.

What can you do?

Finding ways to work with or through these special people can be very frustrating. If you’re not intimidated by their knowledge, you might be put off by their behaviors. They often make terrible bosses.

So what can you do?

Over the years, I’ve had several clients who reported being frustrated by TSGITR (the smartest guy in the room). Whenever I hear this, I recommend one solution.

Arrange a one-on-one. Present to TSGITR the following comments or whatever version of this works for you.

“Look, whenever we meet to talk about ____________________I want to acknowledge you are the smartest guy in the room. You are an important stakeholder in the project. Whenever I try to explain the alternative ways we are working on this problem, I’d appreciate your help resolving it, not just dismissing ideas that don’t stand up to your standard.”

“I am sure no one is trying to challenge your wisdom on these subjects. I’d like to find a better way for you and me to work together. Is that ok?”

Whenever a client has used this approach, they tell me it worked well. The senior person stopped and admitted they had no idea their communication was impacting people that way. I’ve even heard of situations where TSGITR asked for help being called out when they start down that domineering path.

Managing Up the Organization

I don’t believe in the concept of managing up the organization. See my mention of that here.

However, those who are true leaders, regardless of your level in the organization, can garner respect and thereby influence those above you.

To have that kind of respect, you have to bolster your confidence, speak boldly but gracefully. Don’t find fights to fight. But likewise, don’t shrink away from objections and stronger personalities. Create your boundaries. Fight for what you know needs to get done.

If you discover that important information is missing, you can change your position. But don’t do it because of intimidation and boldness from TSGITR.

Try this out next time. Let me know how it went. Then if you’d like to discuss it further, feel free to schedule a call or leave a comment.

Also, I am offering coaching on demand through my sister site at FLASHCOACH.ME

Coaching on demand is the ability to arrange professional coaching support without a long term, ongoing contract. You can buy blocks of hours on specific topics you believe a coach could help you with. Try it out!

Make Personal Mission Statements Work for You

Personal Mission Statement sign on the wooden surface.

Personal mission statements guide you towards your goals. If you sometimes feel like you’re floundering, chart your course by putting your purpose into writing. Try these suggestions for applying personal mission statements to your professional and personal life.

Understanding the Basics of Personal Mission Statements

Here are six key principles to follow.

First, perform an inventory. Your personal mission statement encompasses who you are and what you want out of life.

I like doing a personal S.W.O.T. analysis. Businesses use SWOT to evaluate their activity, why not use the same approach in your personal affairs?

Consider your core values and beliefs. Review your past accomplishments. Look for common themes that suggest your strengths and priorities. Ask yourself what you want your legacy to be.

Next, seek inspiration. One of the major benefits of mission statements is the motivation they provide. When you toil away at a tedious task or run into an obstacle, you can remind yourself of why you’re making the effort. Knowing your WHY is a very important motivation for giving your best effort at all times.

Then write it down. Putting your thoughts down on paper makes them more concrete in your mind. It’s easier to see how you’re doing and hold yourself accountable. We all get great ideas, but without writing them down, they have a tendency to drift away.

The same is true with your sense of personal purpose.

Above all, keep it brief. While there may be a lot of thought behind your mission statement, keep the final product short and powerful. That way you can pinpoint the values that matter most to you and measure your success.

Simplicity also adds to clarity. Having a short but succinct statement helps you maintain focus.

Then, gather feedback. Welcome input from others as you create your mission statement and carry it out. Your friends and coworkers may notice factors that you tend to overlook. Others will have keen insights into potential blind spots you have.

Lastly, evaluate your progress. Mission statements evolve over time. Your goals may change when you switch careers or turn 40. Advances in technology sometimes automate the tasks that used to take up your time, giving you a chance to pursue a new passion.

Keep it fresh. At a minimum, re-evaluate your statement each year.

self reflection

Using Mission Statements in Your Professional Life

Feeling a bit disconnected at work?

Rewrite your job description. Take a fresh look at your position. Your personal mission statement may suggest new tasks that you want to take on and old ones that you want to phase out. Maybe you’ll continue your current duties but approach them with greater meaning and commitment.

Talk with your supervisor. Let your manager know that you’re trying to align your work more closely with the company mission statement. They may appreciate your initiative and offer helpful ideas.

Coach yourself. While support from your supervisor is valuable, you can also train and drill yourself. Construct a plan of action for integrating your mission statement into your daily routine.

Assess your fit. Addressing fundamental issues may raise bigger questions about your future. You may decide that you’re in tune with your company or you may decide to move on.

Using Mission Statements in Your Personal Life

Enhance your health. Fulfilling your mission depends on keeping your body strong. Cherishing your health can keep you on track with managing your weight, eating nutritious foods, exercising daily, and sleeping eight hours each night.

servant leader

Strengthen your parenting. If you have children, it’s natural to think about what you’re passing on to them with each decision you make. Focus on raising your sons and daughters to be kind and responsible.

Deepen your relationships. Your mission statement affects other relationships too. You may find that your marriage and friendships help you to develop the qualities you treasure.

Practice your spirituality. If faith is the cornerstone of your life, your mission statement can help you to translate your beliefs into practical actions. Designate a percentage of your time for volunteer work with your church or sign up for classes with a spiritual guide whose teachings touch your heart.

In Conclusion

Clarify your purpose by developing and updating your personal mission statement on a regular basis. Understanding your individual definition of success brings you closer to reaching your goals.

If you need help with this process, our coaches are ready and willing to come alongside. Let us show you the ways to unlock the power of creating and following a personal mission statement.

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