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Make Life More Fulfilling: Discover Your Life Purpose

Do you wake up each day dreading the idea of spending another day at work? You might even feel the need to be a part of something bigger and more meaningful. If you’ve failed to discover and build your life around your life purpose, you might feel dissatisfied with your life. Determining the purpose of your life can be a simple process.

It can take a bit of work to uncover the truth, but it’s within you. It’s waiting to be unearthed and utilized.

Living a life that’s congruent with your purpose will allow you to start each day with a smile, hope, and a plan. It’s a tool for connecting with something meaningful outside yourself. Everyone has a different “why”. The trick is to determine the “why” that fits your values and talents.

If your life is in a rut, discovering your life purpose is the first step to a life filled with passion and contentment.

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

The Benefits of Discovering and Living Your Life Purpose

Maybe you hold the belief that work is called “work” for a reason. You might think that life is hard, boring, and that enjoyment is only for children and retirees. All stages of life can be meaningful and exciting. Knowing that you’re living the life that’s right for you is the key to finding enjoyment each day.

The advantages of knowing your life purpose are far-reaching:

You’ll enjoy focus and clarity. When you’re not spending your time and efforts on the things that matter to you, your focus is elsewhere. When you’re not clear on your purpose, it’s hard to make effective decisions.

Lacking direction, focus, and purpose is no way to go through life. Knowing your purpose makes life simpler.

Life will be more fun! When you know your purpose and live it each day, life has the opportunity to be more enjoyable. With your fears and doubts in the rearview mirror, you’re in a better position to enjoy yourself.

It enhances your passion for life. Spending your day on the things that are most important to you will release your passion. You’ll feel the enthusiasm you had as a child. With a compelling future and a high level of motivation, you become unstoppable. This is missing from a life without a clear purpose.

You become part of something bigger than yourself. You’ll have a sense of certainty that’s both comforting and peaceful. It’s a chance to make a big and meaningful contribution to the world.

Discovering the answer to the question, “What is the purpose of my life?” will change your life forever. How can you determine your life purpose?

As you’ll see, there are several strategies.

 “The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.”

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Questions to Reveal the Purpose of Your Life

It’s impossible to find your purpose without a degree of self-reflection. Answers are the result of asking questions. Asking the right questions will provide the answers you seek. When you ask yourself questions, it’s imperative to listen to the answers. The response you receive can be very subtle and quiet. Keep an open mind.

Be sure to record your answers!

Ask yourself these useful questions:

If you only had a year to live, how would you spend it? With the clock ticking, we’re much more able to focus on the important stuff and let everything else go.

  • The things that come to mind are worthy of further consideration. Could you spend your life engaged in one of these ideas?
  • Just reminding yourself that you’re going to die one day can be helpful. The reminder that your time is limited can reduce the habit of wasting time and being indecisive.

How do you want others to remember you? What would you like your obituary to say? How would you like your children, friends, and other family members to remember you?

  • Make a conscious decision about how you’d like others to remember you and put together a plan to live that life.

What did you love to do as a child that you no longer do? As children, we’re quite clear about what we like and don’t like. In addition, younger children aren’t concerned with the perceptions of others. We do things solely because we like them when we’re 6-years old. What have you given up over the years?

  • As we become teenagers, social pressure and the need to impress others can steer us away from the things we love.
  • In young adulthood, we become overly concerned with the practicality of our choices. “Can I make enough money at this to have a decent lifestyle?”
  • With a little thought, you can find a way to make a living doing what you love. Life is short. Consider what you once loved to do and find a way to incorporate it back into your life.

What type of discomfort can I handle? Everything is awful part of the time. Living your life’s purpose will have its disadvantages. What can you handle?

  • If you dream of being an artist, musician, writer, or actor, you’ll be rejected at least 95% of the time.
  • If you want to create a law firm, you’ll spend at least a decade working 80-hours each week.
  • Do you want to be a teacher? Can you handle the parents and the children that constantly disrupt class?
  • If you can’t handle the worst aspects of pursuing your purpose, consider reconsidering your choice.

What topics and activities make you lose track of time? Have you ever gotten so involved with a conversation or an activity that you missed a meal or were amazed by how much time had passed?

  • Maybe you lose track of time when you play the guitar. However, take another step in your thinking. Is it the guitar specifically or music in general? Is it the guitar or the process of competing with yourself and seeing improvement?
  • Make a list of the times you’ve been so focused that you forgot about everything else.
  • Imagine if you had a career that incorporated this phenomenon. You’d never have to “work” another day again!

What do you dream about doing but are too afraid of? Admit it. There’s something you fantasize about, but you can’t quite get yourself to take action. It might be climbing Mount Everest, writing a screenplay, or becoming a doctor.

  • Why haven’t you taken the first step? In many cases, you’ll find your resistance to trying something new is fear. Often, it’s the fear of failing, especially failing in front of others.
  • Keep in mind that the only way to become good at something is to work through the initial period of being bad at it. It’s unlikely that your first script will be purchased. In fact, it will probably be awful. But the next attempt will be better. It takes time to become good at a new skill.
  • The more embarrassment you can handle, the greater your ultimate success.

How could you best serve the world? Of all the challenges that exist in the world, how could you best solve one of them?

  • True happiness requires contributing to something outside yourself.
  • It’s not possible to solve any of the world’s problems alone. You’ll be forced to work constructively and creatively with others. This could be the kind of fulfillment you seek.
  • Make of list of all the ways your skills, interests, and talents could benefit the world in a meaningful way.

Did you ask yourself every question? Did you record your answers?

How can you use the answers to enhance your life?

Introspection is a necessary part of finding your life purpose. Ask yourself the important questions and listen to the answers.

“A small change can make a big difference. You are the only one who can make our world a better place to inhabit. So, don’t be afraid to take a stand.”

– Ankita Singhal

7 More Questions to Reveal Your Life Purpose

If the above approaches haven’t satisfied your quest, there are additional questions you can answer. While meditation and writing can be highly effective, some of us have greater success with more conventional means. Avoid giving up. There’s too much at stake to stop.

Spend a few minutes on each question before moving on to the next:

What are your greatest regrets? Which missed opportunities do you regret the most? Is there a skill you wish you had started learning years ago? What decisions would you change if given a second chance?

  • What career would choose if you could go back in time and be 18-years old again? Is it really too late now?

Who inspires you the most? Think about the people that fill you with feelings of respect and admiration.

  • What is it about them that inspires you? Could you incorporate some of these same qualities in yourself? Could you live a similar life?

What are your natural talents? In what areas have you always excelled? Do you understand complex ideas? Is it your social skills? Are you musically talented? Are you compassionate and considerate?

  • While you can learn to be good at anything, you can save a lot of time if you’re able to put your natural abilities to work. Imagine the progress you’d make after 10 years of effort using your natural abilities rather than starting from scratch.
  • If you believe that you were born with a particular purpose, it only makes sense that the necessary talents would be provided to you, too.

What makes you feel good about yourself? If you could spend most of your time doing things that make you feel great, your life would be pretty wonderful!

  • Create a list of all the things you do that make you feel good about yourself.

If you had to teach a subject, what would you choose? It’s only enjoyable to teach subjects that you like. The subject you’d like to teach is a good candidate for your life purpose.

In what areas do people ask you for help? Most of us wouldn’t ask a homeless person for stock tips. We ask people for advice that we believe have a level of expertise higher than our own.

  • Do others constantly ask you for relationship advice?
  • Do people ask you about spiritual matters?

Imagine you’re 80-years old, what memories do you want to have? Imagine you’re sitting on your front porch swing. What would you like to claim as your past? What type of relationships would you like to have experienced? What do you want to have accomplished?

  • How can you make this ideal past become your present?

You now have a good idea of your life purpose. The next step is determining how to incorporate the knowledge into your life. Ideas are the easy part. It’s the implementation that’s challenging.

“As the struggle for survival has subsided, the question has emerged: survival for what? Ever more people have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.”

– Viktor E. Frankl

Make Your Purpose a Part of Your Life

It’s great that you’ve narrowed down your primary reason for living, but how can you use that knowledge? Knowing something has minimal value if you’re not applying the knowledge. Focus on making small changes to your daily habits. Slow progress is the most reliable way to create major change in your life.

Let’s suppose your purpose is to help illiterate adults to read:

Look to the future. What does the end of your journey look like? Are you sitting at the library, helping someone learn to read? Are you in charge of a charity that serves those unable to read? Are you asking Bill Gates for $10,000,000 to fight for your cause?

What can you do today to get started? Starting is always the hardest part. What can you do today?

  • Learn more about illiteracy. What are the statistics? What are the causes? What is the best way to teach an adult to read?
  • What local resources are available? Can you contact them for advice?
  • Could you put an ad in Craig’s List and get started helping someone today?

Remind yourself of your purpose each day. Each morning and evening, take a minute to remind yourself of your purpose. Look to the future and feel excited. This is especially important on those challenging days that inevitably happen from time to time.

Track your progress. Keep a journal and list your successes and failures. How can you experience more successes and prevent future failures? Appreciate how far you’ve come.

Spread the word. If you’ve found your purpose in life, it’s your obligation to let the world know about it. How can you communicate the importance of adult illiteracy to the world? You’re not just a worker on this project. You’re also a messenger.

Realize that making a big difference requires big effort and time. Avoid letting the magnitude of your dreams overwhelm you. A little work and attention each day are cumulative. Your progress will shock you.

“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”

– Seneca

In Conclusion

Finding your life purpose changes the direction and emphasis of your life. If you haven’t taken the time to determine the purpose of your life, the quality of your experience on Earth has been limited. There are many advantages to discovering your unique purpose.

Introspection is a part of making this discovery. Self-reflective questions, meditation, and writing are all potential options. Use every method at your disposal until you’re satisfied with the answer you receive.

Today, more than ever, it’s possible to make a living doing a wide variety of things. You can live in Alaska and give tuba lessons to a student in Miami via skype. You can publish your own book without the need for a traditional publisher. There is a way to make a living while being true to your life purpose.

Find your purpose and reclaim your life.

If you need some help to explore these and other questions bout your personal purpose, I can help.

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!

Exploring the Real Meaning of Trust at Work

small team

Anyone who has ever been asked to lead a team knows something right away. Steering, guiding, leading, or managing people can be very difficult. It can feel like herding cats. Individual minds don’t fall in line very easy.

As the manager, you know where you want to go or at least you have some idea. Whether you are managing a team at a large corporation or guiding your happy little band of employees in a small business, having a team can be hard to do.

Gather a group of unrelated human beings, give them a task, and soon you have people veering off in various directions. Some are crushing it; producing amazing work. Others are hiding in plain sight, trying to scam the system. In between are souls who give the work a try, but often find ways, whether consciously or subconsciously, to make it look hard.

As a manager or leader of this cheery little assembly, you go home at night and bang your head against the wall.

Therefore, the really big question is ‘what can you do to make a difference?’

Introducing Trust

The longer I work with businesses of all sizes, the more I am convinced that TRUST is a big deal. Unfortunately, I don’t know any company owner or executive that starts with the idea of building trust as a key element of their team building effort.

Instead, managers usually focus on process. They have a vision and a plan that drives the idea of the right process to make a profit. Making money is the chief idea, right? Producing some meaningful product or service is the ‘thing’ that causes customers to pay us. It makes good sense to have a solid, robust process to produce that ‘thing.’

Designing the process then teaching it to your team requires a great deal of time and effort. Yes, we recruit people to join our teams who know things about our process. CPA firms will hire accountants. Engineering firms will hire certified engineers. Manufacturing companies will hire people who know something about the steps in the process or the equipment used.

To talk about hiring a little further, I am also convinced that if you are somewhat successful with your hiring, the people you select will want to do the right thing. The hiring process is a very big “if”, but if you have figured it out, you will generally have a team that is there to do the right thing.

Enter Trust

This is where trust appears, right at the start. As soon as that new employee is inserted into your team culture or situation, they will begin questioning things. The questions may not be outward. But internally, they are screening, evaluating, and judging what is going on. Why?

Why does someone do that? It’s human nature. To be safe in our surroundings, we must build trust with the people and things around us. It’s really pretty simple once you stop to think about it.

When you meet a stranger on the street at midnight, what are your first thoughts? Likely, you’re very afraid. All your defenses go up. It’s fight or flight time. We’re wired that way. It’s about our basic need to survive. We test and question the moment. We look for signs that a threat might exist.

Stranger Danger

If the stranger responds with a willing gesture of open hands, visible face, and cautious movement away from us, we feel just a little bit more secure. Once they speak our language and express apologies for frightening us, we feel even more secure, still on guard, but less afraid. Then, if they act true to that message by walking around us, never closing in, we feel more trust about believing they mean us no harm.

All of the observing, evaluating, testing, and questioning is exactly what a new hire will be doing. The team leader must be the one directing the effort to answer the questions, demonstrate safety, communicate the expectations, and deliver on actions that are consistent with the messages.

The Google Study

In 2018, Google released the findings of Project Aristotle. The basis of this project was the question ‘why do some teams perform so much better than others.’

Google has a rigorous hiring process. In fact, it is considered by many to be the most rigorous of all large corporate hiring programs. Yet when these best-of-the-best employees get assigned to work teams, not all teams perform as well as others. How could that be?

Google’s study took two years to complete. In the end, what they discovered is that ‘psychological safety’ was the number one reason high-performing teams exist. When you read the complete findings, you realize the term psychological safety is really nothing more than TRUST.

The Leader’s Secret Weapon

If you are new to leading teams, you likely struggle with confidence. You may even go so far as to think of yourself as suffering an “impostor syndrome.” You doubt your own ability to manage and lead.

Rather than focusing inwardly on those doubts, start by focusing outward. Talk to your team. Learn what makes them tick. Build an understanding of their strengths. Find out about the basic questions they may be asking as they search for ways to trust you and the rest of the team. They might even be questioning the company (if it’s big enough). You can help sooth those concerns.

Be more of a problem solver for the issue of whether your employees trust the team situation. Focus your time and effort solving that and you will discover you will rapidly become a leader people respect.

The respect you receive will be less about the technical skills you have and more about the ways you made your team feel connected. You too can build trust at work.

Ways to Be a More Effective Team Leader

Above all, the best way to be more effective in your leadership effort to influence and impact the trust factors within your team, is to look at the Team Trust Culture Model. My friend Roger Ferguson and I collaborated to write about this model in our latest book “Trust at Work.”

By following this model, you can become a Trust Builder. The model tells us we can organize all those questions people ask into six logical, connected areas. As a leader, you work your way through the areas helping your team get more comfortable with their understanding of all aspects of the company, the work, their fellow workers and YOU.

Therefore, Leaders who proactively attack these areas find tangible results. Teams do more because they want to do more. Once they elevate their level of trust, they become willing to give more at work; more effort, more energy, and more contribution to the outcome.

Google’s Six Steps

In addition, the six steps of the model address all the factors Google identified in high-performing teams.

Psychological safety: Psychological safety refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive.

In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.

Moreover, the Model exists to help leaders and their teams achieve high levels of psychological safety. It is the overall focus of the Model.

Dependability: On dependable teams, members reliably complete quality work on time (vs the opposite – shirking responsibilities).

The Model has delivered tangible results. Successful implementation of the Model within work teams has produced an environment where people want to work, take pride in the work, and desire to do more. This is called discretionary effort. The book talks about this in detail.

Structure and clarity: An individual’s understanding of job expectations, the process for fulfilling these expectations, and the consequences of one’s performance are important for team effectiveness. Goals can be set at the individual or group level, and must be specific, challenging, and attainable. Google often uses Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to help set and communicate short- and long-term goals.

Steps two, three, and four are ways leaders can address concerns and questions about clarity, expectations and results.

Meaning: Finding a sense of purpose in either the work itself or the output is important for team effectiveness. The meaning of work is personal and can vary: financial security, supporting family, helping the team succeed, or self-expression for each individual, for example.

Step five in the model addresses performance and an individual’s sense of purpose for participating in the team.

Impact: The results of one’s work, the subjective judgement that your work is making a difference, is important for teams. Seeing that one’s work is contributing to the organization’s goals can help reveal impact.

Step six is where we explore impact and significance of the team contributing to the greater good.

In Summary

Trust has been identified as a key driver for high-performing teams. Leaders can work on building trust at work by answering key questions all employees ask. To clarify, the more you do as a leader to respond to the questions, the more likely it will be to see trust grow within your team.

Trust is so vitally important. Why not add trust building to your goals as a leader? If you need help doing that, you can schedule a free consultation call to talk about your team and your company.

trust at work

Lessons in Leadership: Soaring with the Winds of Life

windsock

 

In learning how to fly an airplane, one of the first lessons has to do with understanding winds. Winds come in basically three types;

  • Head winds – those hit you right in the face
  • Tail winds – those from behind
  • Cross winds – those at angles from the side

I believe the challenges we face in life and in business model these three types of wind as well. If we consider all the forms of challenge we face, we can boil it down into these three categories. However, it might be interesting to compare the pilot’s concern with each of these winds as we think about our daily responses to life’s winds…..

Head Wind

First, the head winds. Too often we might be prone to think of these negatively. As wind hits us in the face, it slows us down, forces us to press harder against the wind. Bob Seger wrote a great ballad titled “Against the Wind…stronger now still just running…against the wind”.

When a pilot encounters head wind during flight it can be a challenge. Fuel consumption is increased as air speed decreases. The time it takes to reach a destination increases. Stress and fatigue can set in. But did you know it is preferable to take off and land “against the wind”? Why? Because the increased force of that head wind causes “lift” on the wings which is the force that makes planes fly.

A good steady head wind actually makes take-offs and landings easier, more comfortable and effective. So the next time you sense a head wind in life, ask yourself whether it has been provided to allow more lift for a better take off to a new place in life or whether it is there to afford a safer, smoother landing from where you have just come.

Tail Wind

Next let’s talk about tail wind. This is just the opposite from a head wind. We tend to think of tail wind as favorable. During flight that might be true. It can serve to push us forward, reduce effort and speed the time towards the destination.

But did you know it is the most difficult force with which to reckon during take off and landing? At those times, it actually impairs control, reduces efficiency and creates danger.

Maybe in life we need to be cautious of the perceived tail winds. Rather than gliding along with them, we need to watching for hindrances to gaining new achievement or resolving old challenges.

Cross Wind

The final force is cross wind. All things considered, crosswind is the most challenging of all flying situations. That is true in life and business too.

Crosswind means what it implies… a force crossing you at an angle to the direction you intend to fly. During flight, a cross wind will blow you “off course”. A constant watch must be given to direction and compass heading while flying in crosswinds. There is no cruising during crosswind conditions. It is a constant battle.

doug flying
Me piloting a cross country to Shreveport LA

Take off and landing is even more severe. Very special techniques are required to manage a crosswind situation. This is why you see planes doing a crab landing, angling sideways right before touchdown. In some situations the crosswind can be so severe that its force exceeds the designed strength of the air frame on the airplane, which makes the good pilot seek an alternative landing site, one where the winds are more favorable.

Life has crosswind too. It is the skill and grace with which we handle life’s crosswinds that determines our ultimate success. Failure to recognize and manage a crosswind can cause certain disaster. Either we ignore the presence of that crosswind or we acknowledge it but underestimate the consequences. Forging ahead means grave results.

So next time you feel a certain extraordinary force influencing your life, consider the pilot. Is the wind you feel one of these? If so, which one and how will you choose to handle it?

If you need help discerning the winds in your path right now or want to find better ways to navigate those winds, schedule a time for a free consultation.

Copy These 5 Communication Skills From Top Leaders

Do you struggle with communicating effectively? Communication is a key part of success at work or in other parts of your life. Top leaders have practiced and mastered the skills that enable them to communicate so well. Luckily, you too can learn these same skills!

Follow these strategies to practice essential communication skills:

Learn to Listen

Top leaders know that listening is a crucial part of communication. Learn to love listening and engage in the stories of others.

Try to really pay attention during a conversation instead of being distracted by your phone or another device. Have one conversation at a time to give each person your full attention. 

Practice retelling the person’s story in your mind to get better at listening.

Everyone wants to be heard. Others will notice that you’re listening to them and will go away from your conversations thinking what a great communicator you are when all you did was listen.

Avoid Slang and Informalities

It’s normal to use slang or other types of informal language while talking to friends or family. However, business usually requires a more formal language set. Pay attention to who you’re talking to and make the necessary adjustments.

Slang, acronyms, and informalities can also make some people feel uncomfortable, especially if they’re not familiar with them.

Focus on Being Brief

Top leaders know that you don’t have to make a long speech to be effective.

Practice being brief and getting your point across with fewer words and less time. People appreciate brief conversations and respect others who don’t go off on tangents.

However, ensure you’re still providing enough information while you talk. You don’t want to be vague or miss important details.

This skill may take time to develop, so practice it often. The next time you have a conversation, try to get your point across with less talking. Try to summarize the important parts and only focus on them while you talk. 

Pay Attention to Other’s Emotions

When you talk, take note of how the other person is reacting. Words are powerful, and communication can affect people in many different ways.

You may want to learn psychology to understand emotions better.

Show sympathy and empathy when it’s appropriate during a conversation.

Look at things from the other person’s point of view without criticism or judgment.

Be Charismatic

Communication is easier for charismatic people, but you can learn this skill.

One of the most important aspects of charisma is confidence, but not arrogance or self-righteousness. Confident communicators know their value and worth, but they’re also respectful of others.

Another facet of charisma is optimism, and it’s also a big part of communication. Even if you’re having a difficult conversation, focus on something positive. Top leaders are good at finding the silver lining.

Charismatic communicators are interesting, but they also share interesting information with others.They focus on innovation and new ideas that give people a spark.

Summary

You can learn to communicate more effectively by following these tips from top leaders. Practice these skills as often as possible. You’ll have many opportunities each day. Every time you have a conversation with anyone is an opportunity to practice a little more. And as you know, practice makes perfect!

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.

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How We Work – Perfect vs Imperfect

wabi sabi

There is a struggle in modern business. As people show up for work, there is a tension between forces that push us to be perfect in what we achieve, yet we know in our hearts and minds we are imperfect in many ways. And the work goes on.

We add more hours to the day to meet that deadline or deliver the project. We agonize over the work in front of us. We shape our words and stories to present the image that a perfect outcome is on its way, ‘almost there.’

Then, when the work is delivered, there is a nagging sense that we could have done more.

Explore the Source

First let’s explore where this voice comes from; the voice demanding perfection.

For many it comes from childhood memories (or nightmares) pressed into the psyche by that third-grade teacher or gym coach or, sadly, a parent who demanded ‘better.’ I’m not talking about the loving mentor who encouraged us, but rather the mean-spirited ogre who said hurtful things. Even with many years between their angry words and your own revelation of real truths, the messages that are remembered from these horrible souls shape our sense of what we need to accomplish.

Teacher complaining about schoolboy in elementary school class.

Another source of expectation comes from the bad boss who sets unrealistic demands for the team. They plot goals and standards that look like perfection, but usually won’t stand up to objective scrutiny. Unfortunately, too many workers buckle under these bosses. Instead of pushing back, you go to work and try to deliver.

Team or organizational culture can impact this too. On occasion I run into a work environment that demands 100% of the information be covered in an analysis before making a decision. There might even be punitive personnel assessments written for those who fail to hit the 100% mark.

Lastly, your own definition of perfection can be a force. I often encounter clients who have the perfectionistic personality. It torments them and drives those around them crazy. The interesting contradiction in this personality is that they usually don’t get enough done at all because they fear the work not being perfect, so they never start.

Here’s a Fresh Idea

Wabi sabi is a Japanese design concept. It means beauty in that which is temporary or imperfect. Things that come off of an assembly line, for example, are perfect, but things made by hand, like the glaze on a Japanese ceramic bowl, are imperfect. It is their imperfections that give them their beauty. (see the cover picture)

The same is true for people. It is the combination of all of our imperfections that make us vulnerable and beautiful.

If you are a leader, have you thought about applying the wabi-sabi mindset as a metaphor for the work you do? If you let your view of things shift to embrace the idea of life as a journey. Give yourself and those who work for you the grace to believe we are all working to become better versions of ourselves. The idea of a “work in progress” can become a great strategy for the work you do.

You can implement a system for constant improvement rather than always chasing perfection. As I write that last phrase it almost seems redundant and contradictory at the same time. ‘If I am working on constant improvement aren’t I seeking perfection?’

I argue NO. Perfection comes with the moment by moment, project by project expectation of scoring 100. Even college grads with a 4.0-grade point average (considered ‘perfect’ by most systems) don’t have to score 100 on every exam.

However, constant improvement is about learning from prior experience to make small adjustments or tweaks in what you are doing so that the next body of work can be a little better; not perfect, but better.

Closing Remarks

I know there will be readers who say ‘you don’t get it. If I don’t do perfect work, I’ll lose my job.’ My question is first to define exactly what ‘perfect’ is supposed to mean. There is an old saying:

Perfect is the enemy of good.

I’ve seen big corporations miss an entire market shift that could have earned them millions of dollars because their effort to analyze the situation took too long. Why?

Because they were working on the perfect analysis, covering 100% of the angles. In hindsight, an analysis that only addressed 50% or 70% could have given them enough validation to go forward. The extra effort to fill out the remaining margin to get to 100% didn’t add value. It actually cost them the opportunity.

Adopt wabi-sabi. There is beauty in imperfection if you just decide to look at it differently.

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How Do You Do What You Do?

Gaining Experience

From time to time, I have a mentee say “I am interested in doing what you do. Please tell me how to do that.”

Often I struggle with that ask, because if I was honest, I’d say “You’ve got to be kidding me. Do you know what I’ve been through to get here?”

John Maxwell said it much more eloquently. He said “OK. Let me ask you a question. Are you willing to do what I did to get to do the things I do?”

Do the Things I Did

Doing things in the past created the experience required to do today, what I do. Without living through the leadership crucibles I’ve lived, I’d not have any of the material I share with clients today. Starting as a young 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, I took on management roles.

Later, joining a regional bank, I was recruited there because senior leaders inside the bank were former military officers and knew the kind of experiences I had. They could relate to the experiences and had automatic confidence in knowing I could assume a management role there too.

After 20 years in banking with successive growth roles along the way, I took an early retirement from banking and started several businesses. I knew I loved entrepreneurship, so I took the knowledge I gained at the bank (watching and working with many many client companies) and applied it in those start-ups.

It was at times a painful learning experience. Until you lay awake at night sweating the ability to make your next payroll, you have no idea what it takes to run a business on your own.

Experience earned the hard way. Plain and simple.

The same is true in many other professions. Plumbers and electricians have job grades starting with apprentice roles. You watch the masters, observe what they do, learn about the finer points. Then, with time, you test for and achieve the higher grade status in the profession.

Doctors spend years of schooling and rotations to learn about practicing medicine. You wouldn’t want a first year MD doing your heart or brain surgery. Most people I know, when the need arises for surgery, they ask the doc how many of these have you done?

Experience is a Cruel Beast

Gaining experience is the big hurdle for young people entering the job market. There aren’t that many positions available to start at the ground floor and work your way up. Yes, larger companies create starter jobs and recruit the top of the class graduates to fill those roles. They might even have training programs to grow and nurture the less experienced to fill future job needs inside the company.

However, for many, finding those experience learning opportunities is tough. Couple that with a new found impatience about career advancement and you have a frustrating situation.

Yet, there is no denying the need for experience to do the right thing in later roles. ‘Do the things I did to get to do the things I do.’ I love that.

Tips to Achieve the Success You Want

So for those who are in the early years of your careers, here are some thoughts to follow.

Understand Your Purpose

First, work on the need to understand your purpose. You were put on the earth for a reason. It was not some happy accident. You are created, wired, and pre-disposed for a purpose. Identify what that might be, then create a roadmap for fulfilling that purpose.

It won’t happen overnight or in the next 24 months. It’s a life journey. You can learn more about writing your own personal purpose statement here.

Play the Long Game

Next, learn how to play the long game. Stop worrying about tomorrow and the next immediate thing. Try to envision the picture of your future state lloooooonnnngggggg down the road. Not just tonight or tomorrow. Search for opportunities that serve that plan.

As an example, if you really want to be a consultant, get some analysts jobs first. Learn how to run studies and surveys. Compile big reports and findings for customers. Do the heavy lifting on those kinds of jobs so that you build experience in the tools of the trade.

If you think you want to be a coach, get some ‘people’ jobs first. Work your way up to become a shift supervisor at a Burger King. Learn how to deal with all kinds of people, not just your circle of friends from school.

Find Mentors

Then find some mentors. Let them help you along the way. Don’t just ask for a 30-minute session then be done. You’re not done. You have lots to learn. Mentoring is a process that evolves over time.

You’ll notice I said mentors (plural). Find people who will help you in all areas of life, not just work things. If you’re starting out in married life, get a mentor. Need spiritual help? Find a mentor. If you have a hobby you’d like to improve on, get a mentor.

It’s not that hard to find mentors either. All of my friends are willingly helping people in all walks of life. They just need to be asked.

Perpetual Learning

All of the best coaches and leaders I know are perpetual learners. They read, study, and research to keep their edge sharp. In addition, they attend workshops and participate in mastermind groups. They rely upon peer-to-peer advisory work. Lastly, they hire coaches. Similar to top tier professional athletes, great thinkers and leaders turn to coaches to help up their game.

It’s a layered effect. You achieve one level, then start working on the next level. That is true in experiential growth as well as job promotion.

Wrapping it Up

When you ask an older, more experienced person how to do what they do, you have to recognize they did what they did before, so they now can do what they do. You can’t skip the steps in between.

They wouldn’t be who they are, doing what they do today without having done what they did to get here.

I know those are tongue twisters, but you get meaning. Do the work, find the experience, then you can do the big thing you want to do, your life’s purpose.

Agree or disagree? Leave a comment. Click a share.

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.