Learning from Mistakes

Mistakes happen. They are a part of life. With any luck they are also part of learning. Actually luck has nothing to do with it. Humility does. Honesty does. A desire to grow does. Authenticity does.

You will never learn from a mistake you will not admit. You will never learn from one of your mistakes that you attempt to blame on someone else.

People who will not admit a mistake are not much better off than the people who won’t try anything outside of their comfort zone because they are afraid of making one.

Mistakes you don’t admit you make again and again. Mistakes you blame on other people you make over and over. There is however a school of thought that says after you make the same mistake 3 or 4 times it’s not a mistake anymore, it’s a decision. I am firmly enrolled in that school.

Successful people are not afraid to admit their mistakes. They accept responsibility for them, learn from them, use what they can to grow and then they move forward towards greater success.

But even better than learning from your mistakes is learning from the mistakes of others. This is most commonly accomplished by paying attention, having a mentor and asking the right people for advice. Notice that I didn’t say asking for advice, I said asking the right people for advice.

It is my belief that the right people are those who have already accomplished something that I’m hoping to accomplish myself. The right people won’t only tell you how to do something, it’s likely they will show you. They can also provide you insights on how not to do something and that’s the advice that can help us learn from their mistakes.

I say “can help” because in order to learn from the advice of others you must be willing to both listen to the advice and do something differently than you otherwise would have because of it.

So let me offer you this advice: Make a mistake! In fact, make lots of them. A good portion of your success will be determined how fast you can make your mistakes. The rest of your success will be determined by how fast you can learn from those mistakes so you don’t repeat them. Extraordinary success will find you if you’re able to learn from the mistakes of others rather than making them yourself.

Everybody makes mistakes. Not everybody can learn from them. Which everybody are you?

Are You Asking the Right Questions?

When you ask the right questions you receive much better answers in return. I mention that because it’s very challenging to lead people that you do not know. Knowing them requires consistent communication with them and questions are one of the most effective communication tools a leader has.

If.

If they are asking the right questions. As a leader one of your primary responsibilities is to help your people grow. To grow into their potential, to grow into their goals, and to grow into a leader, if that is one of their goals.

Most leaders would agree with all that but here’s the problem. Too few leaders have asked the people they lead any of the questions that would help them understand the goals of their people. Too few leaders ask their people how they can help them stay motivated long enough to reach their potential.

As Clarence the Angel learned in “It’s a Wonderful Life” you have to know something about someone if you’re going to help them. That “something” goes way beyond their hire date, their employee number and their job description.

Leadership is about people. Failing to know your people can cause you to treat them as if they were just another thing in your organization, like a computer or lift truck. They are not things! They are PEOPLE, with wants, needs, issues, hopes and dreams…just like you.

As a leader you must make judgments about your people. As as leader you cannot be judgmental about your people. (If you’re an Authentic Leader you understand the difference) You cannot exercise good judgment about your people without information about them. The best way to get that information is to ask them directly.

That is why I recommend you conduct a periodic innerview with as many of your people as possible. No, I didn’t misspell that. I don’t mean interview. An interview is what you do when you’re trying to hire someone. An innerview is what you do when you’re trying to help someone grow.

Innerviews are quick. 5 minutes or so to ask how someone is doing. Ask about their goals, both personal and professional. Ask about how you can help them. Ask how the organization is doing for them. Ask what you could do to make their job more efficient. Ask about their family and life outside of the workplace. Ask any or all of those questions as time permits. The purpose of those questions is to get an inner view of your people so you’ll know how to help them.

Ask those questions even if your people are a little confused or surprised by them. Once they realize that you are sincerely interested in them as people their answers will improve. So will your ability to help them grow.

Now, here’s why most “leaders” tell me they can’t ask these questions….they say they don’t have time. They often say that immediately after telling me that their people are their greatest asset.

All I can conclude from that is that they intentionally invest their time in less important things than their “greatest asset.”

That does not sound like an effective leadership strategy.

Can you slow down enough to invest critically important time with your people to ask the right questions? If you’re in a leadership position and you truly want to lead then your answer to that question must be a resounding YES!

Be the Very Best You

You are more, way more, than good enough. There is no need to try to be something you’re not just because some fool may have told you at some point in your life that you weren’t good enough.

You are special. You are unique. You are the way you are for a purpose. If other people don’t know your purpose then that’s their problem. If you don’t know your purpose then that’s your problem…and it’s kind of a big one.

It’s a problem for you because not understanding your purpose will often prevent you from accomplishing it. Not knowing, and living, your purpose in life can also cause you to attempt to live a life you’re not meant to live. It can cause you to pretend to be something, or worse, someone you’re not.

This is a pretty big statement but I’m going to say it anyway: you are always better off being yourself then you are trying to be someone that somebody else thinks you should be. I do not believe it possible to be truly happy living solely for other people. I do not believe life-long happiness can come from chasing other people’s dream for you. No matter how well meaning their dreams for you might be.

To stop any temptation to try living out someone else’s idea of what your life should be you need to discover your purpose in life. That can be a life long journey and it can change over time. That’s okay. If whatever you’re doing today is on purpose and for a purpose then it doesn’t matter if that purpose is different from last year or next.

People discover their purpose in life in different ways. Some kind of stumble upon it and some are very intentional about finding it. Some people are living it and not even realizing it. But living it and not realizing it still makes it possible for someone else’s judgment about your life to knock you off the track of a purposeful life.

So I recommend the intentional route.

Try to discover what drives you. When I was a younger salesperson I loved chasing a deal. I especially loved earning the business of a customer who had previously said they would never buy from me. Sales kinda came naturally to me.

But what was even more fulfilling to me was helping other people chase down a deal that I believed they could get even when they didn’t. I don’t know why but I’ve always liked seeing other people succeed with my help, even if I didn’t get “credit” for it. I admit that hasn’t always served my career well but it has served my life well.

Discover what you’re willing to sacrifice to live a life of purpose. It sounds like a generality but if you’re not making any sacrifices to live a life of purpose then the life you’re living might not be all that purposeful.

Lots of people want to do things. But out of all those people it’s the ones willing to make a sacrifice to do them that will actually accomplish them. Most everyone you ask would say that they would like to make a difference in the world if only they could. But when asked what they would give up to make that difference too many lose interest pretty quickly. Those people will always struggle to live a purpose driven life.

When I think of living a purpose driven life I’m reminded of a poem I first heard years ago. Here it is: “Your task is to build a better world,” said God. I answered, “how? The world is such a large, vast place, so complicated now. And I, so small and helpless. There’s nothing I can do.” And God, in His great wisdom said, “just build a better you!”

One of the most effective ways to discover your purpose in life is to focus on building a better you. If you’re living the life that someone else wants you to live or if you’re pretending to be someone you’re not, the process of building a better you will stop that in its tracks.

Don’t try to be someone or something you’re not. Be the very best you that you can possibly be and you’ll have success and happiness all the days of your life.

Finish Before You Start

Everybody knows procrastination is bad. What many people don’t know is that multi-tasking is one of the worst forms of procrastination you’ll ever see.

I know there are people who swear by their multi-tasking “skills.” If you’re one of those I’d like to ask you to sing your favorite song WHILE you read this post. Not AFTER you read it and not BEFORE, read it WHILE you’re singing. That’s multi-tasking!

If you’re so confident in your ability to multi-task then I have another offer for you. If you’re willing to read this while you sing there will be a test available for you online. If you answer every question right you’ll receive a check for a million bucks. (That might be fake news)

Are you still confident enough to risk a million bucks by reading this WHILE you sing?

If you are then I’ll bet you’ve cost yourself way more than a million bucks worth of productivity through the years. That’s because rather than improve your productivity multi-tasking kills it.

For the record, actual multi-tasking is impossible for a human being to do. You can have a bunch of balls in the air but you can only focus on one at a time. You cannot compartmentalize your brain to do two entirely different things at exactly the same time. You simply can’t.

So you move from one thing to another to another going back and forth and back and forth. You do none of them as effectively as if you were focusing on them one at a time. All this switching back and forth causes each task to take longer to accomplish as well.

4 tasks done singularly, to the exclusion of other distractions may take an hour. Doing those tasks all at once through multi-tasking (at least what people think is multi-tasking) will likely add at least 25% to the time it takes to complete them all. That means your one hour of productivity has consumed nearly 90 minutes.

If you don’t believe that then you have never used a time log to determine where your time goes during each 24 hour period that we call a day.

The most productive people finish what they are doing before they start something new. If it’s a big task they may break it into pieces and work on it at different times of the day or different days of the week. But when they are not working on it they put it out of sight so as to not be distracted by it.

Focus wins the productivity battle! It always has and it always will.

If you’re attempting to focus on several things at once then you have no focus. Sorry to break that to you but the sooner you believe it the sooner your productivity will soar!

Skip the multi-tasking for a week. See if you’re not accomplishing more. Prove me wrong if you dare to try. But if I’m right you won’t need me to send you a million bucks; you’ll be on your way to making it on your own.

Do You Have Time for Goals?

In my last post I wrote about understanding the difference between being busy and being productive. I said that if you didn’t do at least one thing to get closer to a goal each day then you were not productive…not matter how busy you may have felt.

What that means of course is that if you don’t have goals then you can’t be productive. When I say “goals” I mean real goals. Concrete ones, written down with deadlines and plans for achievement.

It’s great to dream and say things like “someday I’ll do this” or “one day I’m doing to.” Except that someday and one day do not appear on a calendar. There is a minor league baseball team in town and the beer vendors all wear shirts that say “free beer tomorrow.” The problem is when tomorrow comes the free beer is still tomorrow.

That’s how it is with unwritten goals as well. The day you’re finally going to pursue them never arrives.

Specificity is key to successfully achieving goals. The more wiggle room you allow yourself the more likely it will be that you wiggle out of them.

Real goals are measurable. “I’m going to lose some weight” is not a goal. It is at best a wish. To make it a goal you must put some weight (pardon the pun) behind it. “I’m going to lose 2 pounds a week for the next 10 weeks” is a goal.

Real goals are actually attainable. There are several reasons that “I’m going to be the first man on the moon” is not an attainable goal. Well, maybe more than several, but the point is if your goal is so far-fetched that you have no chance of achieving it then it is more likely to leave you unmotivated. Plus, ALL the time you spent going after it is a complete waste.

Real goals are realistic. “I’m going to lose those 20 pounds this week” is a wee bit unlikely to happen. In fact it ain’t going to happen so it’s not even a good dream. Real goals must be completely within your control. Setting a goal to have your bosses job in a year is not realistic because too many factors are beyond your control.

First, your bosses job must open up. Second, your company must be looking at internal candidates, the list could go on and on.

A real goal would be one that says “over the course of the next year I’m going to do this, this, this and this in order to be the best possible candidate should my bosses position ever open up.

If all the “this, and this and this are within your control then you have a real goal and a much better chance of achieving it. The time you invest will be well worth the effort…even if you never do get your bosses job.

Real goals need a starting date. Writing down what time on that date you will start is even better. They need a FIRM date by which they will be achieved. The time of day on that date is equally important.

The most successful people have a good cross section of goals. Some are professional goals and some are personal. Their goals align with their values. They have financial goals, family goals, educational goals, career goals, spiritual goals, health goals and goals in any area of their lives they choose to focus on.

If you don’t have formal, real goals then let me ask you this: why do you do what you do?

Do you get up each day and go to work in order to make money to divide up between your creditors with the hope there’s some left over for you? Do you seem to have more bad days than good days? Are you frequently frustrated with what life is repaying you for your efforts? Do you constantly have this feeling that there’s more to life than you’re experiencing?

If you answered yes to even some of those questions then it is likely that you are more busy than you are productive. You’re using your 1440 minutes each day with little to show for it.

You CAN have all you want from life and have time left over to discover even more amazing parts of life. The key to unlocking all that is productively investing your time to pursue real goals.

Stop spending time on things that offer you little return. Invest your time in the pursuit of goals and have the life you truly want to have. 

Why It Always Feels Like You’re Short on Time

First we should be clear on one thing, just in case you have doubts. No one in the world has more time than you. You get 1440 minutes each day, no more and no less, exactly like everyone else.

The secret to having “more” time is making productive use of those 1440 minutes.

Sometimes we do things because we like doing them. We are not concerned with getting a return on our investment of time. That’s okay, we all do that sometimes. The difference is, the most successful people know they are doing it. They are okay with making the trade of valuable time to do something solely for personal enjoyment.

That’s called relaxation and I’ve been told it’s actually good for you.

Less successful people do that too and that’s not the problem. The problem is that they don’t distinguish between busy and productive. That means all of their 1440 minutes is available for doing whatever they like. They may convince themselves that if they are busy then they are also productive but they are two very different things. It’s also the primary reason they always feel short on time.

Being busy spends time. You may work incredibly hard all day but at the end of the day you have a hard time placing your finger on exactly what you accomplished. You also can’t clearly articulate why what you were trying to do needed to be done. That’s not a very rewarding feeling.

Being productive invests time. You don’t work any harder than the busy person but at the end of the day you can point to exactly what you accomplished. You can see how your efforts from the day got you closer to one of your goals and that’s a very rewarding feeling. It energizes you to be even more productive the next day.

Which brings us to the real key to having more time. That key is goals.

I submit to you that if you don’t do something to get closer to a goal each day, either personal or professional, then you are not productive. No matter how busy you may be.

If you’re busy all the time and still never seem to get much accomplished then it will always feel as if you’re short on time. In fact, since you’re not able to point to anything tangible that you’ve accomplished there will never be enough time. You will never have enough time until you realize that you’re spending your time instead of investing it.

So you NEED goals. I can virtually guarantee that if you’re always feeling short on time that you do not have a formal goal setting process in place. How many things do you do each day that are urgent? How many of those urgent things are actually important? How many of them don’t need to be done at all?

How many things do you do frequently that offer you absolutely no return for the use of your time? Unless you’re consciously doing those things for relaxation (which I would argue is a great return on the use of your time) they don’t need to be done.

So it appears my next post needs to be about setting attainable goals. That will help you get more done and still have time left over to invest in pure, guiltless relaxation.

Now you…and me, know what my next post will focus on.

How to Lead When There is No Crisis

This will likely be my last blog post that has anything to do with challenging times, new normals, old normals, viruses, leading in times of crisis or any other current events you might be seeing in the news.

There’s two reasons for that. One, I’m just tired of the virus. I’m tired of what might happen stealing the joy out of what is happening. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in on the social distancing guidelines and washing my hands until the skin falls off. I will be responsible and respectful to all my fellow humans on the planet. So I intend to wear a mask when I’m around other people, not for me but for them.

But all those things will be “additive” to the things I normally do. I’ll stop doing only the things that conflict with keeping other people safe. As it turns out, that is likely the very best way to keep myself safe as well.

So, what about all this “leading in challenging times” and “leading in times of crisis” stuff that’s currently flooding blogs and podcasts? (Yep, I’ve written a couple too) My thinking on this has evolved.

It’s evolved because I’ve come to the realization that if you were a poor leader when there was no crisis you will be a poor leader when there is a crisis. If you were an effective leader when there was no crisis then you will be an effective leader when there is a crisis.

That’s because leadership is about people. People’s basic need for leadership does not change one iota in times of crisis. Authentic Leaders may be a bit more intentional with their leadership in times of crisis but the fundamental characteristics of leadership remain the same.

Poor leaders will not suddenly develop leadership skills when circumstances attempt to force the need to truly lead upon them. Contrary to what many people want to believe a crisis doesn’t turn a non-leader or terrible leader into some kind of Churchill.

In difficult times great leadership becomes more visible. That’s only because Authentic Leaders lead almost exclusively from the front in times of crisis. In times with less headwinds they will sometimes lead form the middle of the pack or even the back of it. The fact that some people might not have recognized their leadership skills does not mean that they were not present.

The leadership characteristics that Authentic Leaders possess every day become more apparent when they move themselves to lead from out front. They will make some adjustments like communicating more frequently. They make themselves more accessible to their people in order to coach and counsel. The fact that those characteristics are more exposed in difficult times does not mean that they didn’t exist in the absence of challenges.

People who believe leading in difficult times is vastly different are trying to wrestle with “unknowns.” That is completely unnecessary so long as you’re a leader who is willing to dance your very best dance with the “knowns” of difficult times.

The value of Authentic Leadership is more appreciated in tough times…and that is a shame. It should be valued in both good times and bad. If you are fortunate enough to experience Authentic Leadership be it in good times or bad, let that leader know you recognize their efforts. Let them you you appreciate them for taking the lead.

They deserve your support and will welcome your recognition.