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Decisions Decisions

If you’re a leader then you make many decisions during a year. Some are big and some not so big. But every decision changes something, assuming of course that the decision was acted on. 

I don’t often suggest taking long looks in the rear view mirror but every now and then it serves a purpose. This is the time of year for looking back. A little self-reflection can help you remember some of the lessons of the past year that you may have forgotten.

So while you’re in reflection mode ask yourself, “What decisions that I made in the last year would I like to take back?”

It’s probably not a lot of fun to rehash decisions that didn’t turn out as planned but it can be a valuable exercise. You’ll want to look at the information you used to make the decision. It’s worth noting where the information came from and if you were alone in the decision or if your team agreed with you.

You want to pay particular attention as to whether the actual decision was flawed or if the mistake was in the execution. By the way, the biggest mistake of all is making a decision and then not acting on it…just sayin’.

Reflections on past decisions should be a learning experience. It’s not an opportunity to assign blame to anyone, it’s an opportunity to learn and to avoid the same mistake in the future.

If you discover that there are too many decisions that you would make differently then you know you’ve really grown throughout the year. Your short time of self-reflection should give you the opportunity to use that growth to have an even more successful 2017. 

But remember, you have to first acknowledge a poor decision before you can possibly learn from it.

Think about that too!

 
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How to Grow Yourself

Generally speaking I like people. My challenge is that I like some people more than others. 

The people I like most are the ones who are most like me. They think like me, they have the same interests and hobbies as me and they even sort of look like and talk like me. 

But I also have this almost insatiable need to learn and to grow, to be challenged and to push myself. As much as I love being around people who are just like me I don’t learn that much from them. They seldom challenge my thinking and they rarely cause me to change my opinion. 

So I force myself to talk with people who I disagree with. I read the darnedest stuff written by people who are clearly off the wall with their thinking. I listen to people who are obviously wrong.

Except sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes the people who I disagree with are right. Once in a while that off the wall “junk” is invaluable in helping me see another point of view, and sometimes it’s me who is wrong. (Just to be clear, that doesn’t happen often but sometimes…)

I’d never know any of that if I just hung around people who were just like me. 

My friends and family, who I truly cherish, provide me with a stable, supportive, and caring environment which I and every other human on the planet absolutely needs. But our “group think” does little to help any of us grow.

It’s the people who wouldn’t be my first choice to spend lots of time with, the people who come from different and varying backgrounds, even the people who I outright dislike that frequently help me grow the most. 

IF I’m willing to listen and IF I’m willing to change. 

Those two “if’s” are often the biggest challenge most of us face on the journey to reach our full potential. If you’re willing to listen, to consider that you could be wrong, to believe it’s possible that someone has a better way of doing something, then you have a chance to truly grow. 

Of course, I could be wrong about all of this.

 
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The Best Kind of Mistake

Everybody makes mistakes. The most successful people admit to them quickly.

The best kind of mistake you can make is one that you learn from. The worst mistakes are the ones you won’t admit. Those are the worst mistakes because you are very unlikely to learn anything from a mistake that you don’t have the courage to admit. 

Yes, I said courage because most of us have been taught that mistakes are bad, mistakes are shameful and mistakes lead to failure. If you’ve been taught that your entire life then it indeed takes courage to stand up and say that you messed up.

If you “secretly” know that you’ve made a mistake it’s a pretty safe bet that other people know it too, or they will soon enough. If you’ve made a mistake the first step in learning from it is to admit it, admit it to yourself and anyone else that needs to know. You don’t need to announce it to the world but don’t try to hide it from people close to you either.

Mistakes are inevitable and if you spend time with people who expect you to be perfect then you may want to find some other people to spend time with.

To learn from a mistake you must also understand the difference between a reason and an excuse. If you are very good at finding excuses for your mistakes then you won’t be very good at learning from them. If you understand the reasons for your mistakes then you have a chance to learn. 

One way to find the reason for a mistake is to understand the difference between an actual mistake and a bad decision. First of all, if you’ve made the same “mistake” several times it likely isn’t a mistake at all, it’s a poor decision. Mistakes repeated again and again are actually choices and to avoid these “mistakes” you must simply make better choices. 

For instance, in most cases being late for work isn’t a mistake. It resulted from a bad decision, either to stay up too late, to sleep in too long at just not leave home soon enough. If you don’t want to be late then make a decision to leave home earlier.

It’s also important to understand that not all mistakes are the result of something you’ve done. Many mistakes come from doing nothing, nothing at all. Some people fear mistakes so much that they won’t make decisions for fear of making a bad one. They fail to understand that not making a decision IS a decision and it is the wrong decision in almost every circumstance. You can learn from both types of mistakes but mistakes born out of inaction often seem to be far more expensive to fix.

Learn to view your mistakes as opportunities for growth. Don’t go out of your way to make mistakes but don’t hide from trying new things to avoid them either. 

If you’re only making little mistakes then you’re probably not pushing the edges of your comfort zone enough. Growth doesn’t come from repeatedly doing what we are good at, it comes from trying new things. Allow yourself a mistake now and then and when mistakes happen embrace them as an opportunity to discover a better way of doing something. 

You may think that never trying new things protects you from mistakes but if your goal is to grow then not attempting something new is the biggest mistake you can make. 

Never make that mistake! 

 
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Always be Learning

Successful people learn something new almost every single day. The most successful people use what they learn. 

Never in the history of humanity has it been easier to learn. Information is everywhere. 

New data suggests that 1.2 Zettabytes of information (1.3 trillion gigabytes) is now stored in cyberspace – which amounts to 339 miles of fully-loaded iPads stacked to the sky.

The information base is growing so quickly that researchers say a state of “persistent uncertainty” exists and that there are no exact numbers, only educated guesses. So I guess it could be 340 miles of iPads. 

Now, there is one tiny little caveat; not everything you find on the internet is true. I know that may come as a shock to some people but the fact that not everything on the internet is true is in fact actually true. But still, there is a ton of valuable information available, more worthwhile information than ever before, all you have to do is click.

Despite the unprecedented explosion of available information there remains one substantial barrier to learning. That barrier is called want. If you don’t want to learn you’ll find it very difficult to learn. You can be required to attend a class, you can even be forced to listen to the instructor but no one can make you learn, no one that is except you.

People decide to learn for a variety of reasons, some need a new skill or additional knowledge for their job. Others simply want to stay up to date on new technology or brush up on changes in their industry. Some people just have a need to grow intellectually and are constantly looking for ways to broaden their horizons. They seek to understand not just “what is” but “why it is.” 

Some people believe it’s their employer’s responsibility to provide them the skill and knowledge they need to succeed. It’s great when you work for a company that offers training and education but successful people understand that their success is up to them, not their employer.

This is somewhat of a generalization but by and large, leaders are learners. If education is provided they take it, if it’s not they make it. They seek out advice, coaches, mentors, and additional training and education. 

Leaders learn for a purpose, they understand how much and how fast they need to learn something. They, as Stephen Covey said, “begin with the end in mind” and envision how they will use their new knowledge or skill. Leaders know their objective for learning and they create for themselves a vivid picture of the benefits of obtaining that additional knowledge.

Successful learners know that they can learn as much or perhaps even more by failing then they can by always succeeding. Whenever you take on a new task or challenge you’ll possibly be tripped up and fall along the way. Don’t look at the fall as failure, look for the lesson in the fall on the way down. Use that lesson to push yourself back up. Ultimately it’s those falls and the ability to get back up that will make you a success. “Successful falls” also encourages more risk taking and more learning in the future. 

A truly successful day should include learning. Don’t let your day end without gaining at least a nugget of new information that you can use to grow your personal knowledge bank.

That stack of iPads is growing this very minute, you might as well get in on the action and learn!

 
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Do you Know Enough to Succeed?

So, when do you know enough to know that you can stop learning? 

I have no idea when I’ll know enough to believe that I essentially know it all, or at least know all I need to know. I do know for sure that I still have much to learn, in fact, I doubt I’ll actually live long enough to know as much as I need to.

But I’ve have come across people who do know enough…at least they think they do.

I’ve written before about a marketing consultant who I was thinking about hiring to evaluate the effectiveness of some training we were doing. He noticed the credentials after my name and asked what they stood for. I explained what they were and then said perhaps he might be interested in the marketing certification. He politely told me that he already knew “all there was to know about marketing” so he wouldn’t be interested. 

I knew in that moment we wouldn’t be using his services. Successful people learn something new almost every day and believing that you already know it all can make it very difficult to learn something new. If you can’t learn you can’t grow and if you can’t grow it is unlikely your success will continue for very long.

Recently I had a conversation with a similarly minded person. They have done very well for themselves, advancing up their organization’s ladder very quickly. By anyone’s measure they certainly appear to be a true success….at least for now.

There were a few of us talking and the subject of this blog come up. Someone asked this highly successful person if they subscribed to my blog. The successful person looked a bit puzzled and then said “why would I read his blog, I’m far more successful than he is, and “besides I know pretty much everything I need to know to succeed already.” In defense of this person they did not say it with apparent malice or contempt, they clearly meant me no harm. They simply said it in such a way as to indicate that they truly believed it.

Probably because of what I do for a living I instantly wondered how this person had achieved their level of success with that kind of attitude. I also knew immediately that this person had in fact much to learn. They needed to learn a bit of humility but beyond that they needed to learn that everyone knows something that they don’t. That means that there isn’t a person a earth that we can’t all learn something from. The most successful people know that, they also know that learning never stops. 

In my book the day you stop learning is the day you start declining. I wish nothing but continued success for that highly successful person but it appears they believe they have already reached the pinnacle of their success. Maybe someone should tell them that once you reach the top there is no where to go but down.

If success is your goal feel free to stop learning the moment you think you’ve achieved success. If long-term success is your goal then you need to know that you don’t know enough. You don’t know enough today and you won’t know enough tomorrow.

Keep learning and keep learning from anyone and everything you can. Learning is a life-long endeavor and here’s hoping you have a very long life!

 
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Do You Have Gaps?

The only honest answer to that question is yes. If you’re a leader who believes they don’t have any gaps in their skills or abilities then you are likely a leader who has been blinded by their success.

Even the most successful, authentic, and committed leaders have skill gaps. They have gaps not because they are poor leaders but because they are human. All humans have gaps of one type or another, I’m guessing it’s just part of being alive.

Authentic Servant Leaders deal with their gaps in one of two ways, they either grow themselves to fill their own gaps or they hire people who can fill the gaps for them. Most likely, they do some of both. They realize that they can’t excel at everything and they also realize that not everything that needs to be done needs to be done by them.

Step one for filling your gaps is acknowledging that you have some. 

This is going to require honesty and the courage to admit to some shortcomings. You will never fill a gap that you can’t admit to having so admit where you’re weak and deal with it. If you’ve decided to fill your own gap then take a class, read a book, talk with your mentor or someone who doesn’t have that particular gap. Whatever you do, do it now! Procrastination is the worst possible way to deal with any gap.

If you’re going to hire someone to fill your gap then once they are hired you need to allow them to actually fill it. Let them do their job. Micro-managing something that you couldn’t manage to begin with is totally unproductive and will quickly destroy the morale of the “gap-filler” you just hired. If you’ve summoned up the courage to acknowledge your gap and you’ve hired a qualified individual to fill it then dig a bit deeper for even more courage to let them do their job. 

Mentor if you must, (and yes, you must) but don’t mettle in details that you don’t truly understand. Remember why you hired the person in the first place!

The acknowledgement of gaps and the process of filling them is a constant of leadership. As a leader you can never stop growing, you can never stop learning and you absolutely can’t afford to think for even a moment that you’ve learned all you need to know. 

Great leaders never get where they are going because once they get someplace they know that they aren’t there anymore. Great leaders know that few things of consequence stay the same for even a second, almost everything is always changing. That’s why true leadership isn’t a destination, its a journey. (Just an aside here, principles and core values DO NOT change, regardless of the circumstances a leader may find themselves in) 

The very second you start to think you’re “good enough” you’re not good enough anymore. So don’t think in terms of good, focus on better, always better, and as your abilities and knowledge grow your gaps will shrink. 

Now, do you have gaps?

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When You Know It All

A while back I was meeting with a representative of a company that helped learning organizations measure the effectiveness of their training. We got off track a bit and were discussing various certifications and I mentioned a certification for marketing executives that I had initially earned several years before. I told him that there was a lot of education and testing involved in earning and maintaining that very challenging certification. 

He stated that he wouldn’t need anything like that because he already knew all he needed to know to succeed in his career. I was polite and finished out the meeting but I knew in that moment I would not be using this person or their organization. 

If he already knew everything then it meant that he had nothing left to learn. It may have even become impossible for him to learn. I couldn’t help but wonder how this know it all would ever learn enough about my organization to actually help us. I figured if we used him we would be getting some cookie cutter measuring system that was a “one size fits all” deal. That was not what I was looking for… at all.

Talking with him reminded me of the story about the United Sates Patient Office closing in 1899 because “everything that could be invented, already was.” The office never actually closed but there were “know it alls” at the time who recommended that it should.

Truly successful people will never be a know it all. They know they can’t know it all and they know that they don’t have to. They also know what they don’t know. 

Truly successful people learn something new every day. They are always looking for the newest idea. The best idea doesn’t have to be their idea, they will use and benefit from good ideas no matter where they come from.   

The most successful people are in constant learning mode, they are as far from a know it all as you can get. 

The biggest problem with being a know it all, other than annoying everyone around you, is that once you believe you know it all you see no use in trying to learn anything new. Much like the patient office, you have learned all there is to learn. You’re done!

When you’re done learning you’re done period. Whatever success you’ve had will begin to wane. If you’re not pushing your limits to learn, if you’re not trying new things, if you’re not taking risks then you may be playing life to safe… or you may think you already know everything you need to know. 

Either way, you’re likely seriously limiting your potential. 

You can’t possibly know it all, the good news is, you don’t have to. The great news is you can learn something new this very day. Keep your knowledge base fresh and your success will always be fresh too!