Five Principles to Apply When Problems Arise

If you’ve ever faced a business failure, a health crisis, a broken relationship, or any other life dilemma, you know how easy it can be to let negativity pull you down into self-doubt and helplessness.

Life puts us into situations that challenge us—and working on those challenges stretches us. In fact, the toughest dilemmas often provide the biggest opportunities for growth.  While we may know this intellectually, this knowledge provides cold comfort when we’re in the middle of a difficult challenge.

When problems arise, I find it useful to apply the wisdom I gleaned from Norman Vincent Peale, my late coauthor on The Power of Ethical Management. In that book we introduced the five core principles of ethical decision making. These same five principles also can be applied to dealing with problems—no matter how hard those problems may seem.

Reflect on Your Purpose

When you are faced with a setback, reviewing your purpose can help get you back on track. Your purpose will be inherently motivating, because it’s the ideal toward which you are striving. Unlike a goal, which has a beginning and an end, a purpose is ongoing. It’s your reason for existence and answers the question “Why?”

Let’s say you just had a career setback. If you obsess about the missed goal—a lost contract or job—you’ll be discouraged. If you focus on your purpose, you’ll redirect your attention to the person you want to be in the world and the life you want to lead.

If you don’t have a life purpose and want to create one, check out my blog from a few weeks ago, Writing Your Personal Life Purpose.

Tap into Your Pride

Pride sometimes gets a bad rap. After all, they say it’s the last thing to go before a fall. And if you’ve taken a fall, you may be feeling anything but pride. My definition of pride isn’t having a big ego; rather, it’s the healthy self-esteem of people who aim high but know they’re human and make mistakes. Pride is essential if we’re going to have the strength to get up, move forward, and fulfill our purpose. As Ben Franklin quoted in his Poor Richard’s Almanac way back in 1740, “It is hard for an empty sack to stand upright.” So, don’t be afraid to tap into your pride!

Exercise Patience

Life unfolds on God’s timetable, not ours. If you ever saw “Oh, God!” you might remember that in the movie John Denver asks God—played by George Burns: “Did you really create the world in six days and rest on the seventh?” God/George replies, “Yes, I did, but you’ll have to remember, my days are a little longer than yours. When I got up this morning, Freud was in medical school.”

Once I learned to be patient and trust the timing of a higher power, I noticed that things began to work out for me. When you have patience, you realize that there may be a good reason why things turned out the way they did.

It’s important to develop the capacity to accept or tolerate the delays and suffering that are inevitable in life. If you are making your best effort and doing the right thing—even if things look tough in the short run—your efforts will pay off in the long run.

Apply Persistence

Of course, you can’t just sit back and do nothing; patience without persistence is not sufficient to fulfill your purpose. Once you’ve processed your feelings about a setback and dusted yourself off, it’s time to continue working toward your goals and commitments. I agree with Calvin Coolidge, who said, “Nothing can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with great talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Get Some Perspective

Perspective is the capacity to see what is really important in any given situation. To do that, you need to get some distance from your problem. As my wife, Margie, puts it, you need to take the helicopter view of your life. When you stand two feet from a mirror, you will see the slightest imperfection—and suddenly that imperfection becomes a huge deal. But if you view your life from the helicopter, you see the big picture and the little things take on far less significance.

I’ve written extensively on how to maintain perspective by starting your day slowly. Perhaps your knee-jerk reaction to that statement is, “But I need more time to start my day slowly!” You have the same time we all do—a 24-hour day. Suppose you’re playing chess and your opponent says, “Checkmate!” You’re cornered; the game is over. You can’t say, “I want more board!” Yet that’s what you’re asking for when you say you need more time.

Taking time to reflect gives us the perspective we need to listen for guidance from within. When we do that, our purpose comes into focus and we’re able to make wise choices moving forward.

The next time you’re faced with a big challenge, try reflecting on your Purpose, tapping into your Pride, exercising Patience, applying Persistence, and getting Perspective. You may not get instant answers to the problem you’re facing, but I guarantee you’ll grow from it.

Leading a High Performance Team

People working together toward a common goal usually can get things done much faster and more effectively than individuals working alone. Because of this, and because of the constant change happening in the way organizations work, the way they are managed, and in technology overall, teams are becoming a major strategy for companies around the world that want to do business in a more efficient way. Personally, I enjoy participating in teams because I love helping people and I love learning from them. I guess you could say being on a team is in my sweet spot.

Now I have a couple of questions for you: How many work-related teams (project teams, virtual teams, management teams, etc.) are you on right now? And how much of your work week would you say is spent doing team-related work? If you’re like most people, it’s likely you are on five or six different teams and you spend about half your working hours in a team setting. And if you’re in a leadership role, the higher your level, the more time you spend in teams.

If you’ve ever worked on a high performance team that had a skilled leader, you know it can be  a powerful approach for goal accomplishment or problem solving. But what if you’re on a team that you know is not a high performance team? You’re not alone there, either. If members of a team don’t have a shared purpose, if they are unclear about their roles or the team’s goals, or if they aren’t accountable to each other, it’s hard to get anything done. What’s more, if the leader isn’t proficient in the skills required to successfully lead a high performance team, the team is more likely to fail than to succeed.

So if you’re a team leader, how do you give your team the best chance of success? It’s about knowing and understanding the characteristics and development stages that make up a high performance team.

The 4 Stages of Team Development

When a team is first put together, the first stage members go through is Orientation. They have high expectations but are not yet informed as to the goals of the team or the roles each person will take on. The team leader must provide structure while building relationships and trust.  

The second stage of team development is Dissatisfaction. After the excitement of joining a new team with intriguing possibilities, members may find themselves discouraged and frustrated with the process and with each other. The team leader’s responsibility is to clarify the purpose and goals while recognizing small victories and positive behaviors.

In stage three, Integration, things are getting better. Team members work together more effectively and trust among members increases as they learn to support each other and collaborate. The leader may begin sharing leadership responsibilities but must continue encouraging people to talk openly, catch each other doing things right, and work on their decision making and problem solving skills.

The biggest challenge of the fourth stage, Production, is for team members to sustain their high performance. Morale and trust among members is high, as is the quality and amount of work the team is producing. At this stage the team provides its own direction and support and the leader is there to validate members’ achievements. Everyone participates in leadership responsibilities.

Leading a high performance team is a big job, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. For more help on keeping your team on track toward success—and finding your sweet spot as a team leader—check out this blog post by my colleague David Witt. It features great tips from Lael Good, our company’s director of consulting services and coauthor of our new Team Leadership program.

Determining Your Personal Values

For the past couple of blogs, I’ve been writing about the three-step process of creating a compelling personal vision. We’ve explored the first step: writing your life purpose. My last blog showed how to complete the second step: envisioning your picture of the future. This week I’ll explain the third and final part of creating a compelling person vision: determining your values.

It’s been said that the most important thing in life is to decide what’s most important, and that’s what determining your values is all about. But what is a value? In Full Steam Ahead: Unleash the Power of Vision in Your Work and Your Life, Jesse Stoner and I conclude that:

Values are deeply held beliefs that certain qualities are desirable. They define what is right or fundamentally important to each of us. They provide guidelines for our choices and activities.

Let’s face it, if your personal vision is going to have any real meaning, you have to live it. And where you live your vision is in your values, because values are what guide your behavior on a day-to-day basis.

Select Your Core Values. The first step to determining your values is to write a long list of qualities that have meaning to you. For example:

  • Truth
  • Wisdom
  • Courage
  • Recognition
  • Creativity
  • Honesty
  • Trust
  • Freedom
  • Spirituality
  • Love
  • Success
  • Humor
  • Peace
  • Security
  • Excellence
  • Learning

There are many more, but you get the idea. Once you’ve generated a long list, begin to narrow it down. Hold each value up against the others and see if you can pick out your three to five most important values. Winnowing down your list is important, because research shows that to be memorable and effective, values must be few in number—no more than five.

Define Your Values. The next step in clarifying your values is to define them. Why is this important? Because to be able to live consistently with a value, you must be able to explain what that value means to you.

For example, let’s take a value that has many meanings, like “love.”  I define this value by describing how it feels, as well as how I express it to others:

“I value love. I know I am living by this value anytime I feel loving toward myself and others, anytime I express compassion, anytime I show love to others, and anytime I receive the love of others.”

To give you a better sense of how this works, listed below are my rank-ordered values and how I define them.

Spiritual Peace

Because my mission is to serve, not to be served, spiritual peace is my highest value. I know I am living by this value:

  • Any time I realize I am a child of God and He loves me no matter what I do.
  • Any time I am grateful for my blessings.
  • Any time I pray and feel God’s unconditional love.

Health

This value has moved up in rank since I’ve had 59th anniversary of 21st birthday! I value health and know I am living by this value:

  • Any time I treat my body with love and respect.
  • Any time I exercise.
  • Any time I push my body to expand its present limits.
  • Any time I eat nutritious food.

Love

This had to be one of my values, because I’ve always said, “Love is the answer. What is the question?” I know I am living by this value:

  • Any time I feel loving towards myself and others.
  • Any time I express compassion.
  • Any time I show love to others.
  • Anytime I receive the love of others.

Integrity

My father taught me the importance of integrity. I know I am living by this value:

  • Any time I am honest with myself and others.
  • Any time I walk my talk.

Joy

Businessman and author Fred Smith said, “Real joy…is when you get in the act of forgetfulness about yourself.” This value is so important to me that I named my dog Joy! I know I am living by this value:

  • Any time I let my playful child express itself.
  • Any time I wake up feeling grateful for my blessings, the beauty around me, and the people in my life.
  • Anytime I smile, am happy, laugh, and kid.

Rank Order Your Values.  Think about which values are most important to you and write them down in that order. Listing your values in order of importance will further guide your decision making. If a situation arises where two or more values conflict, you’ll know which action to take, based on the value of highest importance.

Make Your Vision Come Alive. It’s one thing to write a personal vision statement—and another thing to put it into practice. Many years ago, I learned a wonderful lesson from Norman Vincent Peale, my coauthor on the book The Power of Ethical Management. Norman contended that we all have two selves. One is an external, task-oriented self that focuses on getting jobs done. The other is an internal, thoughtful, reflective self. The question Norman always posed was, “Which self wakes up first in the morning?” The answer, of course, is that our external, task-oriented self wakes up first. We leap out of bed, jump in the car, and race from activity to activity.

It’s hard to put our vision into practice when we’re caught in an activity rat race. What we all have to do is find a way to enter our day slowly, so we can awaken our thoughtful, reflective self first in the morning.

I’ve been working on entering my day slowly for many years.  One way I encourage my reflective self to guide me is to read my personal vision statement each morning, to remind myself of my purpose, my picture of the future, and my operating values.  This helps my behavior line up with my good intentions.

At the end of the day I like to pick up my journal and reflect on the day. What did I do that was consistent with my vision? This is an opportunity to praise myself for a job well done. What did I do that was inconsistent with my vision? This is an opportunity to redirect my behavior and possibly make amends for any errors I’ve made.

I hope this series of blogs has inspired you to create your own compelling vision. Having a personal life purpose, a compelling picture of the future, and your own clearly defined values can give you the clarity, inspiration, and motivation you need to make a difference for yourself and the world.

Your Personal Picture of the Future

There are three parts to a compelling personal vision: your life purpose, your picture of the future, and your values. In my last blog post, I detailed a four-step process to help you write your personal life purpose statement.

The second part of creating a compelling personal vision is to come up with your personal picture of the future. It’s never too early to start thinking about how you want to spend the rest of your life and how you might want to be remembered. My wife, Margie, and I each have a favorite activity to help people achieve this goal.

Fantasy Friday

One of Margie’s favorite phrases is “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” Back when she was working on her PhD in communication, she taught an extended learning course where she came up with this writing exercise to help people turn their dreams for the future into goals. She calls the exercise “My Fantasy Friday.” Here’s how it works:

Imagine it’s a Friday ten years in the future. It’s a work day but also the beginning of the weekend. Write a paragraph that answers the following questions:

  • Where are you living, and with whom?
  • What are you doing throughout the day, hour by hour? (The more details, the better.)
  • How are you feeling—intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually?

That’s it! After you’re finished and you read what you’ve written, it may surprise you.

When Margie first came up with this activity, she suggested that we write our Fantasy Friday paragraphs separately and then share them with each other. When we compared our paragraphs, we were amazed to learn we had both been dreaming of not only living near the water but also starting our own business. We had never shared either of those ideas before. Keep in mind this was before we decided to move to San Diego and start our own company!

Write Your Own Obituary

At the risk of sounding morbid, I believe it can be helpful to think of your own obituary as your picture of the future.

I first got this idea when I read about Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. As the story goes, when Albert’s brother Ludvig died in France, the French newspaper mistakenly printed an obituary for Alfred instead of Ludvig. As a result, Alfred had the unusual experience of reading his own obituary. To his dismay, the focal point of the piece was the destruction brought about through his invention. Alfred was devastated to think that was how he would be remembered. It’s believed this incident caused Alfred to set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Prize so that he would be remembered for peace, not for destruction.

To determine your picture of the future, I’d like to challenge you to write your own obituary. Since this is not something you can put together as quickly as you did the draft of your life purpose (see my last blog post), I suggest you spend some time on it and then share it with loved ones—not to scare them, but to get their feedback. Ask them “Is this the way you would like to remember me?”

To give you an example, the following is an obituary I wrote about myself. When I first shared it with Margie, she thought I was getting a little dark. But then she got into it and helped me write it.

“Ken Blanchard was a loving teacher and example of simple truths whose books and speeches on leadership, management, and life helped motivate himself and others to awaken to the presence of God in our lives and to realize we are here to serve, not to be served. He continually inspired, challenged, and equipped people to live, love, and lead like Jesus. He was a loving child of God, son, brother, spouse, father, grandfather, uncle, cousin, friend, and colleague who strove to find a balance between success, significance, and surrender. He had a spiritual peace about him that permitted him to say “no” in a loving manner to people and projects that got him off purpose. He knew full well that B.U.S.Y. stood for Being Under Satan’s Yoke. He was a person of high energy who was able to see the positive in any event. No matter what happened, he could find a learning or message in it. Ken Blanchard was someone who trusted God’s unconditional love and believed he was the Beloved. He valued integrity, walked his talk, and was a mean and lean 185-pound golfing machine. He will be missed because wherever he went, he made the world a better place.”

Okay, I’ll admit that some of the things in my obituary are goals or hoped-for outcomes, such as being able to say “no” in a loving manner to people and projects that got me off purpose. (I still have never heard a bad idea!) As for being a 185-pound mean and lean golfing machine, that is also an ongoing aspiration. Ha!

I hope you have fun writing your obituary and also writing about your Fantasy Friday. I think you’ll find both processes interesting and perhaps even learn some truths about yourself as you ponder your goals for your future.

Next time I’ll cover the final step of creating a compelling personal vision—determining your personal values. Hope you’ll join me again!

Writing Your Personal Life Purpose

It’s so easy to get caught up in our cell phones, emails, and deadlines that we often forget to step back and look at the big picture. So, as you read this, pause and ask yourself these questions:

 

  • Why am I here?
  • What do I really want to be in the world?
  • How am I doing on that?

Just as an organization needs to have a clear purpose and sense of what business it’s in, so do individuals. Yet few people have a clear sense of their life’s purpose. How can you make good decisions about how you should use your time if you don’t know what you want to do with your life?

Here’s a simple, four-step process to help you create a good working draft of your life purpose.

Step 1: Describe Who You Are.  Think of two or three nouns or phrases that describe your unique skills or characteristics. For example, my nouns are “teacher” and “example.” You might choose different characteristics, such as artist, scientist, humorist, mechanic, writer, etc.

Step 2: Describe How You Influence Others.  Think of two or three verbs that describe how you influence the world around you. For example, my verbs are “help” and “motivate.” You might choose influence verbs such as encourage, plan, inspire, educate, etc.

Step 3: Describe Your Ideal World.  Create a picture of your ideal world. For example, in my perfect world everyone is aware of the presence of God in their lives. You might have a perfect world where people are successful in achieving their goals, or children are well cared for, or the environment is healthy.

Step 4: Put It All Together. Now, create a purpose statement by combining two of your nouns, two of your verbs, and your ideal world, and you’ll have a good start on a statement of your life’s purpose. For example, my life purpose is:

“To be a loving teacher and example of simple truths who helps and motivates myself and others to awaken to the presence of God in our lives, so we realize we are here to serve rather than to be served.” 

Someone else might have a purpose that reads:

“To be a scientist and writer who encourages and inspires people to care for the natural world and preserve a healthy environment for future generations.”

Another person might have a purpose that reads:

“To be an artist and visionary who reveals a new way of seeing and awakens people to the beauty in the world around them.”

Feel free to dream big during this process.  Don’t worry about not living up to the life purpose you envision—we all fall short of our ideal. Put your fears and insecurities aside as you write. As Nelson Mandela said:

“There is no passion to be found in playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Determining your life purpose is the first step in a three-part process to creating a compelling personal vision. In future blogs, I’ll talk about steps two and three—creating your legacy and determining your values. Stay tuned!