Savor Some Solitude

In the age of information and round-the-clock news, many of us feel swamped by obligations that constantly require our attention. We can all relate to feeling bogged down by responsibilities. It’s only human to feel that balancing a job, a family, and flooded inbox makes taking time for yourself an impossible luxury.

It’s true that taking time for solitude in a busy world is challenging. In the rare moments where we have time to ourselves, relaxing can feel unsettling because we are used to doing, not being.

Despite our hang-ups, solitude is extremely valuable. Many CEOs, including Steve Jobs, use solitude as a tool to process information away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Jobs believed that if you just sit and observe your mind, you will see how restless it is; but over time your mind calms down. When it does, you can see things more clearly and there’s room for your intuition to blossom. Jobs used the awareness he developed through reflection to build a groundbreaking company. His intuition gave him insight into the desires of customers. This became one of the defining qualities of Apple: giving customers what they didn’t know they needed.

Solitude helps us know ourselves. When we know ourselves, we’re able to make decisions that match who we are and what we value. If we don’t take the time to know ourselves, our decisions are often based on what’s popular, rather than what’s best.

My wife Margie and I believe in the importance of reflection so much that we spend a good chunk of our summer in Skaneateles, away from our business in San Diego. I find that this time I spend reflecting actually improves my business decisions when I return, because I come back relaxed, with a better sense of my values.

Take time to listen to yourself, in the same way you would listen to an employee’s concerns or a friend’s problem. Time is a precious resource, but setting some aside to just be will bring a great return on investment. Even if it’s only 10 minutes each day, this time will empower you to make decisions that are powered by your deepest self.

6 Keys to Accomplishing Your Big Fat Hairy Goals

This summer I’ve decided to regain some of the fitness goals I achieved back in 2013, when I was writing Fit at Last with my friend and coach, Tim Kearin.  Working with Tim, I’d lost over 40 pounds and gained balance, strength, and flexibility. But a busy speaking and writing schedule has eroded some of those gains. So rather than continue to let things slide, I’m recommitting to my goal of becoming a “lean, mean, golfing machine.”

That means going back to the basic building blocks of accomplishing a big goal like fitness. You can apply these same principles to any Big Fat Hairy Goals you’re working on.

  1. First, have compelling reasons and a purpose. Why are you working on this goal? Why is it important to you? Your goal won’t work in the long term if you are only doing it to please others. Eventually, it has to be something you want to do.

Being around as long as possible to enjoy life with my wife Margie, my kids, and grandkids was my most compelling reason to be fit and healthy when I began my fitness journey at age 71. I want to see my grandkids graduate from college and to see my son Scott and daughter Debbie get their AARP cards. While that sounds like a pretty typical reason someone would give for getting fit, another perhaps less conventional reason involves my Labradoodle dog, Joy. I absolutely love Joy, and she lets me know the feeling is mutual. When I pull into our garage, she senses it’s me even before I get in the door, and she races down the hallway and leaps into my arms. Because Joy is a small dog, I know it’s likely she’ll live to be about 15 years old, so I want to make it into at least my late 80s. I know this sounds a little strange, because most people are concerned about losing their dog, not their dog losing them! But I can’t stand the thought of Joy racing down the hall someday and not seeing me come through the door.

  1. Establish a mutual commitment to success with a knowledgeable coach, mentor, or friend who will help you keep your commitment to your commitment. If they help you, what are you going to do for them? Perhaps the two of you have similar goals and you can become partners and encourage each other.
  2. Learn about Situational Leadership® II. This is our company’s principal leadership training program we teach to businesses all over the world—and you can also use its concepts to accomplish your personal goals. SLII® suggests that there is no one best leadership style. Each learner needs varying amounts of direction and support depending on their development level (competence and commitment) on a specific task or goal. For instance, let’s say you’re starting a business. In some parts of your entrepreneurship—working with customers, for example—you might already be self-reliant and can handle a delegating leadership style. But in other areas—for example, finance and accounting—you might be cautious or even discouraged. That’s where you’ll need more direction or support from your partner, mentor, or coach.
  3. This principle primarily applies to fitness. Work with your doctor before you begin a fitness program to develop age-appropriate goals. Thinking you’re someday going to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger may not be a realistic goal, but building up your tone and strength so you can put your own carry-on bag in the overhead bin on a plane is realistic.
  4. Set up a support system to hold you accountable. This would include trusted friends and relatives who care about your success and will tell you the truth. Yes, you need cheerleaders on your journey, but you also need people who will call you on your excuses and rationalizations for not keeping your commitment to your commitment.
  5. Finally, you need to have measurable milestones to stay motivated. A basic belief I have is: if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. In other words, if you keep track of how well you’re doing in each area you’re working on, you can celebrate your progress—or redirect your efforts if your numbers are going in the wrong direction.

Following through on and achieving your Big Fat Hairy Goals is one of life’s most satisfying experiences. Set yourself up for success by putting these six keys to use. Good luck!

Apologize Already!

Time and again, I’ve noticed that many of us have a lot of trouble apologizing. I’ve observed this in myself, as well. One reason it’s hard to take responsibility for our bad behavior is because doing wrong is inconsistent with our view of ourselves as ethical people. As a result, many of us avoid apologies like the plague.

What I’ve realized is that difficulties apologizing are tied to pride and ego. When we sincerely apologize, we are taking our egos out of the equation and being honest. We are practicing integrity when we apologize, because we are acknowledging that what we did or failed to do is inconsistent with who we want to be.

Despite the challenges they pose to our egos, sincere apologies are one of the most powerful tools we have. In fact, the act of apologizing is so powerful that Margret McBride and I wrote a book about it called The Fourth Secret of the One Minute Manager.

I try to practice One Minute Apologies whenever I feel I’ve done wrong by someone. In a One Minute Apology, you:

  • Admit your mistake and apologize.
  • Take full responsibility for any harm you did.
  • Make amends by committing to change your behavior.

You might wonder why I don’t say that you should ask for forgiveness at the end of a One Minute Apology. It’s because I don’t think you should. Asking for forgiveness puts the person you’ve hurt or wronged under pressure to decide whether or not to forgive you. With a One Minute Apology, you keep the responsibility in your court. That’s why you end the apology with a commitment to change your behavior instead.

One of the greatest advantages of apologizing is that it gives you an opportunity for completion with that relationship. When you’ve done something wrong and haven’t dealt with it, it hangs over you and drains your energy. When you deal with it, you get closure.

An example from my own life involves Annie, a woman who was Margie’s sorority sister and a classmate of mine from Cornell. Her daughter, who also attended Cornell, was just fabulous. A number of years ago, Annie’s daughter was killed while jogging; they found her body up in the hills.

After that happened, I meant to reach out to Annie and her husband, but I just never did. Even though I was really taken aback by their daughter’s death, I didn’t send them any flowers or a note. I was too busy and never got around to doing or saying anything—and that always bugged me.

A few years later, I saw Annie out walking, so I crossed the street, went up to her, and gave her a big hug. Then I said, “Annie, I just want to apologize to you. When your daughter died, I meant to reach out to you. That was such an awful thing and she was such a great kid. But I didn’t and I feel really badly that I didn’t.” She got teary-eyed and said that she so appreciated my apology. She had often wondered why she hadn’t heard from me. I think we both felt completed.

So the next time something you’ve done wrong is hanging over you, don’t let it eat at you. Challenge yourself to take ownership and see firsthand how powerful a One Minute Apology can be.

A Kick-Start for 2017

You’ve probably had your fill of articles and blogs about how New Year’s resolutions don’t work. So I want to give you a positive framework to begin the New Year.  Creating your personal vision for the future is a different way to look at setting and achieving goals.

A clear vision is made up of three elements—knowing who you are (your purpose), where you’re going (your picture of the future), and what will guide your journey (your values). For years I’ve worked with company leaders to create the vision for their corporations and with individual managers to create their leadership vision. It is equally beneficial for people to set their own personal vision about what they want to get out of life. Creating your personal vision will help you get back to the basics and focus on what’s important instead of merely what’s next.

Create your purpose statement

Start by creating your purpose statement. In a few words, this statement explains who you are, what you do, and why you do what you do.

  • To begin, list some positive personal characteristics that describe you. Use nouns such as patience, creativity, artistic ability, sales ability, charm, diplomacy, energy, problem-solving skills, enthusiasm, or something similar. I chose sense of humor, people skills, teaching skills, and role model.
  • Next, list ways you successfully interact with people. Use verbs such as teach, coach, write, encourage, manage, lead, love, help, etc. I used educate, help, inspire, and motivate.
  • Finally, describe your picture of the future, focusing on what you want to create for your life. Write a short description of your idea of the perfect world. To me, a perfect world is where everyone is aware of the presence of God in their lives and realizes they are here to serve, not to be served.
  • There! You’ve completed the most challenging part. Now combine your thoughts into a statement. Here’s mine:

“I am a loving teacher and a role model of simple truths who helps and motivates myself and others to be aware of the presence of God in our lives and realize we are here to serve, not to be served.”

List and define your values

It’s time to create your list of values. This list will guide you and help you understand how to reach your ideal future state. Examples of values include honesty, power, courage, wisdom, commitment, learning, fun, relationships, or spirituality. This could be a very long list, but you must narrow it down to the three or four values that are most important to you. Some people prefer to start with ten values, then narrow those down to the top six, then to the top three or four. My values are spiritual peace, integrity, love, and success.

Once you have arrived at your top three or four values, write a short definition for each one. Remember these are your guidelines for making decisions and determining whether you are living your vision. For example, I define love this way:

“I value love. I know I am living by this value anytime I feel loving toward myself or others, anytime I have compassion, anytime I feel love in my heart, anytime I feel the love of others, anytime my heart fills with love, and anytime I look for the love of others.”

One final suggestion: read your personal vision—your purpose statement and values—every single day. It is a simple way to re-commit and stay on track.

Give this exercise a try. You’ll see that a personal vision statement can hold far more value than a vague resolution that’s easily abandoned. As soon as you define exactly what you want out of life, you will be able to begin realizing your vision.

Happy New Year 2017!

Getting to Know Yourself

In our book Mission Possible, my coauthor Terry Waghorn and I state that the most important earthly relationship you can cultivate as a leader is your relationship with yourself.  That might sound self-serving, but think about it—how well do you really know yourself?

Every leader should have a purpose—a reason for being—something to strive for. A purpose is different from a goal because it is ongoing. It has no beginning or end.

As a leader, your purpose comprises two elements: a personal mission statement and a set of values that define your strengths and help you make values-based decisions on a daily basis. Having a clear purpose gives meaning and definition to a leader’s life.

Some people have asked me if making money is a good purpose.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money—and it may be a goal to work toward—but it’s not a purpose. Purpose isn’t about achievement. It is much bigger. Your purpose is your calling. It’s about what business you are in as a person.

I ask leaders to spend time developing their personal mission statement by answering these four questions:

  1. Why am I in the world?
  2. What is my overarching purpose?
  3. What would I like people to say about me after I’m gone?
  4. What difference will it have made that I was here?

The next step is to identify your personal values by answering these questions:

  1. What is really important to me?
  2. What do I stand for?
  3. What three values do I want to live by?
  4. Which of those values is most important?

Going through this process takes some soul searching and quiet, thoughtful time. This isn’t an exercise to rush through.

Once you clearly understand your motivation and intention as a leader, you are able to monitor yourself on a daily basis. You’ll begin to notice certain actions that are more in line with your purpose than others. And you’ll begin eliminating behaviors that don’t support your purpose—and staying on a path of continuous personal improvement.

When you really know who you are as a leader, you can operate more efficiently and calmly while making meaningful decisions. But the best part is that you’ll also be able to bring out the magnificence in others. And isn’t that the most important role of a leader?