See the End

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Vision is the leader’s greatest tool for unification. Take a team that is fragmented, disassociated, and disillusioned, and you will most often find at it’s core a lack or loss of vision. Fundamentally, a lack of vision is the easiest problem to solve. The group that has never been brought together for the sake of a common goal finds itself inspired and quickened when presented with a clear and focused purpose. Like people thirsty for water, they will spill themselves into the current of a vision for what they can accomplish together.

Altogether different is the body of individuals who have had at one time or another enjoyed the soul-inspiring motivation of a clear vision for their future. When that vision shatters or melts away into broken promises and failed commitments, reigniting this team can be one of the most difficult challenges a leader can face. Motivating this group will take determined leadership and focus.

1.) The Vision must have a clear goal.

See the End. You, as the leader, must be able to clearly and plainly see in your mind’s eye what the culmination of the team’s vision will be. See the finish line. See the final score. Know without doubt what success looks like. Your team will need to understand the purpose in their efforts and it will be your responsibility to show it to them. You’ll need to give them a clear picture of what the end looks like for the team, the value in the group’s arrival at the destination, and the motivating force drawing them as a group toward that end. Leader, you must also be able to paint a picture individually for each member of your organization. Be able to communicate why it is vital that EACH of them be a part of the success, and be able to share what success will look like uniquely for each of them.

2.) Don’t Force the Journey

Seeing the End will ensure that you are constantly moving in the right direction, but the road will be fraught with obstacles. The visionary leader is able to focus not on the obstacle immediately delaying progress, but on the goal that the team is moving towards. In finding your way above the fray to see clearly into the distance and maintain your hold on the End, you can guide your team around the unknowable journey. If you plan each and every step, and give yourself no room for flexibility, knowing that the End remains the priority, you’ll be hopelessly delayed and bogged down.

3.) Remain ABSOLUTELY Confident in Success

Know in your deepest heart that you will reach the End. Before you can lead, before you can challenge, and before you can motivate, you must find that place within yourself where you are completely convinced of your team’s ability to reach the End, and you must live there every day. Find confidence in the skill and ability of your people, be strong in the success of your systems and challenge the status quo daily, but in all, remain steadfast in your personal knowledge that at the conclusion of the journey, after every obstacle, you and your team will arrive at the End. Communicate this confidence every day. Make it part of your vocabulary, shape every thought around that piece of absolute truth – we will succeed.

Ripples of Influence

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An old leadership analogy says that the effect we have on people is like tossing a pebble in a pond. The initial splash of pebble creates waves in the water that grow and extend far beyond the size of the pebble that created them.

It’s a timeless and salient lesson; one we should remember often. Thinking on this object lesson, it occurred to me that it doesn’t translate perfectly for one, unchangeable reason: human ripples aren’t identical. When a small stone breaks the surface of the water, one of the fascinating results is that the ripples created by the small splash radiate from the point of impact in perfectly concentric, identical circles. It isn’t until these tiny waves encounter an obstacle, such as a plant or a piece of debris, that they are altered and begin their own course.

When we translate this analogy into the sphere of human interaction, the underlying principle is that a single action can have far-reaching and on-going effects on the world around us, even if those consequences are unintentional. The foundation is sound, but I want to look at the human aspect of this. Every person is different because of personality, culture, upbringing, ideology, and countless other variables. The ripple effect in our social, professional, and personal circles takes on a very different hue when we realize that because of our differences, the ripples we create are each completely unique of each other based on the person we create them in.

If I toss a pebble into a pond, through scientific and mathematical processes, I can determine exactly where and how the ripples on the surface of the water will be created. I can know their expanding width, speed, and future termination. I can know all of this ahead of time, because the scientific laws that govern the physics of this simple experiment are fixed and constant.

When I toss a figurative pebble into the pond of my sphere of influence, everything is relative. The impact of my words, the effectiveness of my leadership, the influence of my vision – all of these ripples are dependent on and reflective of the unique personalities and character of the people I’m dealing with. One might say that as a good leader, I could know my people well enough to make an educated decision about how certain tactics will impact them, and that is very true. But as the ripples continue to distance themselves from the point of impact, the ability to maintain any control over their evolution is lost. People are just all too different.

Those difference are what makes our teams strong and viable, they bring creativity and innovation, and they create dialog and conversation that is impactful and productive. As leaders, understanding the ripple effect makes it incumbent on us to feed our teams with material that creates a positive impact as the ripples spread and grow. We must be encouraging and positive, we must build and foster independence, and we must take responsibility for the waves that we create in the lives and minds of our people. As we influence those closest to us, we need to do so in a manner that will allow them to have an equally positive impact when their pebbles hit the water.

Lessons in Positive Thinking – Be Intentional

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Lessons in Positive Thinking

Purpose is the stuff of action. Any meaningful endeavor is powered and pushed by some motivating force, some intentional process that desires a specific end.

Everyone has bad days. I tell my employees that everyone has “stuff” – things in life that make us mad or hurt or frustrated, people and relationships that confuse us or distract us, circumstances that we can’t control or can’t find a way to change. Stuff. Outside the the associate entrance to our building, there is a bench with some brightly colored cushions. I tell my employees that when they show for work everyday, that bench is for them to put their “stuff” on while they get busy doing their jobs. It’ll be there for them all day, and they can take it home with them when they want. They can even visit it for ten or fifteen minutes during the day. But they have to leave it on the bench.

A positive outlook on life, and mental approach to the daily grind that sees the opportunity in situations rather than the potential for failure – this doesn’t happen accidentally, and it doesn’t happen naturally. Life gets busy reminding us of our “stuff” and taking our focus off of the good things around us. If we don’t make a point of changing our perspective from the “stuff” that frustrates us and confuses us and hurts us to the good things in our lives, then we lose the ability to stay consistently positive throughout life’s changes and challenges.

Pick a happy word for yourself. Mine is “wonderful.” People ask me how I’m doing all the time. At work, at the store, when I talk to my kids, when I get home after a long day – “How are you?” is the most loaded question in the world. Why? Because every time it gets asked, we have to choose whether to answer honestly and spill all of the “stuff” or to smile and say, “Wonderful!” So I decided to pick a happy word. It’s my fail safe – I’ve trained myself to answer the same way every time I hear the question. No matter what’s going on, no matter how I’m actually feeling, when I get asked, I answer, “Wonderful!”

I know you’re questioning my sincerity. I don’t blame you – on the surface this seems disingenuous. But the more I tell people how well I’m doing, the better I actually feel. And that happens on purpose. It’s not an accident, it’s not a state of mind, it’s a decision. A decision to think, act, and talk positively.

How do you stay positive day-in and day-out? What’s your positive thinking secret?