There’s an old phrase that says “what you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying”. You can say that your primary value involves putting your family first but if time with your family is not all over your schedule, well then the truth of the matter is that your family life isn’t your priority. You can say that being in world-class physical condition is another top value but if I don’t see 5 or 6 big-time workouts etched into your weekly schedule, then the reality to be confronted is that your health just isn’t as important as you profess it to be. You can argue that self-development is an essential pursuit to you because the better you are, the more effective you’ll be. Show me your schedule and I’ll discover the truth. Because your schedule doesn’t lie.
There can be no authentic success and lasting happiness if your daily schedule is misaligned with your deepest values. That’s a big idea that has been so helpful to so many of the executive clients that I coach. If there is a gap between what you do and who you are, you are out of integrity. You are not walking your talk. Your life can’t work.
Your schedule is the best barometer for what you truly value and believe to be important. Too many people talk a good talk. But talk is cheap. Show me your schedule and I’ll show you what your priorities are. I used to be a lawyer. Witnesses in the courtroom could say what they wanted to. But the evidence never lied.
Every time you say yes to something that is unimportant, you say no to something that is important. “Yes men” never create anything great. There’s great value in getting good at saying no.
Say no to the friend who wants to meet over coffee to gossip. Say no to the co-worker who wants to spread his negativity and cynicism. Say no to the relative who laughs at your dreams and makes you doubt yourself. Say no the social obligations that drain time from your life’s work.
You can’t be all things to all people. Know your priorities. Know your goals. Know what needs to get done over the coming weeks, months and years for you to feel that you played your best game as a human being. And then say no to everything else. Sure, some people around you will not be happy. But leadership isn’t a popularity contest. It’s about doing what you know to be right.
To live on in the minds and hearts of the generations who will follow you is to cheat death. To make such a difference through the way you lead and show up is to find immortality. To have a lasting impact on human lives-by being a great champion at work or a great parent at home or a great leader in your community-is to live forever.
“Impact” is one of my favorite words these days. So is “legacy”. Greatness comes by beginning something that doesn’t end with you. So stop worrying about death. Care more about life. What you will create today? What contribution you will make today? What person will you celebrate today? What fear you will beat today? What act of kindness you will offer today? What social ill you will remedy today? What wrong will you right today?
To paraphrase Mel Gibson’s character in Braveheart (one of my all-time favorite movies): “Every one of us will die. But so few of us really live.” Nice.
Any good psychologist will tell you that one of the deepest needs of a human being is the need to belong. We are happiest when we feel connected to others-when we are part of a community. Top performers in business make it a priority to build relationships with their teammates and their customers. Connecting with the people who surround them is not seen as a waste of time to the best, it is an exquisitely wise use of their time.
As a leadership development expert, I work with our corporate clients to build cultures where people and relationships come first. This promotes communication, collaboration and strong results. When people feel appreciated, they shine.
Here are some deceptively simple ideas for building your human connections that have helped employees of the companies who engage us get to a whole new level of performance:
#1. Be the most positive person you know
#2. Be candid. Speak truthfully.
#3. Be on time.
#4. Say please and thank you
#5. Underpromise and Overdeliver
#6. Leave people better than you found them
#7. Be Nice.
#8. Be a world-class listener
#9. Become wildly interested in other people
Human beings crave control-just the way we are. A survival mechanism that goes right back to the days when we lived in caves. We need certainty and anything less makes us uncomfortable. But leadership is all about visiting with your discomfort. It’s about running to-not away from-the things that intimidate and frighten you. And leadership is about trying new things.
It’s so easy to eat the same food each day. But if you don’t try new foods, you just might miss out on your new favorite dish (think about that one for 60 seconds). It’s easy to associate with the same people and have the same conversations each day. But if you don’t expand your community, you just might miss out on meeting your new best friend. It’s so easy to do the same things at work each day- stay in a rut. But if you don’t stretch, you just might miss out on an achievement that will flood you will a sense of confidence and fulfillment that will be the start of a whole new world of work showing up.
So I invite you to use each day as a platform for filling your life with more adventure, passion and energy by injecting more new things into it. Listen to Boozoo Bajou if you usually listen to Bach. Eat Malaysian food if you usually do meat and potatoes. Read Dwell magazine if you subscribe to Fortune. It’s a big, interesting world out there. And it’s yours for the taking.
Ever notice that it’s the people we love most that we take most for granted? Odd isn’t it. It’s easy to spend less time with your family because they will always be there for you (or so you assume). It’s easy to put off expressing your love to your loved ones because there seems to be no urgency at play. It’s easy to let home relationships slip because you assume there are more pressing things to deal with. But what could possibly be more important than your family? Is there any wisdom in being successful yet alone?
So pick up the phone and tell your parents that you love them. Before you leave from work, give your spouse a kiss-like you mean it. And please please please-hug your kids. Enjoy them while you can-they’ll only be young once. And once that window of opportunity closes-it will be gone forever.
Powerful thought: great achievement often appears when our backs are up against the wall. Pressure can actually enhance your performance. Your power most fully exerts itself when the heat is on. Who you truly are only surfaces when you place yourself in a position of discomfort and you begin to feel like you’re out on the skinny branch. Challenge serves beautifully to introduce you to your best – and most brilliant – self. Please stop and think about that idea for a second or two.
Easy times don’t make you better. They make you slower and more complacent and sleepy. Staying in the safety zone – and coasting through life – never made anyone bigger. Sure it’s very human to take the path of least resistance. And I’d agree it’s pretty normal to want to avoid putting stress on yourself by intensely challenging yourself to shine. But greatness never came to anyone normal. (Mahatma Gandhi, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Mother Teresa, Albert Sweitzer, Andy Grove and Thomas Edison definitely marched to a different drumbeat – thank God).
I’ve never forgotten the story of famed explorer Hernando Cortez. He landed on the shores of Vera Cruz, Mexico in 1519 and wanted his army to conquer the land for Spain. Faced an uphill battle: an aggressive enemy, brutal disease and scarce resources. As they marched inland to do battle, Cortez ordered one of his lieutenant’s back to the beach with a single instruction: “burn our boats.” My kind of guy.
How fully would you show up each day – at work and in life – if retreat just wasn’t an option? How high would your reach, how greatly would you dare, how hard would you work and how loud would you live if you knew ‘your boats were burning’ – that failure just wasn’t a possibility? Diamonds get formed through intense pressure. And remarkable human beings get formed by living from a frame of reference that they just have to win.
The words you use determine the way you feel. The language you choose shapes the way you perceive the world. Your vocabulary drives meaning in your life. Please think about this idea. I believe it’s a big one.
The superstar businesspeople that I’ve coached are amongst the most high-spirited people that I’ve ever met. And the way they talk reflects that devotion to being an uplifter and elevator of human beings. They wouldn’t dream of calling a setback a ‘problem’ – they’d call it an ‘opportunity (to create something even greater).’ And then, as if by magic, their positive language provokes a set of positive sensations within them that supports them in playing victor versus victim in the seemingly difficult situation. The great ones amongst us would never express information about an upset customer as ‘bad news’ to a teammate but instead would label it “a challenge that will help us grow.” Rather than using negative words they prefer winning words that inspire those around them to dwell in possibility and keep their heads focused on the dream. The words you use influence the life you live. Select them wisely.
I have a little exercise to offer you. Pull out your journal or a clean white sheet of paper and record an inventory of the words you most frequently speak. The more aware you can become of the quality of your language, the more at choice you will be. And writing things down dramatically raises your self-awareness. Then, once you have identified your most commonly used words, do another list. Articulate a series of spectacularly positive words that will serve you – words that you imagine a superstar in your field using. Then bring them into your daily vocabulary. You will discover that speaking these words will make you feel better. More powerful. More passionate. And when you feel great feelings, guess what? You’ll do great things.
One of the primary traits of world-class performers (in business and in life) is their ability to “detach from the noise”. Each day, “noise” such as little crises, minor interruptions and interesting distractions beg for our attention. To get to your own unique form of personal and professional greatness, it’s important – no, essential – to detach from the noise and stay “on vision”.
A simple daily practice to keep you on course to get to your dreams is spending a period immersed in silence each morning. Before your day gets noisy, close your eyes and reflect on your mission. Think about your goals. Reflect on what are your most important To Dos today. Those things that will get you to your dreams.
We all face “the tyranny of the urgent” during our days. But the best of the best stay true to their vision, values and virtues. And they ensure that the things that truly count never get sacrificed for those seemingly pressing but unimportant ones. They simply refuse to major in the minor. They avoid the noise.
Personal planning and goal-setting are not sexy topics. But they are incredibly important and central to an extraordinary experience of life. I see it time and time again amongst those who are the best of the best: lots of time spent articulating a clear and detailed vision for what the key areas of their lives will look like and then a written plan with the vision broken down into sequenced goals so that the vision isn’t so overwhelming and so the big picture is neatly chunked into manageable steps to drive daily action.
One of the best effects of planning that I’ve discovered is what it does to my mind. Let me put it this way: few things focus the mind as well as setting plans on to paper and then sequencing them into goals. The very act of doing it heightens your awareness as to what’s most important. And with better awareness, you will make better choices. And as you make better choices, you are certain to experience better results.
So today, give yourself a gift: take out a nice, crisp white sheet of paper. Sharpen a pencil. And then start writing about the life you want to create. It’s a lot easier than you may think.