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.
That old line remains brilliantly true: “the harder I work, the luckier I get”. Life helps those who help themselves. Learned that one from personal experience. I’m not one of those New Age types that believe “it’s all meant to be” and that our lives have been scripted by an invisible set of hands. That kind of talk smacks of victim speak and fear (Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of success). That kind of language also lacks any sense of personal responsibility and usually comes from people too afraid to get into the game. Sure I believe that there’s a force of nature that comes into play when we least expect it (and most need it).
But I also believe – deeply – that we were given free will and the power to make choices for a singular reason: to exercise them. I believe that we generally get from life what we give to life. I believe that good things happen to those willing to put in the effort, exercise the discipline and make the sacrifices that personal and professional greatness requires – no – demands. I’ve also found that actions have consequences and the more good things I do – through good old hard work – the more success I see. Life favors the devoted.
Not one of the uber-successful people I’ve worked with as a leadership coach got there without outworking everyone around them. While others were home watching TV or sleeping, these great ones – who have made their mark on the world and have added tremendous value to it – were up early, putting in the hours, showing life that they were dedicated to their dream. I’m not – for even a moment – denying the importance of work-life balance and spending time with loved ones or caring for your inner life. I’ll be the first to stand for those values. All I’m saying is that in back of extraordinary achievement you will always discover extraordinary effort. Just a law of nature. Hasn’t changed for a thousand years.
Ivan Seidenberg, the Chairman and CEO of Verizon tells the following story: “my first boss – he was the building superintendent and I was a janitor – watched me sweep floors and wash walls for almost a year before he mentioned I could get tuition for college if I got a job with the phone company. When I asked him why he waited so long he said: ‘I wanted to see if you were worth it.’”
One of the clients that we’ve worked with to help develop employees who lead without title is Time Warner. The CEO, Dick Parsons, once observed: ‘whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap’ this came from my grandmother,” he added. “Best advice I ever got.” So plant your seeds. Be spectacularly great at what you do. Wear your passion on your sleeve and hold your heart in the palm of your hand. And work hard. Really hard. Hard work opens doors and shows the world that you are serious about being one of those rare – and special – human beings that uses the fullness of their talents for the highest and the very best.
“Be Enthusiastic” smacks of trite sloganeering. “Be energetic” sounds obvious. “Be passionate” seems boring. Yet without enthusiasm, energy and passion, you cannot lead your field and an organization cannot get to world-class. (Hey, I never pretended this leadership stuff was rocket science).
The people I love to be around are often those that have a simple, heartfelt quality: they are enthusiastic. They are open to life. They are curious. They love to learn. They smile when they see me. And they have a lot of fun.
Today, show up at work with all the enthusiasm you can genuinely muster. See the best in people. Go the extra mile to wow your customers. See the opportunity amidst a seeming setback. Embrace change as an opportunity to grow. Learn something new. Have a laugh with a teammate. I’ll be the first to agree that you can’t control what happens to you each day. But with an abundance of enthusiasm, I have no doubt that whatever the coming hours bring, you will handle them with grace, strength and a smile.
Controversial title for my entry today? Perhaps. But I think it’s true. I’ve heard so many gurus say that ideas are the currency of success and thinking drives the New Economy and we become what we consider all day long. But, to me, ideation without execution is mere delusion (I dare you to share that line at your next team meeting). In other words, an idea – no matter how big – only assumes value when it’s acted upon and brought to life.
This world of ours is full of great thinkers who never realized their greatness. They were strong on the thinking piece but weak on the execution side. And they suffered as a result of that constraint. World-class people get both right. They are superb strategically and brilliant tactically. Really creative and really good at getting things done.
So jump start your commitment around execution. Yes, capture your ideas and bask in the glow of a brilliant thought. And then reach deep into your inner power and have the discipline to do whatever it takes to make the idea a reality.
Here’s comedian Steve Martin’s advice to young comics: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Love it. Life and success runs according to timeless and immutable natural laws. Just like a garden reflects the care and nurturing that’s gone into it, a career as well as a life reflects how much has been put in. The more you give to life, the more it will send back. It’s just not possible for you to be great at what you do, always reaching for your best and representing excellence and not win in the end.
Sometimes discouragement sets in. Happens to all of us. We try hard, stay true to our dreams and pursue our ideals. Yet nothing happens. Or so it seems. But every choice matters. And every step counts. Life runs according to its own agenda – not yours. Be patient. Trust. Be like the stone cutter – steadily chipping away, day after day. Eventually, a single blow will crack the stone and reveal the diamond. A good person just cannot be denied.
Steve Martin’s wisdom speaks deeply to me. “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Apply that philosophy at work. Apply it at home. Apply it in your community. Apply it to your world. Having the courage to present your gifts and brilliance will always yield magnificent rewards. Life is always fair in the end.
You’ve heard it a thousand times in a thousand different ways: you become what you think about. And the thoughts you use become self-fulfilling prophecies. Expect extraordinary things to unfold for you, and they will. The motivators say it. The teachers say it. The sages say it. Ever wonder why?
I think I finally understand why the idea is truth. It’s not some esoteric philosophy. It’s simple logic. Here we go: the actions you take each day create the results of your life. And since every action you take has been preceded by a thought (thinking truly is the ancestor of performance), what you focus on really does drive your reality. British Prime Minister Bejamin Disrael said it so well when he observed: “you will never go higher than your thinking.” A human being will never act in a way bigger than its thoughts. Dream big and your behavior will follow. Think small and you’ll play small.
This concept cascades throughout every dimension of our lives. Think people are good and you walk through your days with an open heart. And that behavior actually becomes your reality because people do good things for good people. Think you deserve the best and your actions will reflect that confidence. Better actions will then drive better results.
Expect to be one of the great ones in your career or within your country. That brilliant thinking shapes the way you work and the way you show up in general. And that world-class conduct presents world-class outcomes.
I hope I’ve expressed the point clearly. It’s a big idea that is so easy to neglect as obvious. Your thoughts shape your reality. Your thinking forms your world. What you focus on expands. And what you dwell on determines your destiny.
I know I’m unpopular on this point. But I owe you my truth: most people sleep more than they need to. They fall into the trap of spending some of the best hours of their lives on a mattress. They squander their potentially breathtaking gifts under the covers. They lose The Battle of The Bed. They trade their greatness for a snooze button.
Here’s an insight I invite you to consider: sleep begets sleep. The more sleep you take, the more you need. Ever noticed that as you sleep more, you feel sleepier? Strange isn’t it.
But it’s true.
Yes, I get that sleep is essential to keep us bright and renewed and healthy. My fear is too much sleep. The kind that keeps great people small. The kind that minimizes high-potential lives. The kind that sucks the living out of human beings destined to shine (and you know who you are). Happens to a lot of us. Because we fall in love with a pillow.
Too much to do and too many great places to explore and too many Big Hairy Audacious Goals (thanks Jim Collins) to get to sleep too much. Life is for the living. I need to repeat that again: “life is for the living.” You and I have been given a gift today: to have the opportunity to make a difference and exercise our talents and have a brilliantly fun time doing it. And we need to seize (and respect) that gift.
So sleep less. Live more. And as Benjamin Franklin observed: “there will be plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead.” (I’ve always liked that guy)
It only takes a minute to tell a loved one you adore them
It only takes a minute to run towards a fear
It only takes a minute to set a big goal
It only takes a minute to drink a glass of water
It only takes a minute to read a great idea (that just might rock your world)
It only takes a minute to write the most beautiful thank you note you have ever sent your parents (or a teammate or a customer or a high school teacher who blessed your life)
It only takes a minute to smile
It only takes a minute to connect to a friend or a co-worker
It only takes a minute to help a human being in need
It only takes a minute to raise your standards to world- class
It only takes a minute to go the extra mile at work and wow a customer
It only takes a minute to reflect on what you can do today to be better than you were yesterday
It only takes a minute to embrace change
It only takes a minute to make a new choice that will lead to your best life.
Make the best of your minutes. Each one of them makes up your life.
It’s true what they say: the harder I work, the luckier I get. Brings me to my point today: “is a great life the result of luck or are there a series of natural laws at play that produce great results once we align ourselves with them?” You know my answer. Good things happen to good people. Do the right things and you cannot help seeing the right results.
I’ve been thinking about farming a lot lately. No, I don’t plan on giving up this leadership stuff and spending my days planting corn (would be a cool way to live though). But just think about it: the laws of the farm and the laws of nature are the same laws that rule our business and personal lives. As you sow, so shall you reap. Care and nurture your farm and a bountiful harvest cannot help but show up. Care and nurture you career or your health or your relationships and do you really believe that you will be denied outstanding produce? Not possible.
Sure, sometimes we get lucky. That’s just icing on the cake. To me, an extraordinary life is the result of living by the laws of life. Doing things like adding value to your customers and those who surround you. Treating everyone you meet like a VIP. Being outrageously honest and surprisingly enthusiastic. Just keep doing these things and you’ll be fine. And remember, the more seeds you plant, the more plants you’ll see.
Big idea: people step into the stories you create for them. People generally behave in a way that meets the expectations you have of them. People generally conduct themselves in alignment with the belief, faith and trust you’ve developed around them. And they mostly behave in accordance with the tightly cherished perceptions that you’ve structured about them.
Tell your kid that she’s your hero each morning and that kids going to shine like The North Star for the rest of her life (tell your kids they’re amazing at least 500 times a day; and hug them like you’ll never see them again). Tell your teammate that you wish you were half as good as them and you’ve just created a space of possibility for that human being to step into (and up to). Tell the person who serves you your next restaurant meal that you appreciate them and then flash the most honest smile you can muster (doesn’t matter if your tired – leaders do what’s right versus easy). Do so and you’ve just reminded a human to be human and spread some of your stardust (and you might just get a free meal).
Tell good stories. For every person you meet, suggest (by your words, your tone, your behavior and your energy) that you have a story deep in your mind of how great they are. See the best in people. Look for the greatness inside them. Remind people that they were meant to shine. By the stories you tell them. About their magnificence.