I love the phrase “Things are never quite as good as they seem, nor as bad as they seem, but somewhere in between reality lies.” I first heard it from Lou Holtz.
Today the Dow Jones is very nearly at its all-time high, just shy of 15,600. The U.S. national debt today is at an all-time high of $16.74 Trillion. Is this the best of times or the worst of times for the U.S. economy?
Parents in the U.S. spend vastly more now on youth sports camps and travel sports teams than at any point in time in history. Children in the U.S. are on average more obese than they have ever been. Are American children getting fitter or fatter?
Are you performing great or poorly as a business leader? Don’t get caught up in one great result or one great failure. Keep learning, stay focused, strive to make today better than yesterday, and steadily improve your abilities and your execution. Some days will feel like a championship parade and other days will seem like a bankruptcy. Keep learning, stay focused, strive to make today better than yesterday, and don’t get caught up in evaluating yourself by a set of statistics. Over the long run you will be very successful if you just keep things in perspective and keep performing better and better.
A business leader has to effectively influence how other people think so they make decisions that improve results in a sustainable way.
However, that includes impacting both day-to-day business performance throughout the organization, but it also includes getting people to think about the structure of the business and the way it goes about systemically achieving results. You may have effective people working very hard in a system that is outdated or vastly ineffective, or you might have ineffective people making poor decisions in a system that has the capacity to thrive. Ideally you want to have both. Effective people working in an effective system or structure.
As you influence people in your organization get them to focus both on performing well within the existing system and thinking about how to improve the system. And then be open to their suggestions. Over time you want to influence great performances within an ever-improving system.
People with The Employee’s Mindset say, “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it very well.”
People with The Leader’s Mindset say, “Tell me the outcome you want to achieve and I will figure out how to achieve it.”
People with The Leader’s Mindset can become very successful entrepreneurs and senior-level executives. However, and this is the conundrum, at some point someone is going to tell the person with The Leader’s Mindset what to do. It might be the CEO of the company, it might be a major customer, it might be the Chairman of the Board, or it might be someone from the government who really doesn’t know the business, but who has the final say on a certain issue.
Now the person with The Leader’s Mindset has to accept this new boundary in his or her work and has to be able to operate within this parameter. This is where some people with The Leader’s Mindset blow it. They can’t accept anyone telling them what to do on any topic. However, remember that the objective is to be effective and to improve results rather than being defensive and shutting down. When you are faced with this situation, I encourage you to accept that there are certain decisions you just have to live with even if you disagree with them, and then decide what you can do within that parameter to achieve the desired result.
Obviously if you think the decision you’re being forced to live with is morally or ethically wrong, then you may very well have to leave the organization or shut your business down. However, the vast majority of decisions that you have to live with don’t fall into that category. It was just another person’s decision and he or she is the final decision-maker. In those situations, accept the fact that you don’t get to be the final decision-maker and then move forward within that framework to do what you can do to improve the desired outcome. Don’t whine and moan and belittle the decision. Live with it and move forward effectively.
No matter what you or your employees or your kids are going after, make sure you or they have some skin in the game. It might be effort or money or time, but there’s something about human nature that if we get something for nothing we don’t really appreciate it very much. But if we work really hard to gain a new client, to earn a new project, to win a bonus, to get a good grade, or to go to a good college, it means a lot more to us.
The journey usually means more than the destination. If we look back on our journey as being filled with mediocre efforts and poor investments, the destination won’t mean as much to us no matter how good it turns out. Pour yourself into what you are going after and I think you will find that the journey and the arrival will mean a great deal more to you. It will enrich your career and your life.
This year I’ve studied leaders who dealt with major changes. I’m searching for common factors among these leaders. I’ve read lengthy biographies, of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Chief Joseph, Crazy Horse, Winston Churchill, and John Kennedy.
While there are several intriguing aspects that they have in common, success, at least in terms of achieving the desired outcome, is not one of them. Chief Joseph, one of the leaders of the Nez Perces Indians, and Crazy Horse, one of the leaders of the Lakota Indians, both “lost” in their noble efforts of 1877 to preserve their freedom. The odds were simply too overwhelming. They led others to the very best of their ability, but the size and strength of the U.S. military was simply too vast for them to overcome.
The fine line between success and failure was true for all of these great leaders. If Nazi Germany had not turned its attention toward attacking Russia and if Japan had not attacked the U.S., Winston Churchill might also have lost. If the Confederate Army had won the battle at Gettysburg, they might have successfully attacked Washington, D.C. If Nikita Krushchev had attacked the U.S. with nuclear missiles, John Kennedy would not have been able to avert a thermonuclear war. However, this does not diminish the effectiveness or the nobility of the great leaders who lost.
In your work, do the very best you can to influence how other people think so they make decisions that improve results in a sustainable way. Work to be as effective as a leader as you can be. However, know that while you can control your efforts as a leader, you can never guarantee success in the future.
The economy seems to be warming up in a host of industries. That’s good. Now be careful. Make wise business decisions and investments in your personnel, technology, marketing, operations, etc. Spend very carefully and intelligently. The best business leaders I’ve ever studied were equally as thoughtful in patiently making good decisions in both good and bad economic times. Don’t spend excessively and wildly just because the economy is getting healthier. Think for consistent and long-term success.
My college soccer coach and mentor, Dennis Grace, died on July 5th, 2013. I realize now more than ever the enormous impact he had on my life and my work. He taught me a great deal about leadership, teamwork, and innovation. Little did I know back in the ’80s how his influence would impact my work with corporations 25 years later. Thank you Dennis!
Here is a link to my eulogy.