“To every person there comes in their lifetime that special moment when you are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to you and your talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds you unprepared or unqualified for work which could have been your finest hour.” — Winston Churchill
From Andy Stanley in Next Generation Leader: 5 Essentials for Those Who Will Shape the Future:
The primary reason we do too much is that we have never taken the time to discover the portion of what we do that makes the biggest difference.
From Strengths-Based Leadership, summarizing the findings of a Gallup study:
In the worklplace, when an organization’s leadership fails to focus on individuals’ strengths, the odds of an employee being engaged are a dismal 1 in 11 (9%). But when an organization’s leadership focuses on the strengths of its employees, the odds soar to almost 3 in 4 (73%).
So that means when leaders focus on and invest in their employees’ strengths, the odds of each person being engaged goes up eightfold.
…This increase in engagement translates into substantial gains for the organization’s bottom line and each employee’s well-being.
If you haven’t read Peter Drucker’s article on managing yourself before, it would be a smart move. It’s a classic and one of the ten best Harvard Business Review articles ever.
Drucker covers five core questions:
- What are my strengths?
- How do I perform?
- What are my values?
- Where do I belong?
- What should I contribute?
Interestingly, John Calvin was one of the key pioneers of “feedback analysis,” which is one of the best ways to discover your strengths.
At the end of a year, it’s always good to reflect on major happenings, accomplishments, and lessons learned. At the end of a decade, it’s good to do this reflection for the whole decade.
So, that is my recommendation for you today. It doesn’t have to take long. Create a Word document, call it “Decade Review” or something, and take maybe thirty minutes to jot down whatever comes to mind in these three areas:
- Stand-out events, happenings, and accomplishments over the last ten years.
- Lessons learned.
- Course corrections and key items of focus for the next set of years.
Create three a heading in the document for each of these things; maybe call them “Happenings and Accomplishments,” “Lessons Learned,” and “Focus Items Going Forward.”
It doesn’t have to be fancy or detailed. Mostly, the usefulness of this comes simply from the act of taking some time to reflect. You can really do this any time, but the end of a decade is a good milestone that serves as a catalyst.
A brief word from Marcus Buckingham on how to start building on your strengths right now:
The statement is almost meaningless because it only deals with the “what” when the real problem is the “how.” You can have the “what” right (“I want to spend less time working”) but still fail at doing it because good intentions frequently run aground upon the absence of a realistic “how.”
Maybe I’m being too generous here, but it seems to me that most people who spend too much time at the office probably don’t do so because they want to (i.e., their priorities are screwed up), but because they don’t know how to do otherwise (i.e., they don’t know how to execute on their priorities). If they were to suddenly start working less, for example, the result would simply be that the work would build up — thereby distracting them, nagging them, and clogging things up so that their entire life becomes more difficult, not less.
In other words, spending less on time on work is not without consequence. It’s not something you can just do — regardless of intentions. Systems and know-how trump intentions. Just because someone toward the end of their life says “I wish I had spent less time at the office,” it doesn’t mean that they could have. The statement ends up making people feel guilty for wrong priorities when the real problem is often lack of knowledge about how to execute on those priorities.
Further, the statement also fails to acknowledge (“no one says…“) that some people should spend a ton of time working and all people rightly and properly tend to have seasons like this. (Yes, I affirm this in spite of my post yesterday that “you don’t have to be busy” — there are different types of busyness, and doing a smaller number of things sometimes still requires lots of time working if the nature of those things requires it.)
The apostle Paul is a good example of someone who often worked “night and day” (1 Thess 2:9) and labored extremely hard over the course of his life. I don’t think that Paul said at the end of his life “I wish I had spent less time laboring for the gospel.” He might have said “I wish I could have spent less time making tents to fund my ministry,” but his preference with that time would probably have been to devote it to his ministry. In part (this is an important side lesson), the reason that it worked for Paul to be so devoted to the work of his ministry is that he crafted his other responsibilities in a way that made this possible (for example, he remained single).
To be sure, I’m not saying the statement is bad. And neither am I getting into the really interesting new reality that doing work does not always have to equal “being in the office” anymore — which really has the potential to change things up. I don’t want to sound like I’m trashing the intention of this statement.
My point here is simply that we need to be people who do more than simply say things like “no one at the end of their life wishes they had spent more time at the office.” That’s not helpful because it doesn’t acknowledge that it requires skill to actually accomplish the “task” of working less and spending more time with family. We need to be people who give the “how,” not just the “what.”
In his book The One Thing You Need to Know: … About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Marcus Buckingham has a great section on how the most fundamental and critical skill necessary to thriving in this new world of “excess access” is focus. This reality, in turn, has the surprising implication that we should not seek balance, but rather should seek intentional unbalance.
Here’s what he has to say (from pages 25-26):
We live in a world of excess access. We can find whatever we want, whenever we want it, as soon as we want it. This can be wonderfully helpful if we are trying to track down last month’s sales data, an errant bank statement, or a misplaced mother-in-law, but if we are not quite careful, this instant, constant access can overwhelm us.
To thrive in this world will require of us a new skill. Not drive, not sheer intelligence, not creativity, but focus [emphasis added]. The word “focus” has two primary meanings. It can refer either to your ability to sort through many factors and identify those that are most critical — to be able to focus well is to be able to filter well. Or it can refer to your ability to bring sustained pressure to bear once you’ve identified these factors — this is the laser-like quality of focus.
Today you must excel at filtering the world. You must be able to cut through the clutter and zero in on the emotions or facts or events that really matter. You must learn to distinguish between what is merely important and what is imperative. You must learn to place less value on all that you can remember and more on those few things that you must never forget.
This “filtering” component of focus is critical if we are going to avoid drowning in our world of “excess access” and are going to be able to truly benefit from the abundance of access that we have. It allows us to identify what is most important among everything out there.
That is critical all on its own. But its when we come to the second dimension of focus — laser-like precision — that we come to the big implication of these things. Buckingham continues:
But you must also learn the discipline of applying yourself with laser-like precision. As we will see, … [effectiveness] does not come to those who aspire to well-roundedness, breadth, and balance. The reverse is true. Success comes most readily to those who reject balance, who instead pursue strategies that are intentionally imbalanced.
This focus, this willingness to apply disproportionate pressure in a few selected areas of your working life, won’t leave you brittle and narrow. Counterintuitively, this kind of lopsided focus actually increases your capacity and fuels your resilience.
That is exactly right. The world of “excess access” means not only that there is an over-abundance of information and detail to sort through. It also means that there is an over-abundance of choices we have to make in regard to where to spend our time and how to focus our efforts. How do we make this choice?
We make it on the basis of our strengths. Seek to build your life around what you are good at and are energized by, and apply yourself with laser-like precision to those things. The more you can stay on this path, the more effective you will be.
Because none of us are strong in everything, this of necessity means that we must give up pursuing the myth of balance and instead pursue strategic imbalance. We should be “imbalanced” in that the things we choose to do should disproportionately come from areas of our strengths. But this is strategic — not haphazard — because we do this intentionally because we know that we will be most effective when operating in the realm of our strengths rather than our weaknesses.
This leads to two practical questions and applications:
- What things do you do best and find most energizing? Seek to craft your role (and your personal life) in a way that will enable you to do more of those things.
- Which things do you find depleting — even if you are good at them? Seek to carve those out of your role, or if you can’t do that, find ways to tweak how you do them so that they can be done in a way that calls upon your strengths more fully.
Zach Nielsen has a good post on how to handle the challenges of managing your life when you have a young family. I went to college with Zach, and would recommend his blog in general.
Trustworthiness is a function of two things — character and competence. Stephen Cover makes this point well in Principle Centered Leadership:
Most people equate trustworthiness with character alone. Character is vital, but it is also insufficient. For example, would you trust a surgeon to perform a critical operation who is honest in his billing practices, but who has not kept up on advances in his field and is professionally obsolete?
On the other side, some people equate trustworthiness with competence alone. That, too, is insufficient. Would you hire a doctor who was up on the advances in his field but not honest in his billing practices?
And we need to go beyond simply the minimum character requirements. We should seek to be people of character who pursue the good of others. And, we should seek to be incredibly competent in this, because there are few things worse than well-intentioned incompetence.
Pursue both character and competence.