How Goals Can Distract You From Success

Growing up I was always told to keep my eye on the prize (my goals).  It made sense, so I didn’t really question it.  As I got older I could still see the value in the statement.  Goals are important; they give us a direction and destination to pursue.

However, earlier this year I began to realize that maybe my eye shouldn’t be focused too intensely on the prize.  Perhaps I should focus it more on my efforts and actions.  Now, I am not saying to forget the prize (goals), what I mean is that once you know what the goal is, you don’t need to focus on it so much.  For instance, if you want to be a lawyer, you don’t need to remind yourself everyday that you want to be a lawyer.  If you are enrolled in and attending law school, you have probably already internalized that goal.  Your proverbial “eye” should instead be on the actions and efforts that will get you there because ultimately, that is the only thing within your control.  In fact, your goal could become somewhat distracting in a negative way.  By focusing on it a lot, it feels as if you have more to lose with each setback and there will be setbacks.  This causes an unnecessary distraction that can be avoided.

The efforts and actions represent the journey and becoming a lawyer represents the destination.  Given that we spend most of our time on the journey versus the destination, it makes sense that we shift most of our focus to where we spend the most time.  If we do that, we can dedicate most of our energy to the efforts and actions that culminate into the goal.

This doesn’t just apply to careers; this applies to relationships, athletics, personal goals, etc.  Focusing on what is outside of our control creates unnecessary frustration whereas focusing on what is within our control can liberate us from frustrating levels of disappointment. Continue reading

3 Steps for Building a High Performance Team

Successful businesses do well because of their amazing teams, not their products and services.  Many of us will probably agree that people and teams are the most valuable asset any business possesses and also your most critical competitive advantage.  Rowing Team - HPTUltimately, ideas can be copied, modified, and upgraded.  However, it is difficult to copy teams and/or steal them (well, most of the time).  Furthermore, a well-functioning team is more productive and efficient and thus delivers more value and output for the same money.  However, this is all a moot point if you are not unleashing the power of your team.  If your team is not producing and performing at its best, you are not enjoying these benefits and are susceptible to competition.  This puts you in a position to have to fight competition in more dangerous (i.e. costly, detrimental, etc.) battlefronts like pricing and advertising.

Barcelona Team

A great example of a high performing team.

Building and developing a high performing team requires many important ingredients.  However, there is one fundamental element that forms the foundation for high performing teams and that is clear and concise objectives and roles.  To use a sports metaphor, consider one of the most high performing soccer teams in the world, FC Barcelona.  They are very clear about their objectives (i.e. hold the ball, control the flow of the game, take high percentage shots).  For the record, not all soccer teams have the same objectives.  They also have clearly defined roles and operational strategies for how they execute their objectives.  For a better understanding of what this looks like in action, click on the image of the team for a short video.  You can see from the video how their team looks like a thinking and breathing organism of its own.  It’s not about one person.  It’s about an entire team coming together.

The following is a list of steps necessary to ensure you too have a strong foundation from which to develop your high performance team.

1.  Design and consistently communicate clear and concise business objectives.  This typically begins with the vision of the organization – a clear picture of what, where, and how the business will look, feel, and operate at some point in the future.  The vision also includes what the environmental context will look, feel, and operate like in the future.  In other words, this is the future that the organization is running after.  Next comes the mission.  This will clearly communicate “how” your business will run toward the vision.  From the mission, come your specific objectives.  The more clear the vision and mission are, the more easily you can create, communicate, and evaluate objectives for the business.  These clear and concise objectives are critical to the foundation of high performing teams because it gives way to the next important step.

2.  Design the operational strategy, plan, and processes that will define how the business operates in order to achieve its objectives and execute its mission on a consistent basis.  Imagine your business as a thinking and breathing organism.  When you design your business operations strategically, your business takes on a life of its own.  This has many benefits from a competitive and operational perspective.  Competitively, it is difficult to copy or steal an entire operations strategy and process.  Operationally, it means that the business does not rely solely on people like the owners or top executives to operate successfully.  Instead, the leaders can focus on doing what they are supposed to do – lead – while the business is positioned to operate efficiently and effectively on its own.  With this strategy and plan in mind, you are now ready to begin the next critical step.

3.  Design clearly defined and concise roles that support your operational strategy.  With your operational strategy, plan, and processes, you now have what you need to design the most effective roles for your organization.  These roles will be the ones necessary to maintaining the operation and if clearly defined and communicated, your team will have a deep understanding of the essential role they play within your operational context.  Furthermore, when roles are designed clearly and fit effectively into an operational context, it significantly reduces friction (i.e. employee stress, operational inefficiencies, miscommunication, etc.) in the business.

Equipped with this strong foundation, you can begin to build and develop your high performance team.  This insight is just as important for a three-person company as it is for a 20,000-person organization.  Two weeks ago, I was coaching a startup company that was suffering from some friction and we realized it was due to a lack of clearly defined objectives and roles.

Leaders from successful startup businesses, with anywhere between 2-10 employees, all the way to Fortune 100 companies like General Electric (specifically during the Jack Welch era) have leveraged this framework for building and developing powerful teams.

Start by evaluating your vision, mission, and objectives.  Then look at your business-wide operational strategy to ensure it lives and breaths to accomplish the objectives and execute on your mission.  Finally, take a look at the roles in your organization to ensure you have all of the right people on the bus and sitting in the right seats.

How to Gain Clarity and See New Opportunities

A couple of weeks ago I had a great conversation with a friend about finding the clarity to see new opportunities.  Thinking back to when I made my decision to leave my corporate career, I really could not have ever imagined the journey that I have been on for the last four years.  Although I had my reasons for leaving and some sort of plan of what I might do, I was not even close to what actually happened.

During that conversation two weeks ago I realized that it is quite hard to see what’s possible when your mind is preoccupied with distractions (i.e. your current circumstance or situation, related stress, etc.).  It’s almost as if when it comes to our mental capacity, we only have so much “screen space.”  It’s like we have a 13″ – there’s only so much you can fit in it.

So let’s look at few aspects of this analogy and how it compares to finding clarity.

When you are in a situation or circumstance that does not inspire you or just doesn’t make you happy, your screen fills up with stress, dissatisfaction, thoughts of getting out, and eventually fear of making a change for the better.  Fear because we are hard-wired to fear change and the unknown.  While some may seem more spontaneous and risky in their behavior, they too experience fear – the difference is they have learned to control, embrace, and convert it to enthusiasm and positive curiosity.

When your 13″ screen is all filled up, you simply cannot see opportunities and possibilities – even the ones right in front of you. It feels as if there may not be anything waiting on the other side if you take the plunge.  By the way, this can go for career, relationship, and/or personal circumstances.  However, what I found after I left my career circumstance was that all of a sudden I had new ideas, I was having different conversations, and I considered new possibilities (some out of necessity so that I could earn a living).  It’s as if leaving my career at the time closed all the open windows on my 13″ screen, rebooted my computer, and left me with a blank slate.  I was open to anything and everything.

Here’s where the second aspect of the analogy comes in.  Once my screen was free to have new windows open in it, it was as if my screen got upgraded to 15, then 16, then 17″.  When the negative stress and feelings of fear went away, I felt like more was possible than I had ever thought before.  All of a sudden I was meeting new like-minded people with their own awesome stories and ideas.  And this is when things got really good.  As I explored my own strengths and interests, now I felt like I was taking on additional screens.  One screen was for my passion in education, another screen for student leadership development, and yet another for neuropsychology.  It’s as if I was now running multiple apps that all interface with each other on multiple screens.  Everything was coming together and connecting in ways I never thought possible.

Clarity on multiple screens!

Operating with more apps and on more screens, my other capacities began to upgrade as well.  I felt happier, stronger, healthier, more intelligent, more passionate, more outgoing, etc.  Today, four years later, I see much clearer than ever before.  Here’s the best part though, I haven’t even reached full clarity and I don’t know if I ever will.  However, every year, every month, every day I feel like I have just a little more clarity than I did before.

More apps!

If you are in a circumstance that isn’t working for you, consider finding some clarity.  It won’t come from staying in the bad situation – even if you know all of this now.  The clarity can only come when close all the negative windows on your screen and start fresh again.

Maybe it’s time for a reboot in your life.

3 Ways that Interviewing is Like Dating

Dating...Interviewing...they aren't so different.

Often times I am asked for interviewing advice by students getting ready to graduate or looking for internships.  When I’m asked for advice, my goal is to provide a high-level framework from which students can determine their overall strategy.  Here are three things I always tell my students.  Consequently, it turns out interviewing is a lot like dating and it all begins with selection.

“Selecting whom to ask on a date” Deciding whether to submit a resume.

Make sure the company if of interest to you by checking out their website and doing a little initial research on it.  After you have selected the companies that you wish you apply for and submit your resume/cover letter, they too will do their initial research on you.  The company will review your qualifications to determine if you meet the requirements of the position.  If they too are interested,  you will be invited to interview with them (the first date).  Once invited, perform follow-up research on the company because it will position you to ask probing questions that websites and brochures cannot answer.  For example, when I interview, I almost always ask about the culture.  I even use a very specific question – “when you walk in to the office every morning, do people say greet each other?“ Questions like that give me a better sense of the company culture.  I know that I would not enjoy working for a company where people do not greet each other in the morning.  I’ve worked for companies like that and know it from personal experience.  If you take the time to get to know the company then you can ask better questions at the interview.  Oh and by the way, this makes you look very interested in the company.  Now who doesn’t like it when someone has shown interest in you? Continue reading

How to Create a Pipeline of Luck

The answer to this question is really quite simple:  Just Show Up.

Well, there’s a little more to it than that.  You need to be prepared and proactive.  Creating luck is all about putting yourself in the right places, at the right times, and doing the right things.  This means accepting that invitation to join a friend at a reception, attending a local marketing association meeting, or going out to your buddy’s happy hour with his or her co-workers when you get the invite. Continue reading

Seize, Appreciate, and Understand “The Way” of Your Life

I just got home from watching an advanced screening of “The Way” (@theWaytheMovie) by Emilio Estevez, starring Martin Sheen.  The movie, which opens this Friday, October 7, highlights the journey of Martin Sheen’s character through parts of Spain in his attempt to realize his son’s goal.  His son, played by Emilio Estevez, died while beginning the journey to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela known as “The Way of St. James.”  Throughout the journey, Sheen’s character is enriched by a variety of experiences and people he encounters along “The Way.”

This movie made me think about my own journey and the journey we are all on.  Watching this movie might make us think we need a dramatic pilgrimage like this for it to truly deserve the designation of a “journey” but that seriously undermines our own lives.  Even in the movie, it isn’t just about “The Way.”  [subtle spoiler alert] The characters ultimately realize it wasn’t about what they set out to do with their respective journeys.  It was about a way of life.  It is about how we choose to live each day.  Whether and how we appreciate the distinct experiences and people that enter and leave our lives, for better or worse. Continue reading