Keep “the What” over “the How”….always

Do you ever get “how-to” overload? You know what I mean – 3 simple steps to achieve A, 7 pillars to support strategy B, 10 levers to enable C, 24 characteristics of successful D’s, 5 timeless principles necessary for E….and on and on and on and on. It gets overwhelming and confusing but, more importantly, often distracting.

Although breaking something down into its parts or components is necessary, it’s easy to become so fixated on the “how” and completely lose site of the “why” and “what.” This happens to people and organizations all the time.


It’s the classic example of the employee whose answer for why they’re doing something is: “we’ve always done it that way,” or the team who spends hours producing the monthly report that no one reads, or the family who’s chronically frustrated about exceeding the budget but keeps the same spending habits.

So how do you make sure you’re not among “the many” who are so tangled up in “the activity” they completely miss “the purpose?”

Take Time to Set a Goal

Most people who just “jump in and start swimming” haven’t given the first thought about what they want to achieve in the end. What is it – exactly? Is it worth it? Why am I doing it? Do I have time to add this to my other goals? Once you get clarity on what you want to achieve, the steps to get there become much more specific, focused and meaningful.

Regularly Envision it, Feel it, Get Inspiration

Admittedly this may seem a little “lite” and self-helpish, but the more regularly you can envision how success looks like and how it feels, the more you can change your mind-set to bring refreshed color to your goal (feeling, emotion, passion, motivation,  hope, etc.). You’ll have a much higher chance of maintaining your loyalty to the purpose, instead of becoming enamored with the steps, if you regularly take time to calibrate your perspective and feed your motivation for the goal.

Measure Progress

Now that you have the goal before you “in living color” and are applying “the steps,” are you really making progress towards it? Is anything changing? Could someone “looking in” see a difference (ask them!)? You need to be asking these questions regularly. If the answer is uncertain or negative it’s time to re-asses the steps or how you’re applying them.

Question the Goal

Goals are great, but just because they’re good doesn’t mean they’re timeless and can’t change. Think of …the business environment, phases of life, clarity on mission, health, finances, family, etc. A lot of things change that could affect what’s important, right? Don’t get stuck spending time and valuable resources on “the how” for goals that may have “expired.”  Periodically take a step back, question, re-evaluate, decide, commit.

In closing, your life, your time, your organization’s resources are too valuable to waste blindly executing principles and steps (“the how”) for a purpose (“what & why”) that’s lost from site. Remember, while a map is important, it’s useless without a North Star and completely meaningless without a destination.


What the World Needs…

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” (Dr. Howard Thurman)

life_Dr.-Howard-ThurmanConcepts to Ponder:

  • How well do you know yourself (strengths, weaknesses, etc.)?
  • Have you ever really taken time to find out for yourself (ask others, observe your behaviours, write it down)?
  • Are you trying to “come alive” playing someone else’s game, or using what you’ve been given to make a difference?


Don’t Waste the Opportunity of “Back to ______” to Form New Habits

I often write on practical frameworks and concepts that can be applied to multiple areas of life or management. In this post I make the “rubber meet the road” by focusing these elements on a unique opportunity that occurs during this time of year. Read on…

For many of us, summers are legendary. Not necessarily because they’re less busy (ours wasn’t) but there’s definitely a change of pace and routine. Now that it’s “back to school, end of summer, or back to work” (…or whatever fits for you), it’s time for “the routine” to set back in.

But wait! What’s a routine anyway? It’s nothing more, and nothing less than a “string of habits that constitute a schedule.” That means that we have an amazing opportunity to re-evaluate and define the habits we want, versus the ones we’ve inherited. Don’t waste this chance. No need to wait for New Year’s resolutions. The iron’s hot…it’s time to lead now. Here are some practical steps to take control:


1. Goals

Clarify your goals. I’ve written a lot on this topic in other posts but, at minimum, think of what you want your life to look like over the next 3-6 months in the following areas – personal, family, professional. Try to be as specific as possible. If you’re thinking on a longer time horizon, try to bring it back to a shorter time period to be sure it’s tangible. Don’t get paralyzed on this step, but remember that without goals you’ll be turning in circles on the next steps.

2. Evaluate

Take an inventory of all the things that belong to your regular schedule and make a list. Then take time to put each item in one of the following four categories: 1) what things are non-negotiable i.e. already decided for you (ex. kids school schedule, job mandates, etc.; sometimes these can actually be a relief, as they can be considered “given”), 2) what do you want to stay the same, 3) what do you want to add, 4) what do you want to stop. Always answer these questions in light of your goals.

3. Plan

Now try to make all the puzzle pieces fit. How do you add new things? How do you discontinue others? Add it up from a money perspective…does it work inside your budget? Add it up from a time perspective…does it work inside your schedule? What changes will you have to make (ex. if you want to start working out in the morning before work, you may have to go to bed earlier to get up earlier). It’s like an algebra problem. Keep iterating until you can find a way to “solve the problem” within the constraints you have. You’ll have to make tough choices, and it will likely force you to clarify or re-evaluate your goals. But remember, if it doesn’t work out on paper, you have no chance for it to work in practice.

4. Resource

This step is about creating conditions for success by creating support structures to increase chances for success. Do you need to join a group to get the guidance you need (ex. gym, running-buddy, community group, car-pool, etc.)? Do you need to track your progress to make sure you’re moving forward (ex. get a log book, create a spreadsheet, download an app, buy an alarm clock)? Do you need to create a separate financial category to track your progress (ex. separate savings account)? In essence, it’s putting in place the enabling elements and “secondary support habits” that are needed to realize the primary habit/routine we want to activate.

5. Accountability

This step is often overlooked but is one of the most powerful predictors of success. First, tell someone about the new habit you want to form (or even the ones you want to stop) and give them permission to ask you the “hard questions” concerning your follow-through. If possible, identify people that are part of your “resource group” i.e. those that are already “doing it” or have committed to “do it” with you. They understand the challenge and know what it takes.

Second, be accountable to your plan (after, all you didn’t spend all that time planning for nothing). Go back to it regularly and compare how you’re doing versus where you wanted to be. Re-calibrate, re-group, revise (if needed), and resolve to make the adjustments to realize it.

It’s back to school or work…or whatever. Don’t let that mean “back to old habits.” Seize the opportunity to make it mean: “back to progressing to the next level.”


The Root Cause of Management Paralysis (Video)

10 More Great Questions for Leaders – Which is Your Favorite?

The questions below are an extract of an excellent list compiled by INC Magazine in the April 2014 issue. This is the third post of questions. The following are links to posts 1 & 2: first post, second post.

  1. Who, on the executive team or board, has spoken to a customer recently? James Champy (author and management expert)
  2. Did my employees make progress today? Teresa Amabile (author and Harvard Business School professor)
  3. What one word do we want to own in the minds of our customers, employees, and partners? Matthew May (author and innovation expert)
  4. What should we stop doing? Peter Drucker (management expert and author)INC0414_cover
  5. What are the gaps in my knowledge and experience? Charles Handy (author and management expert)
  6. What am I trying to prove to myself and how might it be hijacking my life and business success? Bob Rosen (executive coach and author)
  7. If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do? Andy Grove (former CEO of Intel)
  8. If I had to leave my organization for a year and the only communication I could have with employees was a single paragraph, what would I write? Pat Lencioni (author and founder of the Table Group)
  9. Who have we, as a company, historically been when we’ve been our best? Keith Yamashita (author and founder of SYPartners)
  10. What do we stand for – and what are we against? Scott Goodson (co-founder of StrawberryFrog)
  11. (co-founder of Y Combinator)
  12. Are we changing as fast as the world around us? Gary Hamel (author and management consultant)
  13. If no one would ever find out about my accomplishments, how would I lead differently? Adam Grand (author and professor at Wharton)
  14. Which customers can’t participate in our market because they lack skills, wealth or covenient access to existing solutions? Clayton Christensen (author, Harvard Business School Professor)
  15. Who uses our product in ways we never expected? Kevin R. Coyne and Shawn T. Coyne (authors and strategy consultants)
  16. How likely is it that a customer would recommend our company to a friend or colleague? Andrew Taylor (executive chairman of Enterprise Holdings)
  17. Is this an issue for an analysis or intuition? Tom Davenport (author and professor at Bobsen College)