A Pandemic Proof New Year Vision

As we wind down 2021 and prepare for the next new year, I would like to revisit another post. This one was also a message I shared with friends at church. I posted this originally on January 6, 2020 under the title “2020 Vision.” Of course, this was pre-pandemic by a few weeks. Little did we know … right?! The good news is that the principles in this post are pandemic proof. This is about clarifying your purpose. If you prefer to watch or listen rather than read, here’s a link to the video of the talk I gave at church. It’s about 30 minutes long, your choice.

Happy New Year! I have a dear friend who lives in the Atlanta area. Each New Year’s Eve I text him at 9:00 PM my time (I live on the west coast). It’s always the same text message, “How does the future look?” This year his answer was a little different. It always says, “The future looks bright!” this year he said, “The future is so bright I’m seeing 2020!” We’re having a lot of fun with 2020 already, aren’t we? Did you catch the Barbara Walters 20/20 montage on New Year’s Eve? “This is 20/20” and “Welcome to 20/20” over and over again. It was pretty clever.

The New Year is a good time to talk about vision. When we talk about Mission, we’re usually talking about what we do. Vision is about why? Vision is about our personal or team or corporate purpose. It’s been said that when you know your “Why,” your “What” becomes more powerful. There is an ancient Proverb that says, “When there is no vision, the people cast off restraint.” It’s saying that absent clear purpose, direction and boundaries, people (individuals, teams, even companies) do whatever they want and that leads to chaos.

What’s Your Why?

I touched on this in a post a couple months ago. But, I want to unpack it a little here. How do you know your purpose, your why? I really like this exercise I learned from John Maxwell’s book Intentional Living. He suggests you can discover your “why” by asking the following questions:

  1. What do you Cry about? Almost everyone cries about things like the loss of a loved one (human or pet) or a broken relationship. So, the question is not what do you cry about? It’s, what do you cry about? What are the things that uniquely move you to tears? I’m a sap crier, not a sad crier. Don’t get me wrong, I cry about normal things. But I tend to cry more about things that are moving. My family calls me a sap. So, I had to reverse engineer this to discover that I cry about Ignorance (when people don’t know that things could be better or how to make them better). I also cry about Estrangement (when relationships that should be wonderful are broken). Finally, I cry about Devaluation (I’m not talking about currency here. I’m talking about when people are written off as having or bringing no value)
  2. What do you Sing about? Again, the emphasis is on you. What are the specific things that light you up to the point of wanting to sing? I get jazzed about discovery; when I see or help people learn the things that will transform their lives. I also want to sing when there is reconciliation, when those relationships that should be wonderful become wonderful again. Finally, I love it when those who’ve been written off are proven to be worthy. Call it redemption or transformation. I don’t care what we call it, I love it.
  3. What do you Dream about? This is not the big house, boat, or fancy car conversation. This is about what one thing, if you could change it, would make all the difference for you? I dream about spending the rest of my life launching leaders to live their legend (more about that in another post).
  4. What’s your sweet spot? What are you great at? It may be natural talent or developed skill, but you’re good at it. Your sweet spot is where your passion (what you cry and sing about), your dream(s) (what you dream about), and your talent and skills intersect. This is where you find your why, your purpose. this is your 2020 vision of who you want to become.

A Final Question

This is the point where you ask “what?” What are you going to do about all this? Dreams are free, everyone has them. The difference between dreamers who just dream and those whose dreams come true is action. Now that you know your why, your what will be more clear and it will certainly have more impact.

What are two things (small or large) you could do in the next week to move you in the direction of your vision? Do those. Happy New Year

Transitions

I guess there’s a sense in which we’re all in transition. We get older. I’m writing this in December which means we’re in that three-month part of the year when my wife, Suzi, is older than me. Technically she’s always older than me, but between October and January it shows up when we write down our ages. Many years ago I put an ad in the local paper with her picture that said, “Suzi Thomason turns 30 today. Happy Birthday from your 29-year old husband!” Yes, I did! That scenario where she is “older” than me has come around over 40 times for us so far. The first time my progress in years really dawned on me was a few years back when I realized I was the age my dad was when I got married. That gives you some perspective.

Along with getting older comes the empty nest transition. I posted the other day that Suzi and I had gotten our Christmas tree together, alone, for the first time in a long time. That was bittersweet. The kids get older, they move out, they get married (no grandkids yet), have careers, make choices. You transition to a different role in their lives.

Those are transitions that everyone experiences. Well, most everyone, not everyone has kids, but everyone gets older. Then there are those transitions that are unique to you. Maybe you change jobs or even careers. Maybe you relocate to another part of the country or world. You may have experienced the breakup of an important relationship, a divorce, or the loss of a loved one.

The COVID-19 Pandemic caused a huge transition for people all over the world. Every time there is a change in political administration, the country goes through a transition. The point is things are constantly changing and we have to transition to something new.

How do you remain constant when things are constantly changing? We might lose our minds if something didn’t remain the same. Here are a couple of

ideas that have helped me.

  • Cherish Today. Yesterday is gone, we can learn from it but can’t change it. Tomorrow never comes. Just as it’s about to arrive, it becomes today. Today is a gift. Maybe that’s why they call it the present.
  •  Hold on to your values. Don’t follow the path of least resistance. That path makes both rivers and men crooked.
  •  Follow your north star, that point of reference that keeps you moving in the right direction no matter what. Mine is my relationship with God about whom the book of Provers says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”
  •  Commit to growth. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You’ll get stronger still if you consistently ask, “How can I grow through this?”

Suzi and I are in the midst of yet another transition. We’ve moved, again, job change coming, possible career change. We don’t know what’s beyond January. I plan to hold on to those four points. I’ll let you know what happens.

Off Course

Small changes can have huge consequences.

In 1979 a passenger jet carrying 257 people left New Zealand for a sightseeing flight to Antarctica and back. Unknown to the pilots, however, there was a minor 2-degree error in the flight coordinates. This placed the aircraft 28 miles to the east of where the pilots thought they were. As they approached Antarctica, the pilots descended to a lower altitude to give the passengers a better look at the landscape. Although both were experienced pilots, neither had made this particular flight before. They had no way of knowing that the incorrect coordinates had placed them directly in the path of Mount Erebus, an active volcano that rises from the frozen landscape to a height of more than 12,000 feet (3,700 m). Sadly, the plane crashed into the side of the volcano, killing everyone on board. It was a tragedy brought on by a minor error—a matter of only a few degrees.

One Degree Off Course

Experts in air navigation have a rule of thumb known as the 1 in 60 rule. It states that for every 1 degree a plane veers off its course, it misses its target destination by 1 mile for every 60 miles you fly. This means that the further you travel, the further you are from your destination. If you’re off course by just one degree, after one foot, you’ll miss your target by 0.2 inches. Trivial, right? But…

  • After 100 yards, you’ll be off by 5.2 feet. Not huge, but noticeable.
  • After a mile, you’ll be off by 92.2 feet. One degree is starting to make a difference.
  • If you veer off course by 1 degree flying around the equator, you’ll land almost 500 miles off target!

That would be like heading for Chicago but landing in Memphis instead. That would be inconvenient, wouldn’t it? Off course can be inconvenient or deadly like the New Zealand flight. I’ve read that commercial aircraft are off course 90 percent of the time. Turbulence and other factors cause them to go off course but constant feedback from the instruments allows the pilot to make adjustments and return to the flight plan.

We can get distracted and get off course in our lives and careers as well. Regular instrument checks and adjustments are a good idea.

Replace “Off” with “Change”

What if we took the same principle of “one degree” and replaced “Off Course” with “Change Course?” Now we have a whole new conversation. Now we’re talking about making an intentional change in the trajectory of our life. The same principle applies. A slight change of one degree can make a huge difference. That’s encouraging. You don’t necessarily have to do a complete about-face to make a big difference.

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear writes about a time when he wanted to eat healthier. In a section of the book that talks about the power of our environment on our habits, Clear tells how one small change made a huge difference. He used to buy apples and put them in the crisper in his fridge . . . never to be seen again until they were rotten and had to be thrown out. The simple change? He started putting the apples in a big bowl on the kitchen counter where he could see them every time he came into the kitchen. Not a huge about-face, a slight change, but now he is eating the apples instead of throwing them away.

Whether we’re off course or changing course, a slight shift can make a huge difference. That can be a warning or an encouragement depending on your perspective. Which is it for you?

Pivot!

The first year we lived in China, one of the veterans of overseas living said to me, “to be successful living in Asia, you have to be willing to live with ambiguity.” He was right. I learned that the more of my western expectations I was able to let go, the more I enjoyed the experience of living there and the more I learned. Ambiguity means, “the quality of being open to more than one interpretation, inexactness.”

For example, one day soon after arriving in Kunming, my wife and two youngest children were walking outside near our home. My son, who was 9 at the time, overheard a woman talking on the phone. She repeated a mandarin phrase “na ge” (when pronounced it sounds like there is an “r” at the end of “ge”). He asked my wife, “Are these people racist?” My son is black and he thought she was saying the “N” word. It turns out that is a phrase that simply means “that one” and is used by some as a filler like our “um.” We had a good laugh about that misunderstanding when we learned the truth.

Footwork

Fast forward a few years and my youngest daughter (twin to the boy in the previous story) is a high school basketball player. She is over 5-10 so she played in the middle a lot. One thing her coach worked on hard with the girls was their footwork. Footwork is fundamental to every basketball skill and one of the fundamental footwork moves is the pivot. When you want to move and not dribble, you have to establish a “pivot foot” and can only move the other one while that one stays planted. So you essentially swivel on that fixed pivot point.

Players pivot to protect the ball, to get open for a shot, or to get clear to pass the ball. Janessa was a great rebounder. She had a knack for pulling the ball down, pivoting to find her open teammate, and getting the ball to her quickly to move up the court. It was fun to watch.

Life

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Life happens?” I’ve learned that my friend’s quote from the beginning of this post is true of living anywhere, not just in Asia. The more you are able to live with ambiguity, the more flexible you are, the more you are able to pivot, the more successful you will be. The opposite of that is to be brittle, and brittle often gets broken.

Probably the biggest of many pivots we’ve made in life was when we moved overseas. I had been laid off during the economic downturn of 2008/2009 and as a result, we lost our home. No one was hiring at the time so we had to pivot. Through an unexpected set of circumstances, we wound up in China. As you can probably tell by how often I reference it in my posts, that 2-year experience was wonderfully transformative for our family. We would never have had that opportunity if life hadn’t happened as it did.

Just like in basketball, we may pivot to protect something. We may pivot so we can take our shot, or we may pivot to give someone else a shot by passing off to them. Those are all potentially great moves in the game of life.

I know we all prefer autonomy. We want to direct our own lives and be in control. But, when everyone wants that, life happens. Sometimes your best autonomous move is to pivot.

Believe!

I like to say, “You only truly believe that which activates you.” In other words, you can say you believe it’s going to rain, but if you leave the house without your umbrella, do you really believe it? Belief leads to action (by the way inaction is an action for our purposes just like not making a decision is a decision). Since results come from actions there is a direct connection between what you believe and the results you’re getting. W. Edwards Deming said, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” You could say something similar about our lives.

We get the results we get in life largely because of our B.S. Funny, what first comes to mind when we see those initials often describes our Belief Systems, which is what I mean by B.S. Many people are held back in life because of faulty or limiting beliefs. Beliefs like, “I could never do that,” or, “Nothing good could come from this,” or, “I have to be certain of the outcome before I do that,” will lead you to act (or not act) in certain ways. Voila! You have your results.

Actions Not So Much

In business we want results. If we don’t like the results we’re getting, we work to change people’s actions. It seems to make sense because you can draw a straight line from actions to results. The problem is that if you make people act outside of their beliefs, they may change for a short time, but they will usually snap back to their previous actions that align with their beliefs pretty quickly. It isn’t enough, by the way, to get them to “believe” that if they don’t do this or that, they will get a beating!

We can use “carrots” and “sticks” to “motivate” people into certain actions. But real change will come from addressing their beliefs. For example, let’s say I’m a hospital housekeeper. I’m in my area, doing my thing but I never see my supervisor. They never come to my area to see how I’m doing, to see if I need anything, to see if I’m doing my job right or not. What will I believe about the importance of my work or about whether or not quality matters?

On the other hand, if my supervisor comes two or three times a day and provides support and constructive feedback, what will I believe about the importance of my work and about whether or not quality matters? Can you feel the difference? So can our people.

I Believe What I Believe

True. But where do those beliefs come from? In my example above, I believe what I believe about my work based on my experience with my supervisor. Our experiences inform if not shape our beliefs.

A good friend of mine grew up with a father who was critical and demoralizing. There was one particular event in his early life that crippled his belief system about himself. Later, as an adult, he was talking to a counselor who had him revisit that crippling memory.  “This time,” he said, “Imagine it like this …” and he gave my friend a new way to imagine the event that turned it into a positive. This new way of “experiencing” that event led to a new belief system that truly helped my friend.

Athletes use something called “visualization” to help them prepare for their events. It’s a form of mental practice and is based on the reality that the mind doesn’t make a huge distinction between real and imagined activity. An athlete can imagine performing a certain way over and over until that imagined experience boosts their confidence (belief system) and alters their performance (actions and results). If athletes can do it, so can we.

On April 25, 2014, I heard an interview with musical artist Jewel talking about her song, “Hands.” She said, “I was homeless at the time and I was shoplifting . . . I realized I couldn’t get track of my thoughts, but I could watch what my hands were doing, and your hands are the servants of your thoughts. And I thought if I could see what my hands are doing and change what my hands are doing maybe I can change my life. Which was really learning to control my thoughts because its the only power I had. That’s how my life turned around.”

What Now?

If you want to know what you believe, look at what you’re doing. If you don’t like the results you’re getting, ask yourself what B.S. is driving those actions. Then ask yourself where that B.S. came from. Then, like my friend, like Jewel, like athletes, imagine a different experience that will support a better belief system. It may just turn your life around.

Encourage!

I had an unplanned meeting with three assistant managers the other day. Those unplanned meetings where you all just happen to be in the same place and start talking are often the best. One of them started to share a little of her personal story. She has overcome a lot in her life and is now working with some volunteer organizations to help others. Her story is inspiring, but what really caught my attention was how she talked about the people she leads. As an assistant manager in this setting, she oversees a team of about 28 people. What she talked about was their stories, how they tend to open up and share their stories with her, and how many of them had similar backgrounds of overcoming.

Have you ever heard the terms Human Resources, FTEs, Headcount, Staff? I don’t have a gripe against any of those terms per se, I use them myself. But, they are pretty impersonal ways of referring to the people we lead. I like data and numbers and trends, they all tell a story. But, so do our people. We lead teams, but teams are people. Our organizations are made up of people. They all have lives outside of work. They have hopes and dreams, plans and fears, significance and potential. Do you know what they are?

Leighton Ford said, “In our postmodern world, people have been treated as numbers, as replaceable parts, as something on someone’s agenda, a program, a screen name. They long to be noticed, to be valued, to have someone pay attention!”

ENCOURAGE

A few weeks ago, I wrote on Courage! Today I’m writing on “Encourage.” Here goes a little word nerd action. Interesting thing about the prefix “en-,” when it’s added to nouns and adjectives it forms a verb expressing conversion into the specified state as in “encrust” or “ennoble.” So, when added to courage, it means to convert someone into the state of courage, to give them courage.

In my post on courage, I wrote about different categories of courage, Physical courage, Moral courage, Social courage, and Intellectual courage. I defined courage in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, who said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”

The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, wrote ” Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. Acknowledge those who work hard among you.”

HOW TO ENCOURAGE

People often hold back in their work and in their life because of fear.  They even make mistakes because of fear. To Encourage someone, you must help them decide that something else is more important than their fear.

The first step in doing that is to Acknowledge them. People need to be recognized for who they are and what they do. You can take it a step further when you acknowledge them and their work as significant. The next level of acknowledgment is to recognize that person’s potential. Start talking to someone about their potential in a positive way and watch them lean into the conversation.

The next step in encouraging someone is to Know them. You can’t help a person overcome a fear and be courageous if you don’t know what their dreams and fears are.  Connection increases courage. I recently asked a couple of training leads for feedback on a new trainer. One of them said, “She really connects with the new hires.” I asked her to describe that for me. She told me that most of the new hire classes start out shy and reserved. But, as the trainer gets to know them and builds up their skills, they come out of their shells, and by the end of the training week, they’re high-fiving each other, laughing, and learning.

Part of knowing your people is understanding their goals and dreams. That leads to the final step in encouraging them, Help them. Like the trainer who built up new skills for new hires, or a coach who helps a person develop natural talent and/or acquired skills, you show the person what needs to be done and what barriers are in the way. Help remove any barriers you can. Above all, encouraging someone is helping them decide to take action, to be bold, to shoot for what’s more important than their fear.

Think of one person you could encourage today and take action.

Attract!

Imagine you’re in a great mood and you walk into a room where there is someone in a terrible mood and someone else in a great mood. Who will you more likely want to spend time with?  Most likely the other person in a great mood. Right? What about the opposite? What if you walk into the same room but you’re in a terrible mood. Now, who will you spend time with? Misery loves company, right?

Now put yourself in the room with someone else walking in. If you’re in a great mood and so are they, they will more likely gravitate to you. The same is true if you’re in a terrible mood and so are they. Someone in a great mood doesn’t want to be brought down by a person who’s in a terrible mood. And a person in a terrible mood will just be irritated by someone in a great mood.

Now, replace “mood” with something more enduring like attitude or energy or vision. Run the same scenarios. People of like attitude, energy level, and/or vision will tend to gravitate to each other.

In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell says law number 9 is “The Law of Magnetism: Who you Are is Who you Attract”  We tend to attract people who are like us. Look at your group of friends. If you’re a leader who has selected your own team, check out the “personality” of your team. Can you see it? Hopefully, you have complementary skill sets but there is a commonality isn’t there?

How It Works

Our behavior, how we act, is the outward expression of our attitudes and beliefs. Remember the Results Pyramid from my last post? Our beliefs about ourselves and the nature of our surroundings and about other people come out, intentionally or not, in how we behave. That behavior is observable by others. Sometimes the behavior is as simple as a facial expression or body language. When people observe your behavior, they decide, again, consciously or unconsciously, whether or not it’s “attractive.” Are they drawn to it or repelled by it? Like the person entering the room, they will be drawn to what most closely matches them.

Now, I have a question for you. How do you feel about your current life situation? Are you satisfied and happy? Great! I hope that continues and increases for you. If you’re not, the question is, What needs to change? Based upon the “Law of Magnetism” the answer is, you need to change. In business, we say, “Your system is perfectly designed to generate the results you’re getting.” And, most of us have heard the popular definition of insanity, “doing the same thing and expecting different results.” In this case, you are the system. You’re getting the results you’re designed to get … sort of.

I Am Who I Am … ?

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. A leopard doesn’t change its spots. We have grains of character that do not change. Ever heard those sayings?  Have you ever heard of a butterfly? A Frog? Metamorphosis? It means “a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one.” A change in the nature of a person if you condense it for our discussion. You can learn new tricks, change your spots, even the grains of your character.

How? Remember when we talked about hope? I said hope is our prescriptive imagination for less tangible things, including character. Our behavior creates results including attracting people and circumstances. Our behaviors (the collection of which comprise our character) come from beliefs which we have as a result of our experiences according to the “Results Pyramid.” I would take it a step further and say that our beliefs come from how we think about our experiences both bad and good whether real or imagined.

How we think, what we think about are important. The good news is that you can choose what you think about. You can choose what to imagine. Do you want to attract a different kind of people? Do you want to attract different kinds of circumstances? Start by imagining yourself as the kind of person to whom those people and circumstances would be drawn. Dwell on that image of yourself long enough and intentionally enough and in enough detail and it will begin to affect your beliefs which will alter your behavior and, in turn, your results.

Changing how you imagine yourself is the beginning of changing who you are and ultimately who and what you attract.

Hope!

Does the world seem a bit strange these days? There is a lot going on that many people my age and older say seems unusual even for politics and world events. Depending on your political, religious, or cultural leaning, you may be excited or discouraged by what you see happening around you. Now zoom in. Look at your more immediate circumstances. How are things going there? How do you feel about the direction your circumstances are headed? I’m asking because of something I know about our imaginations.

Last week I talked about Imagine and imagination. It’s that amazing ability to visit places and create things in your mind. Creativity, I said, is born out of prescriptive imagination. Creativity is how you take a new thing you’ve imagined from your mind and make it real. That works most easily for concrete things like bridges, and buildings, artwork, and cakes. But what about less tangible things like character and relationships, career path, and health?

The Results Pyramid

No. This is not a mystical Egyptian religion. It comes from two books called The Oz Principle and Change the Culture, Change the Game. The idea is that results (at the top of the pyramid) come from Actions  (the next section on the pyramid just below results). That’s a “captain obvious” statement. You have to take action to get results. But the next idea is that Actions come from Beliefs. For example, if you believe your boss doesn’t care about the quality of your work, you will act a certain way. On the other hand, if you believe your boss is very demanding about quality, you’ll act differently.

The base of the pyramid is Experiences. Experiences are how we form our Beliefs. If your boss never checks your work and never comments on it then you will believe s/he doesn’t care about the quality. On the other hand, if they frequently check your work and provide feedback you will form a different belief.

So, the “Results Pyramid” says that Experiences lead to Beliefs which lead to Actions which lead to Results. If we try to change results by just changing our actions, we often fail because we haven’t addressed the underlying beliefs.

Imagination Again

Now try a little experiment with me. Replace the “Experiences” in the Results Pyramid with “Imagination.” Imagined experiences can be as powerful in affecting our beliefs as real experiences depending on how strongly imagined they are. Now, here’s what I know about our imaginations when it comes to unknown future outcomes and expectations. For a lot of reasons, we tend to default to imagine the worst possible outcome. Another word for that is worry, or, as I like to call it, faith in the worst possible outcome.

Now follow the results pyramid and you can see how a negative imagination can lead to a belief in the worst outcome (worry). That worry will play into the actions you take. When that happens the results are often a self-fulfilling prophecy of what you imagined.

Another Kind of Imagination

Hope! Hope is positive imagination. It is prescriptive imagination for things that are not as concrete. Here’s how the Apostle Paul described it in the New Testament book of Romans, “… hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” The way Paul talks about hope in this passage it has almost the same definition as imagination.

Hope is not just wishful thinking. Hope is when we intentionally form a positive outcome in our imagination and focus on it like it’s an experience. Belief, then, takes on the role of creativity by dictating the actions that are more likely to bring about the outcome we had hoped for. Leaders, for example, may call this vision.

Negative, worry-filled, hopeless people tend to spiral in that direction. Positive, hopeful people tend to produce much better results. It’s up to you how you use your imagination. Choose Hope!

The Smartest Kid In the Class

If you’re the smartest kid in the class, you’re in the wrong class. That is if you want to grow. I’m not sure who first made the comment about surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you but they sure were smart. The easiest way to grow as a person and as a leader is to surround yourself with people who know more than you do. In his famous book about the richest men in the world called Think And Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill wrote about Henry Ford, “Any man is educated who knows where to get knowledge when he needs it, and how to organize that knowledge into definite plans of action.” He was talking about the fact that Henry Ford had smart people around him.

David Ogilvy, widely revered as a founding father of modern advertising (and founder of one of its most famous agencies), is reputed to have once presented each of his board directors with a set of Russian dolls. When they opened the dolls, the smallest had a piece of folded paper inside on which Ogilvy had written: ”If you always hire people who are smaller than you, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If, on the other hand, you always hire people who are bigger than you, we shall become a company of giants.”

One Example

Several years ago I sat in on a meeting of the division presidents of a large national company with their CEO. The CEO was also the founder of the company.  He had started two other companies and had sold them both making many of his team millionaires. His reputation preceded him but this company was in an industry that was new to him. What I observed was interesting. Whenever the CEO said something or made a point all the division presidents nodded their heads like a group of bobblehead dolls, except one. That guy spoke his mind and if he disagreed with the CEO, he said so. “That won’t work,” he blurted out in one case. He went on to explain why. “That’s not what this customer is looking for,” he said another time.

The outspoken division president had spent years in the industry that was new to the CEO. He knew the business. The CEO recognized the value of that president’s expertise and soon after that meeting elevated him to a position of leadership nearer the CEO so he could more readily benefit from it.

The Point

I’ve been writing about personal growth over the last several weeks. If you have a fragile ego or something to prove to someone then this post isn’t for you. This post is for people who realize that they don’t know everything and can’t do everything but still want to be successful or even significant. Those are the people who want to grow, who want to increase their influence.

If you’re one of those people then it should make sense to you to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and better than you.  That’s a growth environment. A growth environment like that will do at least three things for you.

  1. It will keep you challenged – challenges keep us engaged and, like in any physical training, we gain strength by doing a little more each time.
  2. It will keep you focused forward – you can’t drive a car looking in the rearview mirror or you’ll crash. A growth environment will keep you driving with your eyes on the road ahead.
  3. It will keep you out of your comfort zone – I recently heard John Maxwell speak on personal growth. He said, “Everything you want or need is outside your comfort zone.”

When I interview candidates for certain jobs I like to ask this question, “Could you tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you didn’t know how to do?” I’ve heard answers like, “I didn’t do it,” or “I don’t do anything I’m not trained to do.” I didn’t hire those people. I’m looking for people with the drive and ingenuity to find solutions. When they say, “I found someone who knows how to do it and asked them,” or “I found the procedure manual or I googled it until I knew what I was doing,” that’s when I believe I have someone who is in a growth mindset.  Those are the people I want to hire.

Take a look around you, at your colleagues and friends. Are they ahead of you, next to you, or behind you? If they’re all next to you and behind you, you need to find some new colleagues and friends. Put yourself in a growth environment.

Where Are You Growing?

I’ve quoted Daniel Pink a few times in my writings. He’s the one who wrote Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. He identifies three intrinsic motivators, three things that motivate us from the inside because they are their own reward. One of those is something he calls “mastery,” the desire to get better at stuff.  He points out that people will buy equipment, take lessons, and practice golf or a musical instrument even though they will never earn a dime doing it. The motivation is simply to get better at it.

Both of those examples, golf and a musical instrument, as well as the word motivation signal the point of this post. Growth, personal development, getting better at stuff, doesn’t happen automatically. We get older automatically but we don’t get better automatically. We have to grow on purpose. Think about this, if experience were the best teacher, if time on the job meant someone gets better, then everyone who is older would be better than anyone who is younger. Is that reality? Or, do we all know people with far less “experience” who excel at what they do even over some who’ve been doing it longer? Sure we do. So getting better isn’t automatic. Growth has to be on purpose.

What Part of Your Life?

One way of understanding the question in my title, “Where Are You Growing,” is in what part of your life are you intentionally growing?

Three years ago I took some time to reflect on what I came to call “connecting points” in my life. A connecting point is where my life connects to the world in some way. I identified these:

  • Follower – My connection to Jesus
  • Husband – My connection to Suzi
  • Father – My connection to My Children and Children-in-law
  • Son – My connection to Dad and Mom
  • Brother – My connection to My Siblings and Siblings-in-Law
  • Friend – My connection to (List)
  • Steward – My connection to Wealth
  • Colleague – My connection to Workmates
  • Neighbor – My connection to Community (larger or smaller)

Each point of connection also has a description of what I want the nature of that connection to be. For example, one part of the nature of my connection to wealth is “as a conduit” with a brief description of what that looks like.  I then went on In this exercise to list several actions I want to take to be intentional about growing in each point. One example is “initiate contact.” That one showed up under several of my connection points. Most of my friends and all of my extended family live more than a day’s drive away. I think about them all quite often. But I’m really bad at picking up the phone and giving one of them a call to catch up and let them know I’m thinking about them.

This is just an example from my life. As I look at it, I’ve still got work to do! What areas of your life could use some intentional attention?

In What Direction?

If I were to ask you, “Where are you going,” you would answer with a destination or at least a direction. That’s another way of looking at my question, “Where are you growing?” What direction is your growth taking you, to what destination?

We’re talking about intentionality. Let’s switch the metaphor for a minute. Have you ever planted a garden? What happens if you leave it alone for any length of time? You get weeds. Weeds will grow and crowd out your plants, take their nutrients from the soil, block the sun, and consume the water intended for your plants. That’s what happens when you do nothing intentional about your garden. Stuff is always growing but it’s not always the stuff you want.

If you’re an athlete and your technique is wrong on a certain skill, you will continue to reinforce the wrong technique unless you do something intentional to change it and develop the muscle memory in the right direction. So, in a sense, you’re growing in the wrong direction if you do nothing. The same is true of personal growth in any area. If we do nothing, we’re growing in the wrong direction.

Set The Course

So, let’s get intentional about growing in the right direction. Pick an area where you want to see yourself get better. Find a way to measure it. If you can’t measure it you won’t know if you’re getting any better. Determine your destination. When will you arrive at “improved?” What’s the goal? Then decide what steps you’ll take to improve. Finally, begin. That’s the most important step!

Next week I’ll give a few examples.