Why is one career or company boring (and possibly going broke) while another is super exciting (and likely making money)?
Why are some people at work poison while others promote everyone and everything successfully?
What causes discouragment some work days, despite doing everything right; yet, during other work days you are in control, confident, and competent (and you get things done)?
What dictates the difference?
What SPECIFICALLY distinguishes boring from exciting, poisonous from promoting people, or discouragement from getting things done?
Now, I can’t tell you what to believe or how to behave. But, I can share the beliefs and behaviors responsible for catapulting careers and companies forward faster, no matter where we work, no matter our position or company size, no matter what industry we earn a living in.
This may/may not be a radical realization. But, it’s totally true.
The minute we put other peoples’ needs, desires, and goals ahead of ours is the minute our influence, impact, and income turns up. It’s not about us. It’s about them. At work and at home.
Here’s a career example.
Some years ago, my supervisor was handed a project; rewrite our team’s emergency response plan to align with the company’s new standardized format. He needed this done, yesterday. He also had more important fires to extinguish. Finally, formatting documents didn’t align with any of his personal or professional goals for our team.
Should I step in?
Now, I knew that editing a policy and procedures manual meant many hours rewriting and revising paragraphs, meeting with the project owner, and subjecting my work to an auditing committee for overall compliance. But, my boss was swamped. I was willing, able, and available. And I had adopted the #1 leadership belief.
It’s not about me, it’s about them.
So, after I sized up the situation, made sure that my efforts would make life easier for my boss, and assured myself that I could complete the work on time, moving forward was easy. I supplied the sweat equity and survived the ordeal (actually learning a lot along the way).
Some might mistake this move as an attempt to kiss a rear end. But, that’s a loser belief.
Remember, a LEADERSHIP BELIEF puts the other persons’ needs, desires, and goals ahead of ours.
Doing so makes the work, no matter how boring… more meaningful, fulfilling, and fun. In addition, do you think contributions like this get counted at review and pay raise time?
So, how do we discover what someone else needs, what their dreams are, what their goals might be so we can step in and offer “all about them” assistance?
Do you have kids or pets? How frustrating does it feel when they completely ignore a statement, question, or command?
Their listening fumbles slowly lower our patience and politeness. Eventually, because they’re our kids or pets, we elevate our tone, take to threats, and turn into the person we later regret becoming in that instant.
These tactics are tolerated at home where love rules. But, will they work long term at the office, at the plant, in the field, or at the sales meeting where bottom lines rule?
Of course not. Yet, professional adults at all business levels commit listening fraud almost every day, at work and at home.
The person talking is giving us 100% (they are in love with their story, input, or point). But, because it’s not OUR perspective and OUR time is important, we often only pay back 25%, 50%, or 75%. We take notes, nod, and acknowledge their view.
But, these are all head fakes. Aren’t they?
Here’s an example, based from a real-world sales scenario (because we’re all in sales at some level).
A few years ago I was lucky and got to participate in an eight figure asset purchase project. Three product finalists were chosen and each was to present their pitch to our procurement team.
One sales representative, let’s call him G, started his speech with highlights of their flagship product, which we were not remotely interested in. We brought G in to talk about his mid-level product, which fit into our mission specifications (G had these specs. in hand prior to this meeting).
He began bragging about his flagship product, and we tolerated it for a time. Then, after ten minutes, we asked, “G, can you talk to us about your mid-level product?” G replied, “Yes, we’ll get there.” and kept focus on his flagship pitch.
We asked a second and third time. Now twenty minutes into the meeting, everyone, except G, was experiencing total frustration. Finally, someone spoke up. “G, this product isn’t what we want. Please show us statistics on the mid-level product. That is why you’re here.”
But, by then, it was too late. Although, when asked to focus on what we needed, G took a note, nodded, and acknowledged our request, G didn’t actually hear what we were saying (we don’t care about the flagship product, we need details on the mid-level product).
He didn’t listen. G lost the eight figure sale, rather easily.
Listening, hearing what’s not being said and seeing what’s not being said, matters. It will negatively or positively influence outcomes where the stakes are low, medium, high, or very high.
G clearly didn’t understand the #1 leadership belief above. So, his lack of listening kept him first, us second, and cost his company eight, easily measurable, figures (lost sale). This simple skill of listening matters the most.
So, how do you naturally leverage listening while laying the value building-blocks for long-term leadership in a career or company?
World champion athletes reach and sustain success by adhering to the basics of their sport. Basketball players practice free throws. Football players practice timing. Golfers practice putting. Gold medal success in any game expects practice and demands mastery of its core building blocks.
Leadership does, too.
So, consider focus the number one, most important, foundational building block for world-champion leadership.
But, be careful here… because focus means so much more than mitigating multitasking and diverting distractions. Those are level-one focus skills, easily attainable with persistent practice by most people
World champion leaders master something I call level-two focus abilities; picking the important pillars and plowing toward each one everyday.
What does this mean, and look like?
A few years ago, as an individual contributor at a nationwide retailer, I was recruited to teach air travel safety to select directors, presidents and senior-team c-suite executives. I knew preaching by powerpoint presentation would not persuade them to practice safety. If I highlighted the hundreds of safety details that required compliance, my audience would walk away empty-minded (and underserved).
Instead, I needed a north star, or a one-thing, for them to focus on which would automatically help them behave in a manner that would meet the multiple safety metrics that mattered most (hold handrails, wear no-slip shoes, scan surroundings).
The message (focus) became this: maintain large safety margins. And, I echoed this mantra over and over and over during our discussions. When I delved into a safety details, I sandwiched the message (focus) between them. When I answered questions, I centered the solutions around the message (focus). When I demonstrated a best practice, I based it on the message (focus). If they approached air travel with a “maintain large safety margins” mentality (focus), each person would stay safe, and the entire enterprise would continue its forward charge.
With a clear message to focus on, the esteemed audiences left the training events armed for safety success. They knew exactly what to think about and when to think about it.
How do I know? I surveyed them! The polls revealed that they knew where to focus. Safe behaviors followed. Safety goals were reached.
You can apply level-two focus to any project or goal (short-term or long-term) and any company mission or enterprise vision.
If you support data-share software within a company, figure out what one or two level-two focus factors move the needle. Then, preach and teach them to every end user. When you do, your inbox and phone will ding and ring less.
If you manage a team of ten or two hundred within a business, clarify the one or two level-two focus factors that get results. Then, preach and teach them to every manager and contributor. When you do, your meeting calendar will clear out and your critical thinking capacity will open up.
If you lead an enterprise, determine the one or two level-two focus factors that will walk everyone down the profitability path. Then, preach and teach them across the company, through all available outlets, every single day. When you do, employees will automatically align their efforts with what you want accomplished.
Avoiding distractions, a level-one focus skill, does improve impact. Persistently implement this best practice.
But, just like in sports, exponential advancement at work demands mastering the basic leadership building block of focus.
For you, this level-two ability will make one hell of an unfair, competitive advantage throughout your career, company, or industry.
Following these leadership tenants can catapult your career forward faster, no matter your position, company size, or industry.
I leverage these leadership tenants today. With them, I’m able to to add profound value and achieve high-performance results without having to give my up life to grind away at work aimlessly all week.
Here they are again.
Simple, right? Could you put one into practice today? Absolutely!
And action is the key. Execution is the secret sauce. Everything above is useless unless implemented, starting now. Progress, not perfection.
Not exactly sure of step one? Let’s add some clarity.
If you’ve decided to dedicate your efforts to the #1 Leadership Belief, consider what task on your supervisor’s list you might voluntarily take responsibility for. Or, consider what project you might participate in carrying to completion for your team. Or, look ahead and handle any challenges on the horizon before they hit and hinder progress for other people.
If you’ve decided to dedicate your efforts to the #1 Leadership Behavior of listening, simply pump up your presence. Be totally there, in the moment, engaged, at each interaction. But, beware. Because, despite’s its relative simplicity, truly listening takes extraordinary effort. It’s hard! But, it’s worth it. Remember G, our sales guy in the story above? Had he listened, he might have landed an eight figure deal. THAT’S how important listening is. This small edge can effect massive action (or inaction)!
If you’ve decided to implement the #1 Leadership Building Block of focus, specifically level-two focus, protect time to put your main pillars on paper. Then, use these pillars, goals, or end game results to craft an easy, simple message that every person can comprehend, support, and execute on. In my example above, I said maintain large safety margins. As another example, FedEx said get the package there on time. GE said be #1 or #2 in every line of business. It’s the one thing that must get done. What one thing should you, your team, or your company focus on starting today, this month, and this year?
So now, knowing the Leadership Tenants for adding profound value and achieving high-performance results that amplify impact and income, which Leadership Tenant will you, or your team, tackle this week (and why that one)?