Leadership is leadership. The same principles apply when leading in sports, music, business and war. But these principles may be expressed in different ways. Sometimes seeing elements of good leadership on display in another realm can help to us to understand these lessons without so much background noise. How about the hunt for the most wanted man in history?
“The CIA is a global institution that undertakes high-risk missions to defend the United States. Its analysis is scrutinized every morning by no less an exacting customer than the president of the United States. Its successes are largely unknown; its failures are legendary. Simply put, CIA has one of the toughest jobs in all of government.”
And it should be no surprise, the main lessons have to do with priorities, focus, and taking the long view.
The problem with being over-busy is that you might actually get more done. But this only lasts for a brief period of time at the beginning. But invariably the rushing/exhausted pace leads to bad decisions and the inability to make judgments about what is really important. This is the lesson I am trying to work out in my own life.
Here is more fuel for the fire on this whole discussion:
“If I take some time off – on a holiday, over the weekend, or even just not checking mail in the evening after closing time – my decisions get better. I don’t just keep grinding it out, trying to get strategic by processing ever more detail. I start to notice what is really important so I can leave the rest, or delegate it to someone more qualified or more motivated to do that thing.
“When running at full tilt I don’t even have time to think of passing it off to others. I’ve seen this over and over again in my work with people leading teams. Things are stuck not because there is no one to do them, but because the person who has them on their plate doesn’t have (or take) the time to clarify who should be doing them.”
Here is a brief article with some fascinating ideas on how to avoid the reality of false impressions and deception in the job interviewing process. A short read, and worth it. The “car test” is very interesting… Also using the interaction with the secretary.
An interesting tidbit on the real reasons people get fired:
“According to one study, only 11 percent of new hires who failed in the first 18 months did so due to deficiencies in technical skills. The majority washed out due to problems with motivation, an unwillingness to be coached, or a lack of emotional intelligence.”
Questions for Essentialism
This is a list of discussion questions to help work through the content of the book “Essentialism” By Greg McKeown.
You can Essentialism Questions Ch. 6
It is easy to get lost in the raw details and miss the significance of the facts. We have to learn to find the “lead” in our lives the way journalists analyze a story.
- Nora Ephron’s experience in journalism class in finding the lead of the story.
- Eastern Airlines flight 401 crashing a sound airplane by getting focused on a broken warning light.
- Thomas Friedman filtering the conversation
- The d.school at Stanford and the development of the affordable incubator for premature babies, the “embrace nest.”
- The importance of clarifying the question you are trying to answer when solving problems.
Questions for Reflection
- On p. 73-75 Nora Ephron’s account about the epiphany in high school journalism class is told. What is the difference between the “facts” of a story and the meaning or significance of a story?
- According to Ephron a good jounrlist is one that can not only see, sort and analyze the facts, but also give a sense of why it matters. She says this works in life as well as journalism. Are there areas in your life where you are swamped with data but don’t know what it all means? How can you make sense of this?
- In discussing the crash of flight 401, the crew focused on the light. The malfunctioning light was important, but not important enough to distract the crew from flying the plane. What are the warning issues in your life right now?
- Write a list of the top 5 priorities in your life (limit it to 5). How might the warning light issues in your life distract you from these?
- What is the 1 single problem that leads you to consistently hyper focus your attention from the big picture? Explore the story of how this has been happening?
- McKeown recommends keeping a journal as a tool to see the lead in our lives and identify subtle patterns. Complete one of the following sentences:
- I don’t take time to journal because _________.
- I do keep a journal but struggle with this because __________.
- I do keep a journal but I need to do better in this way ____________.
- If you keep a journal, go back more than 3 months and read over at least 1 month worth of entries. What are the headlines? What is the meaning of what you read? What are the trends?
- McKeown tells the story of a design team attempting to create an affordable incubator (less than the $20K average cost) in order to save the lives of premature babies. The team was successful when they visited places like Nepal to see where children throughout the world are born. Name 3 challenges that you are facing right now and think about how you can step away, and get a longer perspective for clarity. Reflect on ways you can “get out into the field.”
- sometimes we face problems that are resistant to classical solutions. Think of the problems you listed in #8 and write down some of the unusual details. What are the ways in which your problems and context are unique?
I was reading some old journal entries. This is a great practice that helps put our blessings and struggles in perspective over the long haul. Too often I exaggerate the severity of the average crisis and forget the many blessings. Anyway, I came across something that I wrote last year during a time of exhaustion. At that moment I was trying to unravel why I have such a hard time resting and so often tend towards busyness and burnout. Reading this old entry was helpful for me, and perhaps it will encourage you.
“Why do we like/love the burnout trail? Being busy makes us feel important or even superior.
This level of busyness [to the point of exhaustion and burnout] though hard in the long run is emotionally easier in the short run Than:
- Defining priorities
- Saying no to people and risking their disappointment
- Facing the fear of missing out
- Disciplining myself to follow through on decisions and priorities
- Doing the hard work of thinking ahead about calendar issues
- Investing in people and giving them feedback”
I was struck at how often frenetic busyness is the way I avoid the really challenging and important emotional work that needs to be done. God help me to grow!
Questions for Essentialism Chapter 7
Download a printable pdf version here.Essentialism Questions Ch. 7
This is a list of discussion questions to help work through the content of the book “Essentialism” By Greg McKeown.
Recreation and play does not threaten a productive life, it is vital part of helping us grow and become more creative.
- The story of Mr. Banks from the movie Mary Poppins. His dreary life is transformed by something as simple as flying a kite
- Author Ken Robinson has expressed how our education system is killing creativity in children. This transformation arrived with the Industrial Revolution.
- Stuart Brown and the National Institute for Play. He has published scientific research about the impact of play on our brains.
- The correlation between survival in animals (like the grizzly bear) and rates of survival.
- Edward M Hallowell, psychiatrist, speaks about the effect of play on the executive function of the brain.
- Throughout history many great discoveries happened during times of play.
- McKeown defines play as, “Play, which I would define as anything we do simply for the joy of doing rather than as a means to an end.” What are some activities in your life right now that fit this description? Use this definition to make a list of things you have done in the last 6 months for play.
- As children we did not need to be taught how to play. Children play at all times, even during sickness and tragedy. What does this suggest to you about the importance of play?
- It is easy to view play as a waste of time. Highly driven people and teams may even consider it something trivial or unproductive. What is your view? How do you feel about playing? What does your inner voice say to you when you stop work to engage in recreation? What pressures or beliefs are communicated to you by your peers and culture regarding play?
- There are some people that are “all play and no work.” These excesses may prevent us from seeing the virtues and benefits of play. Do you know someone in your life that is a productive and playful person? Someone who is highly effective and yet takes time for hobbies and recreation? Describe this person and their productivity as well as their play.
- The author uses the term imaginative play. What does this mean to you? Is there a difference between imaginative play and other kinds of play? Is one better than the other?
- Sir Ken Robinson says that imagination produces achievement. If imagination is a muscle, then play exercises that muscle. Do you agree with this? Why? In your experience how has play helped you to develop your imagination?
- You have probably heard someone explain how they ruined a hobby by turning it into a “for profit” business. How can you guard your important hobbies or play from the obligations that might destroy them?
- Stress kills creativity. Play can help to decrease stress. What stresses are you facing currently? How can you use recreation and play to decrease your stress?
- Which activities help you to feel light and free? Which activities help you to forget your problems?
- Many great discoveries and inventions happened during play. Have you ever had a breakthrough during a time of play?
- Many successful companies incorporate play in their corporate structure. Examples include Google, Twitter, Apple, etc. does your business or work encourage play? Why or why not?
- What activities outside of work do you must enjoy? Which activities would you like to try? Make a list
- How can you add these activities to your calendar next week?
- Which activities were your favorite as a child? Explore this. Does this play history reveal anything about you or what you enjoy doing?
- How can you use this knowledge to help you learn how to play as an adult?
Seth Godin is the master of the short blog post. And that is refreshing! I follow his blog by email and have read several of his books. He always has a unique angle on things. This post was really enjoyable, and I read it out loud to my wife. I thought I would share it with you here. If you don’t get his stuff, wander over to his site and sign up.
BTW, in addition to his blog he is always working on cool projects. I listened to his entrepreneur “Start UP School” podcast a while ago and was challenged. Find it here:
“Bilbo Baggin’s great quote about being stretched thin (“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”) reveals a profound truth:
Most individuals and organizations complain of not having enough butter. We need more resources, we say, to cover this much territory. We need more (time/money/staff) to get the job done.
What happens if instead of always seeking more butter, we find the discipline to cover less bread?
Spreading our butter too thin is a form of hiding. It helps us be busy, but makes it unlikely we will make an impact.
It turns out that doing a great job with what we’ve got is the single best way to get a chance to do an even better job with more, next time.”
I love good stories.
They help to make the abstract stuff of life concrete. Here is a FANTASTIC story about the importance of learning from your mistakes. It comes from the book “Street Smarts” and was reprinted in Inc magazine. I just finished the book and I would highly recommend it. The writing flows easily. It is clear, and obviously drawn from lots of experience. I am disappointed that he doesn’t have more books available.
Anyway, the author (Norm Brodsky) says that when there is a mistake in your organization you need to do two things, and both are very important. First, stop the bleeding. Second, determine the cause of the problem so it doesn’t happen again. This story is a good example of what happens when you forget to do #2.
‘A few months ago, my wife, Elaine, and I were in Dallas for a conference and we decided to go out to dinner at a fancy seafood restaurant near our hotel. The place was crowded, and we had no reservation, but the maitre d’ said he thought he could seat us in 20 minutes or so. While we waited at the bar, Elaine ordered a shrimp cocktail. Before it was served, the maitre d’ came over to tell us he had a table available in the balcony overlooking the main dining room.
“I just ordered a shrimp cocktail,” Elaine said.”No problem,” said the maitre d’.
“I’ll have someone bring it to your table.”
The shrimp cocktail arrived right after we did. Elaine tasted the sauce and found it too spicy. Intending to dilute it a bit, she reached for a bottle of ketchup on the table. As she turned the cap on the bottle, there was a loud pop, and ketchup came shooting out, covering her sweater, her blouse, her skirt, her whole arm.
Elaine sat there stunned, drowning in ketchup. Our waitress came running over. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, handing us napkins. “Let me help you.” She worked feverishly to clean up the mess. “If you bring me your clothes tomorrow, I’ll have them cleaned for you,” she said.
The manager showed up a moment later and also offered his apologies. He wiped ketchup off a chair and sat down with us. “I’m terribly sorry about this,” he said and gave me his card. “Just send the cleaning bill to me. I’ll make sure it’s taken care of.”
Both Elaine and I were suitably impressed. Every business, including ours, has its share of accidental, unavoidable, nightmarish customer screwups. If we’re the customers involved, we mainly want people to act as though they’re sincerely sorry and to do what they can to repair the damage. We would have been quite satisfied if the manager had left it at that. But as he stood up to leave, he said, “In a way, you were lucky.”
“What do you mean?” Elaine asked.
“The last time this happened, the person got ketchup all over her hair. We had to send her to the beauty parlor. At least you just have it on your clothes.”
“You mean this has happened before?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah,” the manager said. “It happens fairly often. This part of the restaurant can get extremely hot during the day. We ask the waitresses to loosen the caps of the ketchup bottles, so the pressure doesn’t build up inside, but sometimes they forget, and the bottle explodes when the guest goes to open it.” With that, he excused himself and walked away.
Elaine and I didn’t know whether to be outraged or to burst out laughing. We were dumbfounded. I could think of all kinds of ways to make sure customers don’t have to endure ketchup bombs: Take the ketchup downstairs every evening; buy a small refrigerator for the balcony and keep the bottles there during the day; put the ketchup in vented containers; serve ketchup only when the customer asks for it. Instead the restaurant had come up with a solution that solved nothing. The bottles kept exploding; the ketchup kept flying; the staff kept cleaning up and apologizing; and the victims kept telling everyone they met about their experience, thereby turning what should have been a one-time embarrassment into an ongoing public relations problem. That’s what can happen when you don’t learn from your mistakes.’
“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Quoted in: Maxwell, John C. (2008-11-16). Today Matters