Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Making New Year's Resolutions... Sustainable

I'm a little delayed in doing this...this resolution-setting thing for the coming year.  Since I (eagerly) moved on from my previous gig about a month and a half ago, my time has been spent gearing up for my professional Phase Three.  The first phase of my professional life was spent holding a number of low-paying, but interesting jobs simultaneously--teaching/researching at RPI, providing consulting on sustainable business and environmental management, and running a professional journal.  For the past decade Phase Two has been focused on helping just one organization meet its mission, change, and grow.  Both of these phases held value for me--learning both how to and how not to lead, treat people, provide value, be effective, make change happen, etc.

Now, I find myself in an exciting place--getting ready to once again lead one organization to help meet its mission, change, and grow while also being free to get involved in other projects (again).  Except this time, I have a little more experience, some new skills, increased knowledge (I think), and friends to help drive success.  So this recent "sabbatical" has led me to re-create, re-engage, and re-think the way I'm working.  "Work smarter, not harder," I've always heard.  Yet, I don't think until now I knew exactly what that might mean.  So, with some initial busy-work and legwork out of the way in development of Phase Three and the year squarely ahead of me, I finally made some time to reflect and then resolve to do some things differently (or better) this year... all with the goal to work smarter:

1. Be Patient - Years ago I had the chance to forge a partnership with a professional organization in an industry my business was trying to penetrate.  I did not know at the time that partner-building is like dating... gotta buy her dinner and get to know each other first, before deciding that you're both ready to go all the way... to introducing her to your parents, that is.  I was too aggressive and it slowed the partnership down.  Lawrence Susskind writes on consensus-building that you, "have to go slow, to go fast."  I finally understand what he was saying.  Eventually I won them over and they saw the value of forging a formal relationship, but the lesson was clearly emphasized.  You have to be patient when dealing with people.  Nine times out of ten the "soft sell" works best.  Appeal to their interest (thanks Dale Carnegie), be honest and authentic, and then... be patient.  I will be more patient this year.  (I'm sure my kids will appreciate that too.)

2. Understand the Importance of Timing in Strategy - Timing goes hand-in-hand with patience.  The older I get, the more I realize that strategy is all about timing.  You have to know when to retreat, when to concede, when to charge, and when it's time to pack it up and move on.  (That lesson was reinforced recently in a most-helpful way.)  The only way to ensure good timing is to be aware, eyes-open, and empathetic.  You need to be able to put yourself in your colleague's (or adversary's) shoes.  It's OK to be aggressive; it's OK to be passive... you just have to know when.  I will be more attuned to timing in decision-making and actions this year.

3. Remember You Cannot Over-Communicate (Unless You're Not Listening Enough) - It's a paradox, but leaders lead by effectively and efficiently communicating, while also listening better than anyone else in the room.  In fact, the art of listening and really hearing and understanding what's being said informs better communication by the listener.  It's a noisy world with a lot to hear in cluttered, chaotic forms sometimes.  The Internet, blogs, tweets, e-newsletters... all can be great tools for informing, but also create effective communication (and listening) really hard.  You have to decide to listen better and decide how to cut through the noise in order to better-communicate what you can do to lead, help, teach, and make change happen.  And so, I will do a better job hearing and communicating this year.

4. To Repeat... There's a One Letter Difference Between Networking and Not Working: An old mentor once told me that, and it's true.  I was stunned, and pleasantly surprised, at the out-pouring of support and interest in my well-being when my 'Phase Three' started for me six weeks ago.  A strong network of professionals, colleagues, and friends is a priceless commodity.  You have to maximize that value by building a strong, diverse network, and by returning the favor for help when asked.  I will continue to build a strong, viable network of smart, savvy, hard-working people, and I will help them as much as I can (sometimes without even being asked).

5. Voltaire Works Here Too... Just Be Good - "The perfect is the enemy of the good," the philosopher Voltaire said (paraphrasing).  It's true.  When your 'good' is better than most people's best, then it's really true.  When working smarter, be satisfied with good and don't waste too much time on perfection (unless the job calls for it).  It's kind of like timing... you have to pick your spots when to spend time working on the perfect result.  Most of the time, your 'good' will be good enough.  I will strive to know the difference between the perfect and the good.

6. Follow Your Own Advice: Idea, Plan, Act, Results - Working smarter means following a tenant in certain martial arts... no wasted motion.  The idea is simple and works for competitive swimming too.  Any motion, action, thought or investment of resources not intended to help achieve the outcome (self-defense, a fast 200 freestyle, or a business goal) is a wasted motion, action, thought, or investment of resources.  That's not to say dreaming, brainstorming, pursuit of knowledge, or actions can't and should be done.  Just do't kids yourself that they are leading to specific results.  Be clear when you're doing something that helps you efficiently and effectively lead to your business goals.  I will work smarter by knowing when my thoughts, actions, and investments are wasted or not.

7. Be Clear and Direct in the Ask... And Remember "What's in It for Them?" - Finally, working smarter depends on your ability to allow the client or customer to sell the idea, service, or product to him or herself.  In other words, if they can see 'what's in it for them' to work with you, buy your product/service, or partner with you, then there's no sale needed.  They've sold themselves on the idea.  This is area where I continue to try to grow and learn.  I often can project myself into the client's situation and see the inherent value I or my organization might bring, but the trick is having them see that truth for themselves without selling them.  If you can, then sales becomes less of sales, and more like sailing.  So finally, I will remember the lessons of Dale Carnegie (How to win Friends and Influence People is 100 years old and still relevant) and provide a way for clients to uncover the value for themselves.

OK, these seven seem like a good way to kick off a sustainable New Year.  If you have others to add, please feel free to chime in.

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