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The Key To Making Big Decisions

September 30, 2014

Making decisions is what leaders do, right? Then why is it when we’re faced with making our own career decisions we all of a sudden become terrible and overwhelmed decision makers?

If you’re like me, when faced with making big decisions, you can feel like you’re on a roller coaster ride. One minute you’re up, the next you’re down and before long you’ve spun and flipped so many times you’re not sure which way is straight. I’ve received and given lots of cliche advice, “You’ll know when its time.” “The right door will open up.” “It will all work out in the end.” I appreciate these hope filled statements but at the same time they don’t offer much concrete help. When you’ve been on the roller coaster ride, what you need is a clear path forward and more importantly a clear process to understand how and why to choose the right path.

When I was leaving my last role as an executive in a start up retail coffee company, I was torn. I enjoyed what I was doing but I felt like something was missing that I couldn’t put my finger on. One day it clicked, I need to prioritize what I’m looking for in my career to help me make the decision of whether I should go or stay. If you’ve read my blog long enough you’ve started to notice that I love to prioritize. It’s the single most helpful thing I’ve found to more effectively manage my life and leadership. It’s a process that can be applied to anything, including how to make a really big career decision. Beyond myself, I love helping clients walk through this process; clarity is a powerful tool.

Clarity_Is_Never_Overrated.001

There are so many factors that go in to making a big career decision. It’s easy to worry about making sure you’re doing the right thing and plagued by the thought of what if I made the wrong decision. The last time around I took myself through an exercise that I felt was very valuable and worth sharing. This exercise forced me to prioritize 10 important factors that go into any big career decision. The key is that you have to prioritize these factors for yourself. What’s most important to you will drive the big decision.

The 10 Career Factors

  1. Control – How important is the ability to envision the future and make decisions to build towards that future? Are you comfortable with implementing someone else’s vision or do you need it to be your vision? Do you need an environment with more freedom?
  2. Schedule – Do you have the desire to chart your own course and dictate the schedule? Want to work 3, 15 hour days, and golf the rest of the week? Are you good with constantly changing hours? The nine to five grind works for many people but others need more flexibility.
  3. Faithfulness – Do you enjoy using and maximizing your talents to better those around you? Do your gifts align with the work before you? Some careers more than others will use what you have to bless, encourage, and make the world around you a better place.
  4. Money – What kind of salary/wage/future do you want to create? What kind of financial margin are you hoping to build? How important is the right salary to your next career move? It’s not always about the money and its priority changes in different life stages.
  5. Passion – How important is it that your work align with your passions? Are you ok finding your passion after you leave the office? Or, if you’re not carrying out your deep convictions on a daily basis, do you wither? If you can’t quit thinking about it positively, that’s a good sign it’s important to you.
  6. Happiness – Are you looking to your career as your main source of happiness? Is it possible to have a job you aren’t happy in but you can live with it? For some if they don’t come home smiling about the day then it’s devastating.
  7. Fulfilling – When you wrap up your day how important is it that you feel personally fulfilled? How critical is it that your desire, expectations and reality are aligned? Nothing is perfect but you go to bed with a full heart, a good day is a meaningful day.
  8. Family – Do you love to have your family involved with your work? Does the thought of working with family make you cringe?  How important is it that your family is intimately involved and engaged in the work? Not prioritizing this high isn’t a statement of your lack of love your family, it just means you and they don’t benefit from working together.
  9. Team – Do you like to fly solo or do you need the collaboration of a good team to survive?  How important is the team around you? The people around you matters more to some than others.
  10. Community – How important is it to be connected to a larger group of like-minded people? Are you particular about your neighborhood or the type of people you want to rub shoulders with outside of the office? Or, are you so adaptable you can make it anywhere? For some it’s all about location, location, location.

No job is perfect. No career is executed flawlessly. No relationships are absent of strife. The goal here is not to remove every difficult situation from your life. The goal IS to understand how you’re made and how you thrive so that when making a difficult decision you have a prioritized rudder. For some, making a big salary is overrated so that slips down the list while being happy is a the top. For others it’s all about the team and they could care less about the long hours or lack of personal control. Still others find themselves withering away if they aren’t living in their passion every minute of their life.

There is no cookie cutter answer for everyone but there is a better answer for you. Rank these 1-10 and then evaluate your current career and future opportunities in light of them. One of my priorities is to help you and other leaders get clear on the most important things. Clarity is never overrated.

 

I like deadlines. They clarify the objective and that motivates me. When I’ve got my back against the wall, and the clock is ticking, something comes over me. I hunker down and focus and know exactly what to prioritize.

Some deadlines are fixed by people outside our jurisdiction, (ahhh clients) – we have little control over them, and we have to rework our schedules to make sure we meet the deadline. Other deadlines are created by ourselves. When we have control of the deadline, we can self-impose urgency to ensure that we’re productive and keep a lengthy project on target.

Here’s The Problem

A false deadline –that is, an arbitrary deadline we’ve created for ourselves – can quickly lead to mediocre production. For all the good intentions behind creating deadlines for ourselves, we can unwittingly get hasty, missing strategic opportunities. In the rush to meet a deadline, we can make tactical mistakes that should never have been made.

When a deadline is fixed outside of our control, we can excuse some degree of error in the act of prioritizing for the deadline. You’ve seen it happen: your colleagues look you in the eye and say, “It is what it is. We’ve got to work with what we’ve got. There’s no time to go back and make it perfect.” It’s all well and good in those circumstances, and in the best organizations, those kinds of intense decision points can actually save you from a heck of a lot of unnecessary debate that  slows down the project.

The real problem is that when we set our own false deadlines, we can take those “it-is-what-it-is” moments and live with them as though we don’t have the option of moving a deadline. When you fix a false deadline, it’s easy to sacrifice quality for the sake of production. And that can be detrimental to your organization.

You have to ask yourself: Is this deadline moveable? Are we going to rush in a way that could hurt us? What would happen if we take our time, and move the deadline an hour, a day, even a week? Could we add value to the project that outweighs the delay? Knowing when to ship the project and when to pause the ship is an important skill to hone.

 

How do you feel about confusion? If you’re at all like me, you hate it. It’s disorienting, frustrating and down right troubling. I’m a bottom line guy, I like to get to the point and understand how my efforts are directly contributing to the benefit and success of whatever I’m involved in. Unfortunately we’re wasting a lot of our time at work confused. Lost leaders and a clarity crisis are driving up the cost of confusion for organizations everywhere.

Have you ever spent a bunch of hours on a project only to realize it was never going to see the light of day? Sometimes we can justify this in the name of R&D, but more often than not it’s just wasted energy, time, effort, brain power and ultimately dollars that could have been more effectively put to use elsewhere. This and other confusion riddled events are costing human and financial capital every single day.

6 Ways Confusion Is Costing Your Company 

1. The elephants in the room are being ignored. Everyone knows the problem but no one is willing to talk about it. It could be an incompetent leader or a highly critical team member, an unwise strategy or unrealistic budget. The elephant lingers and confusion rises as no one steps up to deal with it. Time and effort are wasted side-stepping and working around something that needs to be dealt with.  

2. Decision paralysis is stalling out the initiative. Who makes the call? Why aren’t they making a call? Are they afraid? Have bad information? Not sure what the priorities are? A lot of factors can go into creating a paralyzed decision maker, but nonetheless it creates confusion as time drags on and critical decisions are punted down the field.

3. There are too many cooks in the kitchen. Do you have three or four bosses and not quite sure who the buck stops with? The amount of time and emotional energy spent navigating an overly complicated org chart is exhausting. Few things create more confusion than bureaucratic lines of authority and communication.

[Tweet “Few things create more confusion than bureaucratic lines of authority and communication.”]

4. Conflict isn’t confronted and resolved. Avoiding conflict and tip-toeing around co-workers creates inefficiencies like none other. All of your strategic energy gets spent figuring out how to avoid, ignore or passive-agressively run over other team members–the very people hired to help make things more efficient and helpful.  

5. No one owns their mistakes. We usually know when we screw up and the quickest way to deal with it is a simple ‘I’m Sorry.’ By taking responsibility you save people from the speculation and wasted time of gossiping and blame shifting. Few things are more powerful than a leader who sees their faults and is willing to own them.

6. There is a feedback vacuum. Feedback is essential, be it good or bad. People want (and need) to know where they stand. If they’re doing a good job, let them know. If they’re falling down, let them know. People are resilient and can handle the truth. Without it you wake up and go to bed demotivated because you’re never quite sure if you’re doing a good job. 

[Tweet “As leaders we either foster confusion or clarity. Which one are you creating?”]

As leaders we either foster confusion or clarity. Which one are you creating? Which of these six categories can you focus on today and work towards leading with more clarity?

 

There is an epidemic of lost leaders. So many people feel stuck, unsure of the next step. Unsatisfied in their current role, unsure about how their work connects to what they really want to be doing with their life; unable to effect change, not sure where to take their company next or how to navigate a significant setback. Now, these lost leaders may not seem lost as we’re good at the old adage “fake it till we make it.” But really, we’re often just going through the motions, not fully committed, and not using our talents to their fullest potential. It’s easy to get used to this life and take an attitude of just dealing with it. The problem is, this hurts you and your company.

The powerful antidote to cure our aimless efforts, is so simple we often overlook it; a clear, unified and prioritized team. In my career, I’ve been both lost, stuck, and looking for direction, as well as participating on a team with a shared mission to get the RIGHT things done together. Sometimes both in the same place. Because I’ve experienced the difference, it’s my personal mission to help fight this epidemic. Specifically, to give leaders and their teams a breath of fresh air with resources, tools and a process to pursue health; a compass for creating meaningful work together.

How do you know if you’re lost?

Over the next few months I’ll be diving into each of these subjects more fully but here is a quick set of diagnostics to assess whether or not you’re lost.

You’re lost if where you’re leading is in conflict with what you believe. If your deepest held convictions are not in concert with where your or your company are headed then you’re on an unsustainable track.

You’re lost if you can’t answer the question of why your company exists. Going through the motions will only get you so far, true longevity is built by understanding the why behind what you’re doing.

You’re lost if you are suffering from a clarity crisis. Meaning, you don’t have a clear vision of the future and what’s next for the company or how you personally fit into the vision.

You’re lost if your leadership team is operating off of different agendas. The CFO is headed one way while the marketing team another because they don’t have shared priorities.

You’re lost if confusion is costing your company forward progress. When confusion reigns within a company’s strategy, real time and money are wasted rendering you not as effective as you could be.

You’re lost if your resources do not align with your plan. Whether it is a lack of financial resources or an abundance of human resources, they must be aligned with the plan to ensure success.

[Tweet “Is confusion costing your company forward progress?”]

I’m excited to share much more on these subjects with the aim of helping others find their way forward, personally and organizationally. As you dive into your own personal clarity journey, check out the book, “The Advantage” by Patrick Lencioni. It’s an incredible look at how creating clarity gives you the upper hand in any organization. I’ve also written on how clarity and staff morale are interconnected.

When we’re able to connect the depth of who we are as a person with the activities and actions of our work, we reach a sweet place of alignment. That’s my hope for us all.

 

BIG NEWS on the Munson front. Friday was my last official day at Storyville Coffee. I love the place to death and am so proud of what we’ve built over the last few years. The people of Storyville represent one of the finest collections of human beings I’ve ever seen. I will greatly miss working alongside them every day but am hopelessly addicted to the coffee, so if you’re ever looking for me, start there!

Journey

A New Chapter Starts Today

I like challenges. When someone says, “you’re crazy” or “that’s impossible”, something inside me perks up. Every role I’ve had in the last 16 years has posed its own opportunities and challenges. I’ve had many exhausting days and many triumphant days. I’ve enjoyed some success and tried to learn from the failures. My plan is to take this experience and build a leadership consulting company to help leaders and their organizations thrive. There is an epidemic of lost leaders and organizations, my mission is to help.

When people ask how long I’ve been thinking of this, my usual answer is, “Since I was 12, when I dreamt about building a teleporter to take me home back up the hill from my best friends house.” Starting something new is never easy. It’s a risk but as with most dreams in life they require taking that first step and diving in.

What If It Doesn’t Work?

I hear regularly “what if it doesn’t work?” or “what if you fail?” Failure is a real possibility, and I don’t take that lightly, especially with the responsibility to feed four children. However, I can’t move on without trying and am so excited to jump in, and trust the process. I’ve slowly worked my salary back to nothing which is where this ride begins so I better get going.

In the coming weeks I’ll be writing a lot on the subjects of helping leaders and organizations find clarity, get unstuck and maximize their potential. In the meantime if I can help you with anything, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

 Thank you for sharing in this journey with me.

 

Yesterday I wrote about defining success and today I want to focus on how to build on it.

Have you tasted it? That feeling that comes with victory. That sense of accomplishment. The satisfaction of a job well done. What happens when success comes your way? Do you enjoy it? Do you take it easy? Do you fear you’ve peaked? In my experience, there are two roads we head down after experiencing success; we either presume upon it or we learn from it.

Presuming on Past Success

Presumption is the attitude that naively and arrogantly says, “I did it once, I can do it again.” It’s often accompanied by a flippancy that thinks it can get by without all the work this time around, forgetting what the journey looked like to get there in the first place. In an organization this could be accompanied by pedal-to-the-metal, get-rich-quick methods that produce steroid-like growth. You experience a faster flash, a more immediate impact, and put out a greater investment of resources up front to try and buy success. It’s more chaff, less substance; more height, no foundation. The success is short lived.  

[Tweet “Success will lull you to sleep if you’re not careful.”]

Presumers will fail, despite the fact they’re coming from a past experience of success. They may not fail right away and the immediate results may look like success, but over time, without a deep foundation, the results will fade away. This will continue to be the case until the new failures are converted to learned lessons.

Learning from Past Success

Analyzing a victory is so important. What worked? What didn’t? How can I get better? Repeat what you did right the first time, but learn from the mistakes you made so that you can improve. Ask questions of others involved in your success to see where your strengths and weaknesses are. Listen to critique with an open mind and be willing to learn at every opportunity. 

[Tweet “Past Success + Humble Learning = A Future Poised For More Success.”]

Those willing to learn will continue to succeed. They will never be mistake-free, but when they do mess up, they will see it as an opportunity to grow, and persevere until they reach their goal.

So, be bold, chase success, stay humble, learn from it, don’t sacrifice the wrong things and keep after the attitudes that got you there.

  

Regardless of status or position in life, most people want more. More money, more recognition, more respect, more accomplishments, more success. Success is a universal pursuit. I’ve never met anyone who isn’t pursuing it. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so but I do think it is important to define and personalize. If you don’t, then your life will be spent comparing yourself to others. That is a bad thing because it robs you of the joy of living your life freely.  

What is success?

At the end of the day, defining success is personal and subjective. But I think it’s fair to say that when someone feels successful, they have accomplished something positive, achieved a goal. Personally, finishing a 1/2 marathon in under two hours was a success for me; I set a goal and achieved it. For someone else, my time would be a total failure. Again, success can be relative, but the recipe for realizing whatever success you are after is basically the same–faithfulness, diligence, and perseverance in your relationships, dreams and opportunities.

[Tweet “A successful life is about building a faithful life.”]

What is it you’re after and why is it important? Have you defined it and are you sacrificing other important areas of your life to achieve it? If you haven’t defined it then you don’t know exactly what you’re after. You certainly won’t know when you achieve it. Spending time to think and dream about your future is an important discipline. Paint a picture of your future and then really examine your motives. What it is going to take to get there and what will be sacrificed along the way? Then ask yourself if it’s worth it. If success in one arena of life leads to failure in another, are you really successful? If you make a million dollars but your family falls apart, is it worth it?

Categories of success

I’m not a fan of compartmentalizing your life into categories but for the sake of defining success, it’s helpful. Take some time and think through your Friendships, Career, Family, Finances, Spiritual Life, Hobbies, Education and any other important pursuits. What does success look like in each area? Where do you want to be 1, 3, 5, 10 years from now? As your dreams begin to formulate on paper, it will inform what’s needed to pursue them faithfully. You’ll be forced to honestly wrestle with your priorities and determine what is most important to the life you want to build and your future success. Blessings. 

Stay tuned for a follow up post: How To Build On Your Success

 

Have you ever been on a great team?
 
Maybe you haven’t won the NBA Finals but no one could touch your Little League team. Or maybe, it’s your team at work–always on budget, on time, producing great work and having fun while you do it. Great teams are a gift. Great teams are rare. Great teams are a lot of work…but worth it.
 
What does it take to build a great team? What does it take to be a great team member?
 
For the last two weeks I’ve been immersed in a really productive planning session with my team at work (hence the lack of writing). We went deep, really deep into everything we’re doing. We got a lot done but a more important by-product was a great team building week. After seventeen trust-falls, we hit a really big breakthrough…just kidding. As I’ve observed great teams in action, both from a distance and up close, here are eight things I believe it takes to build a great team.

How to build a great team 

 
1. Great teams get prioritized. A team may start out with multiple agendas and priorities but if they don’t come together around a common vision and set of shared priorities, they aren’t going anywhere. You may see individual greatness but team greatness simply won’t happen. I’ve written about the importance of getting your own day prioritized, the same thing is true for your team.
 
2. Great teams don’t force it. It’s hard to force trust and friendship. It’s not about trust falls and forced social mixers. It’s been tried many a time, but doesn’t work. Rather, be yourself and let the relationships develop naturally. Sure, there will be some awkward moments but stay after it. Getting beyond the surface relationally will bind your team together.
 
3. Great teams spend time together. Email is great but email alone will never build a great team. Regular face time is vital–body language, tone of voice, back and forth, posture–nothing replaces face time. You also need to get some extended time together, road trips, new experiences and dinners out. Getting out of the office context allows you to learn more about your team members. 
 
4. Great teams take time to form. Yes, there are those stories of the couples that meet, get engaged and married a week later, but let’s all agree it’s not the norm. Relationships take time, they take conflict and miss-communications, they take apologies and forgiveness. The only short-cut might be taking on the role of a servant, care more about your team than yourself and you’ll see the relationship blossom.
 
5. Great teams require you to play your position. Don’t make your teammates do your job AND don’t envy your team members positions. You’ve got a role to play and if you neglect your position, someone else has to pick up the slack. In life there is always someone better, smarter, prettier, wealthier, shorter or taller. We’re diverse for a reason and your team needs you to be you.
 
6. Great teams back each other up. We’re selfish by nature. If the ball isn’t coming to me why would I move. The true hustlers and the true team members will support each other and get behind each other even if they aren’t the center of attention. You shouldn’t need to do their job for them, but when the load is too heavy to haul on their own, you should be there to help pick things up.
 
7. Great teams build the right culture. Don’t build a culture, build the right culture. A culture might be your personal preference and what works for you. The right culture is what is best for the organization; sometimes they’re the same and sometimes they aren’t. Always asking yourself, “What’s best for the team?”, will keep you from building the wrong culture.
 
8. Great teams enjoy their work. Joy filled enthusiasm to show up and perform your job everyday is huge. This is driven more by attitude than it is circumstances. If you’re heart is in the right place, engaged, excited, humble, then you should be able to enjoy it regardless of the job. This includes the good times and the hard times, the right team is invaluable in both.
 
What’s lacking from your team? How can you be a catalyst towards greatness? It’s worth the effort, I promise.
 
For more on this subject check out my book Authority on Amazon.