Posts Tagged ‘Commitment’

Do you remember the days before photocopiers were everywhere? I do…I remember in Junior High School, being a teacher’s aid for the elementary school across the street. The teacher asked me to make copies of something she was planning to share with her students. I had to use what was called the “mimeo” machine (short for mimeograph, if I recall correctly). The original was a carbon copy with tracing-paper thin pages, and there had to be fluid in the machine, and you had to line the page up straight and catch the top in this “gripper” thing…ooof! It was a difficult and annoying exercise, to say the least!

Well, others had just as difficult a time, if not more so, duplicating documents. Chester Carlson worked in a patent office as a young man. He routinely experienced the costly and time-consuming process of obtaining copies. Motivated by his frustrations, he set out to discover an alternate way to make copies.

Through intense research and experimentation, he patented an inventive way to make copies. His patent was ingenious, but marketing it proved to be quite difficult. After all, he was a newlywed, earning a modest salary, studying law, and living with his in-laws (just a few challenges and constraints, wouldn’t you say?!).

While he could see the commercial applications for his invention, he had trouble selling the merits. IBM, RCA, and Kodak all turned him down. Even fellow scientists at the National Inventors Council dismissed his ideas as impractical. As anyone would have been, he grew more and more discouraged and nearly gave up on his interest in photocopying several times, but just couldn’t quite get it out of his system.

Eventually, Carlson had an experience similar to that of Theodor Geisel in trying to get his first children’s book published; Carlson was rejected by about twenty organizations before he happened upon Haloid, a tiny company in Rochester, New York. Haloid invested research funding to develop Carlson’s patent and over time created the first copying machines. Haloid would turn the business world upside down with the new machines, essentially vindicating Carlson, making him a multi-millionaire 21 years after he secured his patent. You may not recognize the name Haloid, but surely you are familiar with Chester Carlson’s company, Xerox!

When leading, others may not initially see your vision as clearly as you, and some never will. Like Chester Carlson, and millions of others before and after him, you may spin your wheels for some time…weeks, months, even years, before your vision gains traction. To find success, you must find and display a bulldog-like tenacity to stick with what you believe in.

Today, journal about someone who has inspired you to persevere through unfavorable conditions. What have you learned from this person?

How can you use those lessons to help you persevere?

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As we near the end of week two, month six, look at the team of people working around you. What do you think are the most difficult aspects of their jobs?

As you consider this question, write down the top two or three biggest challenges you think they face.

Now, consider what simple actions could you take to help your co-workers persevere through the challenges of their daily work?

Plan it out and take action. You’ll make a huge difference in their day and you may be surprised by how good you feel…and how much easier it might now be for you to work through some of your own challenges.

The test of character is not ‘hanging in’ when you expect light at the end of the tunnel, but performance of duty and persistence of example when you know no light is coming. ¬† ~Admiral James Stockdale

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Time to get your journal out and spend some time writing about the following questions today (and, really, over the next week — if you want a fuller experience with this):

Why is taking the first step to persevere so important?

What factors may help you to take the first step?

What can you gain by persevering in your personal and professional life?

Of course, I can speak only for myself…but it really takes a lot to get me to quit on something I am interested in or passionate about. I have to have exhausted every avenue I can imagine to make something work before I move on. And I rarely have a Plan B! I generally approach things with this mind set — I may not know everything I need to know, or everyone I need to know, and I may not feel as if I have every resource will need right in my immediate grasp, but I trust that those things will become available as I need them, I will learn along the way…and unless it’s nuclear physics or brain surgery, it doesn’t occur to me that I can’t succeed.

So…if it’s a true passion, I just keep going!

What about you?

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Passion is contagious.

Are you familiar with the story behind the Susan G. Komen Foundation? Yes, the one focused on finding a cure for breast cancer.

More than 25 years ago, Nancy Brinker promised her dying sister she would devote herself to fighting breast cancer, and she did. She named the foundation after her sister, and set forth the vision of raising awareness of the disease and supporting research towards a cure. As you know, the non-profit resonated with the population and quickly grew. Brinker’s passion and focus attracted survivors, supporters, researchers, and more.

Two years after she formed the foundation, Brinker was diagnosed with breast cancer herself; she refused to allow her condition to keep her from advancing the cause of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. She continued to host fundraising events and secured corporate sponsorships, as she was winning her own battle with cancer.

Her passion was contagious…it lit the fires of so many others and the foundation grew by leaps and bounds. Passion is similar to lighting one candle with another; Brinker’s passion sparked the passion of those she touched on her journey. By 2008, the SGK Foundation had donated over $1.2 billion to research a cure for breast cancer and to promote education about the disease.

It’s fair to say, largely due to the Foundation’s efforts, the five-year survival rate of women with breast cancer has increased from 74 to 98 percent, and more women than ever are having regular mammograms.

Is your passion tied to a core belief or commitment in your life?

At what cost are you willing to pursue your passion?

What would be the impact if you pursued your passion?

What will be the impact if you allow your passion to dim and fade away?

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What happens when passion is incongruent with principles?

Surely, any of us could recount numerous tales of leaders passionate about what they did, but were unprincipled in how they pursued their passion.

Consider Benedict Arnold. He was a general in the Revolutionary Army, and a distinguished general, at that. He was bold, daring, and creative. He earned the admiration of his fellow soldiers and countrymen. At one time, he was clearly a hero…especially in consideration of his performance at the Battle of Saratoga, widely regarded as the turning point in the War of American Independence.

Unfortunately, his drive was not supported by strong values. He was an egomaniac, needing the admiration, attention, and recognition of others, he was more focused on personal gain that on the welfare of his country. When he began to feel under-appreciated by his peers, he turned his attention to the British and conspired against the Americans. He went so far as to develop a wretched plot to surrender a strategic fort at West Point to the enemy. Fortunately, the plot was foiled.

He fled to the British side and died unceremoniously in England, known as America’s most notorious traitor.

What is the motivation behind your passion?

What drives you to be a leader?

How strong are the values that form your foundation?

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To achieve excellence, one must consistently exceed expectations.

We’ve discussed that leaders are continuously working to improve themselves and their team’s/organization’s performance. Those who truly excel are frequently raising the bar on performance, because once you achieve a certain level, that’s the “new normal,” and you know there is something beyond…Settling for average is never an option. When you role model what you expect from others, it’s easier to influence others to perform at their best.

The next step is being ever observant of your team’s performance. When you are familiar with their strengths and abilities, you will be able to quickly recognize when they are not performing at level of their true capability. This is when it’s important for you to connect, provide feedback, discover what’s happening, and inspire your team to perform at higher levels.

Again, people do what people see, so if you aren’t performing at the top of your ability, others will notice and will fall into line with where you are. So, be sure to look within before you comment on what’s happening around you.

Over the course of my career, I have lead a number of projects and project teams — typically comprised of people I had no formal authority over, and yet, the projects we worked on were of high importance to the various organizations we worked for. Before I learned the lesson that I could accomplish more by connecting with and including others, I used to take on a lot of responsibility and completed all the work myself. So, my big lesson was learning to delegate and rely on others to do their part. The benefit from learning project management from this approach was that I have always been a working leader, for lack of a better term; not just the person who doled out a lot of work and waited for others to perform.

As part of the project team, I take on my share of the responsibilities, and hold myself to higher standards, usually, than I do for those around me. So, modeling what I expect from others has come easily for me. I have been told, on occasion, that my expectations for others are extremely high…and I admit it’s true. In part, it’s because I want to be successful; I want those I work with to be successful; I want the project to be successful; and, I see the potential in others, which leads me to believe they can achieve at higher levels.

What are your challenges in this area?

What can you do to set the tone for an organizational culture that exceeds expectations — one in which people are driven to achieve at ever-higher levels?

How are you modeling exceeding expectations? Remember, as John Maxwell says in the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,

People do what people see!

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Have you given much thought to your values? Or, let me refocus that — how much thought have you given to your team’s or organization’s values? If I asked you to list them for me, could you write them down? What do you think the list would look like if we had the rest of your team, or the key leaders in your organization, write down what they think your values are?

It’s important that you can articulate them clearly, and even better if you are all on the same page in this respect.

The next — and very critical — step is to live and embody your values in every area of your business. Meaning, effective leaders driving healthy, smart organizations ensure values are the foundation of hiring decisions, strategic and tactical decision making, and even daily operations.

In order to move on, I encourage you to create two columns: One outlining your team’s/organization’s current values; one providing an example of how each value is being consistently demonstrated within your organization/team.

Is excellence on your list?

If not, would you benefit from including it?

Or, how do you ensure that excellence is the measure for how you embody the other values on your list?

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Leaders have a number of qualities and traits in common, regardless of where they are from, where they are currently, what kind of business or industry they work in, or what level of the organization they are in…and two of those common traits are discontent and passion. They are discontent when it comes to their performance. Leaders are rarely satisfied with how things are because they know they can do better. They are passionate about excellence. Couple these two traits and you find someone who is driven to excel. Leaders are alway thinking about and working on improving their personal performance and that of their teams and organizations.

Think about an organization that stands out in your mind as being outstanding. What are the things that come to mind that leave you with the impression they are superior?

Customer service?

Superior products or services?


Where do you think it starts? I think it starts with finding the right people for the right positions, who are also passionate about whatever it is your company provides. Often times, companies feel pressured to fill vacant positions and they rush through the screening and hiring process. Sometimes they get lucky and find a skilled candidate who also fits with the culture. Sometimes they settle for a candidate who has the skill but doesn’t really fit the culture. This is a recipe for disaster in a lot of ways.

But lets focus on finding the right candidate — both skilled in the work and a good fit for the culture. These are the folks who share your values and are committed to your vision. If you treat them well and ensure they have the support and resources they need to do their jobs, they will take great care of your business and your customers. It’s an intentional process; it doesn’t just happen.

As a leader, what standards are you setting for your team, with respect to excellence?

What kind of a role model are you for your team or organization?

What are you doing to inspire them to internalize excellence as a value?

What can you do to create a culture of excellence in your workplace?

Remember, excellence is intentional; it doesn’t just happen!

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If you work full time, you are likely all too aware that there is no such thing as “work-life balance.” It’s a fallacy, a lie, an illusion, a figment of someone’s overactive imagination, a blatant untruth! Balance implies some equality on each side of the scale, some level of fairness of the elements being measured.

Think about it. We all have 24 hours a day. We sleep 7-8 hours. We are at work, typically, between 8-10 hours each day. What about your commute time? Maybe 30 minutes round trip, possibly even an hour? So far, that’s about 15.5 hours on the short end and up to 19 hours on the long end of the range.

What about time to eat, exercise, run errands, read, reflect, play… Time for extra-curricular activities — either your children’s or your own — volunteering, sitting on a Board for another organization, taking classes…

Don’t forget about time for your family! Yep, that’s the important one, isn’t it? We all say family is our highest priority and yet they are often the people who get our leftovers in terms of time and energy.

We’d like to think we could have it all, but we know it’s not possible. Even the influential and powerful discover this — if they are lucky! Read this story about Erin Callan, former CFO of Lehman Brothers, as she discusses the sacrifices she made in terms of her marriage and family in exchange for the prestige, power, and money afforded by her position. Was it really worth it?

What if you were introduced to an entirely different concept: Mastery of the art of living. Try this on for size:

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both. — LP Jacks

What if you could master the art of living? It’s possible, you know? It’s not effortless, but wouldn’t it be worth it?

The key is (is this familiar?) having a high level of self-awareness — understanding your values, priorities, and dreams — and intentionality — deliberately making decisions and taking steps that lead you to the place you long to be, honoring your values daily.

My recommendation…find a mentor or a coach who has been along this path before you and enlist their support in your quest.

Let me know how I can help…before it’s too late.

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If we begin with the premise that excellence requires superior quality, first we must define what that means…to ourselves and to our customers — both existing and potential, and for each of us this may be very different.

For me, it requires ongoing education and keeping up with the latest developments and thought-leaders in the areas of personal growth, leadership development, team building, and communications. It means being solely focused on the success of my clients. It means being an outstanding listener — which we all know is an active process, requiring my undivided attention and ability to tune out my own thoughts as I listen to what my clients need to discuss. It means functioning intuitively and perceptively to discern what the true issues and challenges are that my clients face. All of these things will allow me to tune-in to my clients and really understand their unique needs. Then I must be able to tailor what I have to offer to be able to actually help them move through, around, or past these obstacles and challenges to perform at higher levels and achieve their goals.

There are a lot of other factors at play here, other actions I need to take, other behaviors I need to demonstrate, as you can imagine. But for purposes of getting your thinking started, I think this is a good beginning place. Clearly, your inputs and outputs are likely very different than mine, but the thought processes around what excellence means and how you demonstrate it are the same.

The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor. — Vince Lombardi

What edge could your organization gain by committing to, and delivering, superior quality…at a level higher than that of your competitors?

In what areas are you already known for superior quality — at your team’s level or for that of your entire organization?

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