My youngest son left for college last week, which provided an excellent opportunity for me to sift through the many pearls of parental wisdom to share with him in that moment.
Reflecting on my own college experience and that of my older children, I settled on this piece of advice which is multi-dimensional and also has relevance as a leadership principle.
The pursuit of high-quality connections is as much about how we relate to people as with whom.
The most meaningful and rewarding interpersonal linkages are characterized by mutual respect, trust and positive engagement.
Humans are social animals, and research has shown that our happiness and well-being over the long term are influenced by the quality of our relationships.
While true in the context of people, there are other types of bonds that develop during our college years (and beyond) which play a significant role in our satisfaction and fulfillment throughout our lives, including how we interact with nature, community, spirituality, a course of study, our chosen profession, charitable pursuits, a particular city or region, etc.
So choose your connections wisely, since their impact on you can be long-lasting and profound.
Most people think that the bulk of your self-improvement efforts should be devoted to overcoming weaknesses.
The truth is, it’s much more productive to further develop your strengths.
In his book, The Big Leap, author Gay Hendricks talks about how successful people typically operate in their “zone of excellence”, using skills and competencies that have been honed over time.
But the highest achievers, says Hendricks, function in their so-called “zone of genius”, where the alignment is greatest between their natural gifts and their chosen profession.
To help identify your zone of genius, the author suggests that you consider the following questions:
Once you build awareness by answering these questions, actively seek opportunities to practice and enhance your skills in this area.
By leveraging your strengths, especially your innate abilities, you’re much more likely to feel productive, energized and fulfilled, leading to greater satisfaction at work and in life.
“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” ― Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher
Our interpretations and assumptions about events that occurred in the past often lead to guilt, regret, disappointment or anger.
When contemplating the future, we can get stuck worrying about what might happen.
But when we consciously focus on the present, with an emphasis on accepting the past and preparing for the future, those negative thoughts and emotions melt away and consequently we feel less stress.
So how do you practice mindfulness, the mental state of being present?
One effective strategy is called “box breathing”:
Another popular technique is to intentionally concentrate on each of your five senses, first sequentially, then all at once.
An internet search will reveal countless others, so I invite you to explore and find one or more that resonate with you.
Make this a regular part of your daily routine, especially during times of high stress, and may you find peace and tranquility along the way.
We live in a VUCA world -- which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity -- where the pace of change is staggering.
Given this environment, how can you as a leader possibly expect to have all the answers, all the time?
The truth, of course, is that you can’t.
The solution is to create leverage; leverage in the form of a team that can troubleshoot and solve problems, take initiative, contribute ideas, evaluate opportunities, etc.
In short, you need a team of leaders (regardless of their titles), where the emphasis is on empowerment and growth, not creating a legion of dependents.
Cultivating leaders not only develops a more engaged and motivated workforce, but also gives you the freedom to focus on areas of the business that are most meaningful to you, thereby improving your own job satisfaction, performance and opportunities for career advancement.
Embrace this concept and use it to guide your personnel decisions -- how you hire, train, assign work, provide feedback, promote and incentivize.
Be prepared for some bumps along the way as people grow accustomed to a new set of expectations, but stay the course and the results will be worth it.
Albert Einstein was once reportedly asked, “If you had one hour to save the planet, how would you spend that hour?” His reply: “I’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem and then five minutes solving it.”
When faced with looming deadlines or pressure from a client, it’s tempting to rush headlong into solution mode without first gaining a comprehensive understanding of the nature, scope and context of the problem.
This may be effective in the short-term for putting out fires, but in the long run, you risk wasting time and resources by paying inadequate attention to clarifying the root cause.
Instead, be analytical and open-minded and consider different perspectives, since the actual problem may have multiple dimensions that aren’t readily apparent.
Such an approach was formalized at Toyota Industries in the 1950s by its founder, Sakichi Toyoda, who invented the “5 Whys” technique, which later was also incorporated into Six Sigma (a methodology for process improvement).
As the name implies, this technique involves asking “Why?” five times in order to expose the essence of the problem, challenge faulty assumptions and avoid jumping to conclusions.
Whichever strategy you choose, clarifying the problem increases the odds that your solution will be on the right track.
One of the recurring themes in these posts is the power of mindset; that is, how you frame a particular situation or experience determines whether and the extent to which it has a positive or negative impact on your life.
By adopting a growth mindset and seeing the world through a lens of curiosity, you can find a valuable learning opportunity in every circumstance, even the seemingly bad ones.
Personally, I find it helpful to make small tweaks in the words I use when engaging in self-talk.
For example, instead of saying (rhetorically) “Why did this [negative event] happen TO me?”, I’ll ask myself, “Why did this happen FOR me?” and then look for positive outcomes that ensued from it.
Similarly, a complaint such as “I HAVE to do this project” is replaced with “I GET to do this project,” accompanied by a mental list of all the reasons to be grateful for the experience.
These tactics are not intended to trivialize such difficulties in any way, but rather to open your eyes to perspectives that aren’t necessarily readily apparent.
Taking the time to reflect and reframe life’s challenges will bring you greater wisdom and appreciation than you thought possible.
It is a common myth that in order to improve productivity, you need to learn how to multitask better.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Unlike microprocessors (the “brains” inside computers), humans are simply not suited to focus on more than one thing at the same time without significantly compromising the quality of each.
Yet with so many distractions vying for our attention, how can we concentrate on the task at hand?
The answer, according to entrepreneur and best-selling author Gary Keller, is to make a habit of regularly asking yourself the following so-called “Focusing Question”:
What’s the ONE THING I can do that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
and then prioritizing the completion of that one thing before moving onto the next.
The Focusing Question can be applied to nearly every facet of your life, at both a macro and micro level.
Master this habit and you’ll experience the power of accomplishing more by doing less.
I invite you to give it a try the next time you find yourself struggling to focus when there are too many balls in the air.
What’s stopping you from trying that new thing or taking that big leap?
Often the answer is fear -- fear of rejection, of getting hurt or hurting someone else, of the unknown, of looking or sounding foolish, of failure, of success.
So we choose the path of least resistance because it’s safer and causes less discomfort.
But innovation and progress don’t happen in your comfort zone.
That requires courage, which is not the lack of fear.
In fact, our emotional brains are hard-wired to feel afraid, and the very survival of the human race over the millennia is a testament to the utility of fear.
The modern day challenge is to train our rational brains to recognize and overcome the automatic biochemical response to scary stimuli when the actual threat is far less severe than, say, a saber-tooth tiger.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it,” said Nelson Mandela. “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
How would your life be different if you were able to conquer your fears?
*"Choose courage over comfort." - Brene Brown