Consider dancers, who
spend hours every day repeating the basic "alphabet" of classical
movements until the lines become their bodies' automatic choice. Over years
they develop the ability to leap and turn and hold seemingly impossible
positions with no evidence of effort. As with athletes, training builds their
capacity while teaching them to use their energy efficiently; thus the effort
it takes for them to perform is actually reduced. In Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers (Little Brown, 2008), the author
gives more weight to hundreds of hours of perfecting a skill through practice
than to amazing talent or good luck.
In business, we learn and
practice our own alphabet of behavior that leads us forward without having to
consider every step. We learn where our strengths lie and where we need to pay
special attention. Some leaders naturally think strategically--maybe too
strategically--while others have a hard time rising above everyday detail. Some
are inclined to look for the potential in a situation where others see risk.
Some love problems because they're opportunities to be creative. Regardless of
what we bring to the table, we all have to know how prioritize, how to make the
best of unexpected situations, how to get the job done in the face of conflict.
My premise is that, whatever our strengths or weaknesses, we can practice some behavioral disciplines that condition us for outstanding performance with
Planning and strategy top
my list of key disciplines. The CEO who has a clear direction and anticipates
challenges is heading toward success. Structure is next: the manager who
creates a calendar that works back from the due date is going to deliver
quality on time. I continue to be surprised by how often coaching begins with
getting clients to define what they want to achieve and develop timelines for action. Another is balance, the skill of paying attention to many
things at once and aligning them to keep ourselves from leaning too far in any
Of course, if everyone
could identify and practice the disciplines that serve them best, I'd have too
much free time. While many people are adept at building productive habits, a
professional's perspective can help some recognize and reach for broader options. Often, having to answer to another person creates a commitment to perform
that exceeds they would demand of themselves. Wherever you are on the
spectrum, here are a few reminders that may help keep you at the top of your
Think Strategically: Know
your goals, anticipate the outcome of you actions, and choose the ones that
align most closely with your intended destination. Keeping an eye on the horizon
may be the most challenging everyday activity leaders face.
is simply no better way to reach the desired outcome than to plot your course,
decide who will do what, and when they will do it. (Even if you're the only one
Create a calendar for every major deliverable; then compare timelines to see
where you might be overwhelmed. If you must, make appointments with yourself
for solitary thinking--one of our most powerful tools, frequently overlooked.
Schedule time for reflection out of the office if that's what it takes to achieve
it. Book the most important issues early in the day to avoid distractions.
Take Action: Once
you have made a commitment to your plans, engage the right players and act. No
Speak the Truth:
Master the power of reasonable transparency; tell people what they need to know
as soon as you can. They'll come to trust that they can rely on you--and
they'll tell you what you need to know in return.
Hearing what people have to say carries the twofold advantage of providing you
with information and sending the message that you are interested in them. I
continue to be impressed by the power of paying complete attention to someone.
Showing that you don't take yourself too seriously, that you can see a
situation from multiple perspectives, including humorous ones, makes you
approachable and relieves others of some of their anxiety. This think/plan/act/communicate matrix is very basic, but sometimes we overlook parts of it, or it gets out of balance. How are you feeling about the habits your behavior suggests?