Picking what’s important

How do you prioritize?

As a leader, how do you choose where you spend your time – really?

In talking with clients and with members of groups I attend and/or lead, I’ve noticed that what people say are their priorities … often bears little relationship to where they’re actually putting their attention and time.

Your true priorities reveal themselves by what you do, not what you say.

Like most leaders, I’m sure you acknowledge that learning new things, exploring new ideas, and developing new aspects of your business are all important.

In fact, you probably say they’re priorities for you.

Yet like many leaders I know, you may find yourself postponing these learning and development activities – activities that really are crucial for your long-term success – in favor of something that seems to be more important in the moment.

If that sounds familiar to you, here are some ideas for different ways of looking at how to choose what’s really important.

A client called…

One of my clients recently cancelled an appointment with me because one of his clients called unexpectedly.

Another told me of skipping an important meeting because another meeting ran late … and she couldn’t find a way to say “I have to go now!”

We all want to support our colleagues.  But “support” doesn’t mean “wreak havoc with your schedule on their behalf.”  It’s okay to be up front and clear about the realities of your commitments – even when that means saying “I can’t do that right now.”

Be honest with yourself

The classes you want to take, the brainstorming appointments you make with colleagues, the time you need to work on projects…  It’s easy to say, and even feel, that these are all important.

It’s often harder to be honest about what’s actually happening.

There’s a tendency to convince yourself – to actually believe – that each time you postpone or cancel one of these activities, it’s an isolated incident.  I’ve seen it in myself, and I’ve seen it in clients and colleagues.  Take a look – I’ll bet you’ve done it too.

Looking deeper, most people discover that it’s habitual.

Does recognizing this pattern change how you feel about what you choose to focus on?

Identify the voices

There’s a voice telling you to rearrange your priorities.  Something inside – some thought, some belief – is saying that you don’t have time right now to to take the class, attend the mastermind meeting, spend time developing your team.

And it’s easy to listen to that voice and believe it, especially since it usually comes with fear and anxiety attached.

What if you were to stop and ask yourself:  WHY?  Why don’t I have time?

What would the answer be?

And is the answer really true – or is it a voice of scarcity, urgency, or self-doubt?

Feel what you feel

It’s okay to feel fear.  It’s okay to feel the urgency of needing to respond.

But when you turn away from difficult feelings, you perpetuate the behavior patterns that arise from them.

Instead, meet them with understanding.  Meet your feelings as they are, allowing yourself to see them and to experience compassion and caring (without indulging or victimizing yourself).  As you do so, your behavior will naturally begin to change, and you’ll find yourself more able to discern the truly important from the apparently urgent.

Opportunity is fleeting

The opportunity right here, right now – the opportunity in front of you, whatever it may be, to learn, to discover, to do something MORE for your business – will never come again.  Ever.

It’s easy to think that there will be other opportunities.  And to some extent, it’s true.  There will be other opportunities – but this opportunity is unique.  And remember the pattern of continually postponing “for later”!

What’s right here, right now, waiting for your attention?

How will you choose what’s important?

“Understand that the right to choose your own path is a sacred privilege. Use it. Dwell in possiblity.”  Oprah Winfrey, 1954-, American television host, actress, producer, and philanthropist.

gljudson Strategic thinking

The myth of the Right Answer

It’s out there somewhere.

The Right Answer.  The solution to whatever you’re struggling with.

The Right Answer.  It’s the promise of self-help books, the siren song of marketing gurus and management guides, and the seductive allure of all those online videos selling solutions.

They all profess to have the Right Answer.

And when you’re trying to succeed at something – especially something as near to your heart (and therefore vulnerabilities, not to mention finances) as your business – it’s natural to want to know what the Right Answer is.  How can you do better at creating, marketing, and selling products and services that your customers want and will buy?

But the “it’s out there somewhere” Right Answer is a myth.

Every situation is different.  Every interaction with a potential customer or an actual client is unique.  The amazing, baffling mix that’s human personality and human experience shifts and changes with every moment, based on an enormous potpourri of factors.

Seeking the Right Answer becomes a trap – a trap framed in frustration and self-doubt.  It’s hard and painful when you come across what you hope is the Answer to your situation – and it doesn’t work the way you were told to expect.

Instead of seeking the Right Answer from somewhere outside yourself – an expert, a book, a training program – what if you were to trust your own experience?

Learning from other people has its place, of course.  No one wants to re-invent the wheel if they can avoid it.

But where one person’s wheel is flashy and bright with red paint and carved spokes, another person’s is sturdy and practical.  One person’s wheel might be chrome-plated and polished, and another’s might be softly textured and subtle.

Each of these approaches has its merits, and each of them will appeal to a different audience.

The only true Right Answer is the one you discover for yourself.  Here are a few questions to help you explore what will work for you – based on your experience.

What’s your style?

Unless you’re aware of – and comfortable with – your style, it’s going to be hard for you to get in touch with what will work best for you.

What experience do you want to have in your business – and what experience do you want your customers to have?

The intersection of your style and your customers’ style(s) is where connection happens – and where businesses succeed or fail.

How do you feel?

My heart breaks for people who tell me about their experiences trying to implement a Right Answer that feels all wrong to them.

They’ve been told it’s the solution to their problem.  Or perhaps there are lots of other people raving about this particular Right Answer, so they’re convinced it must really be the Right Answer.

When it doesn’t work for them, they feel as if they’ve done something wrong.  Because if this is the Right Answer and it’s not working, it must be their fault.

But when something doesn’t feel right to you, then it probably truly isn’t the right solution for your situation.  You may be trying to create a behavior pattern that just doesn’t suit your style, or trying to work with clients in ways that don’t suit who they are and what they need.  Either way, it’s your responsibility to notice what’s going on – and make changes.

Your experience is what matters, not the dictates of the Right Answer you’re struggling with.

What’s the gap?

What’s the gap between what you’ve tried and the results (or lack of results) you’re experiencing?

I’m willing to bet that you know more than you think you know – and there still could be expertise you don’t have.  If so, you can close the gap by learning, or by hiring someone to help.

Or you could have a belief or thought that’s creating a perceived gap for you.  That might be anything from believing you don’t know enough, to uncertainty about the value of your service – and many things in between.

It’s easy to get caught up in trying to close the gap without stopping to see what it is first.  But when you know the dimensions and terrain, you’ll know whether you need help building a suspension bridge, enough time to put down a series of stepping-stones, or just a good running start to make the leap.

By letting go of the hunt for a mythical Right Answer, you free yourself to see what’s really happening.  And you give yourself space to experience what’s actually true for you and your situation – to experience your natural strength and the power of your own instincts.

“I know the answer! The answer lies within the heart of all mankind! The answer is twelve? I think I’m in the wrong building.”  Charles M. Schulz, 1922-2000, American cartoonist and creator of the Peanuts comic strip.

gljudson Owning your career

Clarity + Focus doesn’t mean perfection!

Saturday evening, I went with friends to see Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza.

Clarity?  You bet.  Absolute clarity about what they want to accomplish.  Absolute clarity about how they’re going to do it.

Focus?  Well, if you’ve ever seen Cirque du Soleil perform, you know there’s focus.  There has to be.  Without it, the show would come to a screeching halt because all the performers would be injured.

Perfection?  Nope!

There are way too many moving parts, way too many variables, way too many opportunities for things to go slightly differently every time.

That’s why they use live music, after all.  The musicians watch what’s happening onstage, and adjust on the fly if something takes longer – or shorter – than usual, or if a performer misses an action and chooses to do it again.

They almost always get it right the second time – but the point is, they don’t always get it right the first time.   Even after all the practice and all the performances, there are still imperfections in every show.

We watched someone fall from the high wire last night, missing the landing as he leaped over one of the other acrobats.  He caught the wire with his hands, pulled himself back up, tried again – and nailed it.

My point is, you don’t have to wait for perfection when you’re striving for clarity and focus.  Inspired action takes place without needing perfection.

In fact, I’d say that perfection is the enemy of inspiration.  Because inspiration allows for the occasional fall as well as the flashes of brilliance.

What do you think?

gljudson Success & failure

The Runaway Explanation

This post originally appeared in my newsletter.

You know that thing that happens when you want to ask for something, but you’re not sure you’re going to get it – or even that you’re really entitled to it?  Do you find yourself going to great lengths explaining why you should have it, why it’s the right thing to do, or why you can’t do what someone’s asked for? 

That’s what I call a “runaway explanation.”  And it’s a common response when you feel uncertain or vulnerable. 

You might be uncertain about whether you really deserve what you want (such as vacation time without checking in with your clients).  Or you might feel vulnerable about about something you find personally difficult or embarrassing (for instance, a mistake of some sort).

Or you may find yourself in the grip of a runaway explanation when you’ve been asked a challenging question.  I’ve heard otherwise calm, articulate people dissolve into a stream of justifications when all they really meant to say was, “Sorry, no.”

When you’re uncertain about what you’re asking for or how to respond to something unexpected, your tendency will be to over-explain in an attempt to justify your position.  This often leads to feeling even more flustered, off-balance, and weirdly inarticulate, even as you listen to the words pouring out of your mouth.

You’re much more likely to get what you want – and less likely to embarrass yourself by providing way too much information – when you can contain this tendency.  So here are some suggestions for avoiding runaway explanations.

Notice your doubts

Start by noticing how you feel.  You could be letting clients know you’ll be unavailable, following up with someone about a project you really hope they’ll hire you for, or saying “no” to taking a client to dinner because of a previous commitment.  Pause and listen for that internal voice of doubt.

It might be saying, “But this is the busiest time of year – I can’t take time off now!” or, “I don’t think they liked my proposal.  I should just let it go,” or, “Wow, that’s a very important client…I can go to Jessie’s next soccer game.”

Notice what your doubts are saying and what you really want out of this situation.  Your urge to go on and on in a runaway explanation, justifying exactly why you need uninterrupted vacation time, that great project, or how you made a commitment to your family – it’s a direct response to your doubts about what you want.

The common assumption is that because you feel those doubts, your audience will also.  However, that’s a very dangerous assumption.  Instead, your runaway explanation actually brings up doubts and questions in your audience’s mind – questions that would otherwise never have occurred to them.

Keep it simple – then stop!

What’s the simplest possible way to phrase your request or your response to a question?  Say it, and stop.

“I’m going to be out of the office next week – no email or phone messages – so please let me know now if you think there’s anything you need from me before that.”  (There’s no need to say why you’ll be unavailable..)

“I’m really excited about your project – is there anything else you need from me to make your decision?”  (Your proposal already has all the background information your prospective client needs to make his decision; you don’t need to repeat any of it.)

“That evening won’t work for me – I’ve got a conflict.  Can we have dinner next week instead?”  (No need to say what the conflict is.  A commitment is a commitment, whether it’s to ten-year-old Jessie, to a class you’re attending for business, or to yourself for some rest and relaxation.)

Say it, and STOP.  Bite your tongue if need be, but STOP.

Who are you convincing?

Although it might appear that the runaway explanation is an attempt to persuade your audience that your request is reasonable and should be granted, you’re actually trying to convince yourself.

And your doubts are based in emotion, which seldom (if ever!) responds to logic.  So any attempt to convince yourself that your doubts are unfounded is likely to fail. 

Instead, skip the logical argument.  Just stay clear about the doubts themselves.  Otherwise they’ll sneak up on you when you’re making your request – and you’ll find yourself right back in the middle of that runaway explanation.

Stay focused on simplicity

You may be pleasantly surprised:  you may not get follow-up questions, but instead just hear, “Okay, sure.”

But if there are follow-up questions, keep your answers just as short and to the point as your initial statement.

You might need to provide additional facts (what you can provide for your client so he’ll be okay when you’re unavailable, ways to change the scope or schedule to work better for your client’s great project, or other days and times when you’re available for dinner).  But you don’t ever need to provide personal details about how much you want a day off to rest, the importance of the project to your business goals, or your promise to Jessie that you’d be there to watch the game.

Confidence – both ways

People who provide just the information necessary in situations such as these project a powerful sense of confidence. 

And rightly so.  The runaway explanation is a response to your own doubts that then brings up those doubts for the people listening. Therefore, when you make your request or respond to questions with brief, simple, factual statements, you sound poised, confident, and sure of yourself.

There’s real power in being able to simply accept the doubts you feel and control your tendency to blurt out justifications for what you want.  You’ll project confidence – and you’ll find yourself feeling more confident as well. 

So notice your tendency to indulge in runaway explanations, discover the doubts that lie behind it – and put on the brakes!

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”  Shakespeare, 1564-1616, English poet and playwrite; from Hamlet, act 3, scene 2.

gljudson Communication