It had been a fantastic morning and a great strategic dialogue about the importance of excellent customer service when I ended with my concluding remarks. As I explained to the group, there are three keys to being a great leader, namely to regularly “sharpen your saw”, referencing the work of the late Stephen Covey, take care of your families and to keep learning. In that delightful pause before a group takes a break, I saw many heads nodding.
Then, just as I putting away my notes, one of the participants turned to me an asked, “Can I talk to you about the ‘taking care of your families’ part?”
“Sure,” I replied. “Would you like to do this here or in your office?”
“My office, please.”
So we walked down the hall and stepped into her office. I sat down at the conference table and she sat down on the other side. Someone passing by stuck their head in and asked if they could sit in too.
“Be my guest,” she said pointing to a chair. Within ten minutes, everyone was crowded into the office, listening and sharing.
One thing I have learned about how successful people manage life can be summarized by a comment that Christina Smith, Executive Director of Community Support Advocates in Des Moines, Iowa, made at the Spring 2012 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. As she explained, “Our sacrifices need to reflect our priorities.”
While on one hand this could be viewed as a simplistic answer, I do not consider this to be the case. What I have learned is that successful people know their priorities. They do this by continually discovering and continually deepening a sense of purpose to their life. These are not immediate gratification people. They know the things that matter to them most. And they routinely evaluate their priorities.
Furthermore, as Clayton M. Christensen, points out in his wonderful article, “How Will You Measure Your Life?”, Harvard Business Review, July-August 2010, once they are clear about their priorities, they then allocate their resources, i.e. personal time, money, energy and talent, to the things and people that in their life connect to their personal purpose or strategy.
The challenge for all leaders is the following question: How well are you allocating your resources to the things that matter the most to you? Successful people do not let themselves experience “commitment creep,” a term that Christensen uses in the aforementioned article. As he explains, successful people do not over-commit. “It is easy to say “yes” to new commitments without reflecting on the long-term costs of honoring the implied promises or the potential conflicts that may develop with existing commitments.” Instead, successful people know the boundaries of a commitment and understand the “exit strategy.” They do not let pleasing others be the sole definition of their success. They also have the courage to undo old commitments, i.e. the classic Jim Collin’s “stop doing” list.
As Donald N. Sull and Dominic Houlder noted in their excellent article, “Do Your Commitments Match Your Convictions?,” Harvard Business Review, January 2005, and I have learned from my own personal journey and by working with many successful people, for every new commitment we take on, we must stop, evaluate and consider to renegotiate other commitments. The goal is to never live in a misaligned manner.
This week I encourage all of us to watch out for commitment creep and to make sure our sacrifices reflect our priorities. These two actions are powerful and transformative.