Things I really ought to do:
1. Be more considerate of others
2. Listen more
3. Get in shape
4. Eat more vegetables
5. Recycle more waste
6. Finish that project I started several years ago
Like me, you know what you ought to do, and it’s important to do it. Occasionally you are reminded by others, but the core list of “must do’s” never seems to get done. So, what could happen this year that might make it possible for a few things on this list to go away? Rather than give you advice that is generally not very helpful and tends to either make you feel guilty or pump you up for one day, I am going to give you some research that may help.
The first bit of research I have found and validated with thousands of leaders is that after you make a list of all the things you ought to do, review the list and narrow it down to just the top three. Make your selection by considering first, what you want to do. If you have some passion or energy to do something, the probability of succeeding goes up considerably. Second, think about what would personally benefit you the most in your life. My firm Zenger Folkman has found repeatedly in our research that leaders who were skilled in just a few competencies were rated as very effective leaders, and from that data we concluded a person does not need to be perfect to be effective. If you can just accomplish even one key thing on your list, life will be better and others will be very impressed.
The second piece of research comes from a global sample of more than 1,400 people that I looked at who were highly confident in their ability to succeed. I then did an analysis on the characteristics of these people that made them more confident. Below is a list of the top characteristics we found. Once again, you don’t need to do every one of these, but you will be substantially more successful in life and in leadership if you can choose the few that will help you the most.
1. Be willing to take a risk. Starting something new, jumping into a project or announcing that you are trying to lose weight is a risk. You may not be successful and the fear of failure can paralyze people from even trying. But willingness to take a risk in a goal you intend to take very seriously can make all of the difference between the status quo and standout success.
2. Think about your successes in life. As you think about your past successes, consider that fact that the success was difficult, that you took a risk, you encountered problems, you were challenged, you worked hard, but ultimately you were successful. If you did it once, you can do it again.
3. Ask your friends for help. The more data I collect the more I am amazed at how much we are influenced by others in both positive and negative ways. If you are trying to quit smoking, drink less alcohol, exercise more or eat healthier, please tell your friends. The first thing you will learn is who your real friends are. Those who discourage you from your goal are not your greatest friends. But those who support you will be of invaluable help.
4. Increase your pace. In my research, I’ve found that leaders who have more speed are rated as twice as effective and have employees that are highly engaged. Finding a way to do most things faster makes the jobs easier to accomplish. Often, innovation can help a person increase their speed. This year, for example, one of my goals was to help more around the house and so in a stroke of brilliance I bought an iRobot Roomba vacuum. The floors get cleaned every day.
5. Make a decision and move forward. Some people have a difficult time deciding. They collect more data, ask others for input, worry about the consequences but end up unable to decide. Decide and move forward. If the decision is wrong, apologize, acknowledge the mistake and then go in a different direction.
6. Taking action is helpful, but it’s much more helpful to have a clear strategy before taking action. Taking time to create a plan, doing some research, consulting with others can ensure success.
7. Be comfortable with some ambiguity. Whenever we try something new, we encounter ambiguity. If we try a new diet, we do not know how it will affect us. When we try to learn a new skill, at first, we are clumsy. Most people want to be in control, and ambiguity makes us feel the opposite. When you think about most of your successes in life, invariably there was at least some degree of ambiguity involved. But eventually you gained control and were successful.
8. Be willing to work a bit harder and endure a little pain. Most people get to a point where life is very easy and predictable. No doubt, accomplishing this thing you ought to do will require extra effort and possibly some pain. What is interesting to me is that the effort and pain make the success feel even better.
9. Think several moves ahead and anticipate potential problems. Success in chess requires you to think several moves ahead. This requires some concentration, but research has demonstrated that when people identify what problems could be encountered with a good plan, they end up being much more successful at avoiding the problems.
10. Take the initiative to get started. It takes most of the fuel in a rocket to get just a few feet off the ground. Likewise, it always takes the most effort to get something started, but once started, it is easier to keep positive change in effect.
My final suggestion is another thing I have learned by helping thousands of leaders to change. This is something that needs to be part of everyone’s plan. Think about a way to track your progress and ask another person to follow-up with you and check on your progress. Asking another person to hold you accountable will add motivation on your part to succeed.
Finally, know that I wrote this blog for myself. There are some things on my own list that I really need to do. I hope this research can help you in your efforts to reach your own highest goals in the new year as well.
Information about Joe Folkman’s new book, “Speed: How Leaders Accelerate SuccessfulExecution” is available here.