Don’t make resolutions. Make revolutions.
As you head into a bright shining New Year, you could do well to spend some time making resolutions. You could write a list of things you feel you ought to change about yourself or you could pull out last year’s list. Because chances are, the list hasn’t changed. The list hasn’t changed because you haven’t changed.
So this year, instead of making resolutions, why not make revolutions? Here are the four revolutions of a leader, the guaranteed way to lead real change in yourself, in your productivity and in the world around you.
1. The Revolution Inside.
You can’t lead others until you can lead yourself and you can’t lead yourself until you make some fundamental changes in your inner life. Leaders have a profound ability to quiet their minds. While others are engaged in out-of-control inner dialogues and even arguments with themselves, leaders have the ability to shut the dialogue down for a few moments and concentrate. It’s not for nothing that Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem starts with this line: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…” Whether you develop that skill through meditation, prayer, breathing or exercise, you have to develop it.
A leader masters the ability to recall his or her self to presence at any time. Watch Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer, on TV sometime and see the way he can get the attention of an unruly dog with just his body language and the snap of his fingers. What was, a moment before, a bouncing ball of bonkers energy suddenly is an intensely focused and powerful entity waiting for instructions. If Cesar Millan can train a dog to do that, you can train your mind to do it, too.
But the practice has to start early in your day and continue all day long. If you wait until you’re losing it, you’re too late.
Try this: tomorrow morning when you wake up, before you even get out of bed, recall your mind to presence. Notice everything in the room around you and everything outside those four walls. Remind yourself that you are the leader of your mind and then silence that mind. Enjoy the silence for a moment or two and then, throughout the day, keep recalling your mind back to that presence.
2. The Revolution in Sight.
On the last day of the year as I was pouring my first cup of coffee in the pre-dawn gloom of a rainy morning, I had the thought that I’d really wasted this past year. I mean, really, there were so many lost opportunities and setback. The thought was driven by some recent projects that had to be postponed and by some late learnings that I could have used to create progress, had I but known them last year. And then I realized that I had lost sight of the important things that had been accomplished in the last twelve months: breakthroughs in personal development and physical fitness; one book selling well and a second book heading for publication; transformational advances in my coaching work and in my writing; thrilling new relationships; increased leadership presence. But, off my radar, they were out of sight.
Sight is not the same as “vision.” Vision is an overused word in leadership circles; yes, you should have a vision of a better career, better company or better world, but if you can’t see the way to get there, a vision isn’t much help. You’ve heard the saying, you can’t manage what you can’t see? It’s time for you to create a breakthrough by creating sightlines to everything you need to follow.
Next time you board a plane, look left at the display of information in front of the pilots. In the early days of flight, pilots set off across the ocean literally flying blind. They had no more than a compass and maybe a sextant to help them find their way. And often they were never seen again.
How many projects of yours have been lost at sea because you were unable to keep them in your line of sight throughout the year? How many of your attempts to improve yourself failed because you lost sight of your objective whenever things got busy? Like a pilot, you need a display that constantly lets you know where you are in relation to your objectives, what’s lacking and what storms are on the horizon that you need to consider.
Whether it’s on a whiteboard above your desk, a mind-map or any one of the amazingly useful mobile apps like Evernote, create a visual display that reminds you of the revolution you want to create, shows you your progress and reminds you of where you need to go. Refer to it daily and update it weekly. In between dodging bullets and putting out fires, it’s worth a concentrated 30 minutes or so to get sight of what your objectives are.
3. The Revolution in Time
Let’s face it: you aren’t as good at multitasking as you wish you were. And you never will be because your mind is not cognitively constructed to focus on more than one task at a time. Multitasking creates neural bottlenecks in the frontal cortex that actually limit your ability to get things done. So multitasking actually slows you down and, just as damaging, it also degrades your output. So stop tweeting while you’re reading this as you’re sitting on a conference call and trying to finish your expense report.
Now take a moment to snap your mind back to attention.
Instead of arranging your life as a raging flow of concurrent tasks, think instead of a series of discrete and highly focused moments that you can invest to your leadership purpose. The more fully you are invested in each of those moments—the more fully present you are in the moment and in what you are doing within it—the more productive moments you will have. You can invest several of those moments in a focused conversation with one of your team members or you can invest a single moment in recalling yourself to presence. You can hold off e-mail for half an hour while you focus intently on a project and then clear your mind and spend five focused moments on responding to mail. Your responses will be smarter and more concise and your project will proceed faster.
And here’s a secret: moments are flexible. If you’ve ever had the experience of time seeming to slow down, you know what I mean. You can use that phenomenon to your advantage. Learning to be intensely present in a moment gives the moment intense depth. Intense depth creates a sensation of “flow” that artists and musicians describe when talking about getting lost in their work and not noticing the passage of time. You’ve heard the saying, from Parkinson’s Law, that “Work expands to fill the time allotted to it.” What if the opposite were true? What if you could make time expand to fit the work allotted to it?
Try this: next time you have a task that would normally take you a couple of hours, tell yourself you’ll get it done and sent out in less than one hour. Stop all other distractions, get set and go. You’ll be amazed at what your mind can make happen when you’re fully engaged in the work of the moment.
4. The Revolution in Touch.
Here’s a groundbreaking idea: what if we measure success not just on the goals we reach but on the people we touch? Managers reach objectives and goals, but leaders do something more. Leaders draw people forward. They do it by creating a story, by revealing a context for action. They do it through clarity and presence and by standing for something a few degrees higher than maximizing profits or expanding regional market share. They do it by creating a leadership presence that touches the hearts and minds and lives of their team members, their customers, the public around them.
The revolution in touch is a revolution in understanding the far-reaching and long-term results of your actions. It’s a revolution in understanding that if you’re doing something that is good for your short-term goals but bad for your employees, bad for your community or bad for the world, then it’s not good for your company either. Not in the long run and probably not really in the short run either. What you touch by your actions becomes your responsibility.
And here’s a clue: in a globally interconnected world, you touch everything.
In case you think this sounds a little soft, let me go kung-fu on you: this idea is at the heart of the great martial arts traditions. Aikido is a school of Japanese martial arts that’s based entirely on using an opponent’s energy and momentum to slap him flat on his back. No hitting, no flying kicks. One moment the opponent is throwing a punch, the next he’s lying on the floor. And, because the essence of Aikido is the loving protection of all living things, the Master is reaching down to offer him a hand.
An Aikido master uses his own balance against imbalance to restore equilibrium. In leadership terms, it is the art of managing the tension between imbalance (innovation and growth; technological shifts and economic cycles) and balance (culture and processes; cash flow and investment) to create an organization that provides a lasting good.
From Resolution to Revolution. From Revolution to Revelation.
Most people want to be part of building something great. They want to be inspired. They want to see a better world. They want to be better, themselves. But for all our resolutions, we don’t make much progress.
That’s why great leaders make revolutions; earth-shaking, game-changing, no-turning-back revolutions that create a complete turn of the wheel. But it doesn’t come from talking and it doesn’t come from telling. It comes from the four revolutions of a leader.
Maybe this is your time to take leadership on. Or maybe it’s not. But let me leave you with a revelation: you can change the world, if only you change yourself.