When you reach milestones in life, like a 50th birthday, it is a good idea to reflect (actually, reflection is valuable every day, but that is a different post). And as my 50th birthday came and went over the weekend, I reflected on some of the most valuable things I have learned in my work and in my life.
The lesson I’ve chosen to write about is important in both our work and life, as it seems to me that the most valuable lessons usually are.
This lesson might seem like a paradox, which reminds me of my favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald quotation – “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
I’m still functioning, and I believe that if you apply what follows, you will function at higher levels of satisfaction, happiness and success – both at work and all other parts of your life.
Here we go . . .
Your success in leadership and life is all about you.
There are many things in your control that impact your ultimate success, and so it makes sense to focus on those important things that we have in our control. Here is a short list.
Your Desire. Without desire, we drift. When we have a clear reason why or purpose for a portion of (or for our whole) life, we will be much more successful.
Your Discipline. Discipline is required to do the things we need to do and even want to do, when it would be easier or safer to do something else (or nothing). To be successful requires self-discipline, and any biography of any successful person will prove this to you.
Your Learning. To be human is to be a learner. But to achieve anything worthy, whether learning how to resolve a conflict, lead a team or bait a fishing hook, requires becoming an intentional learner. And no one can make you learn anything – that is completely up to you.
Your Focus. Where you put your focus matters, because that is the direction you will go. Setting your focus on something useful and desirable is an important step in achieving anything.
Your Goals. The first four items all point towards goals, don’t they? Everyone agrees goals are important, and only you can set goals for yourself. Yes, others can give you targets, but until you accept and see these goals as your own (and mix in the other four factors above), you won’t make much progress.
Your Choices. Ultimately you are in complete control of your choices. In this way, your success is completely dependent on the choices you make. Og Mandino wrote, ”Use wisely your power of choice.” He was right.
These things are 100% in your control, and yet you can’t control everything – and the reality is you can’t achieve much without the help of others, who you can’t control at all – you can only influence. And the best way to influence others is to get over yourself and into others.
In other words . . .
Your success in leadership and life isn’t about you at all.
Or to flip the concepts above, this means living with . . .
Your desire for others to succeed. When you place your strong desire in helping others succeed, you will not only help them, but move forward yourself.
Your discipline to be selfless. It is easy to be selfish. Look at any baby and you will see that selfishness is the natural first inclination in life. It takes discipline to be selfless, and that discipline will make all the difference in your results.
Your willingness to help others learn. What do you know that you can share with others? How do you feel about others who help you learn? Are you willing to help them achieve their goals too? Don’t coach or teach for the quid pro quo, but know that in teaching you will learn (a lot) and likely get help in the future too.
Your intentional focus on others. When you focus on others and their needs, you do more than help them. You open your mind to opportunities and relationships and situations you would have never seen otherwise
Your willingness and ability to set collaborative goals. The most powerful goals are shared goals. When you learn how to set goals with others that are truly shared, the magic of synergy occurs.
Your choices to benefit and serve others first. This is a powerful human (and spiritual) principle. Whatever your religious beliefs, you find service to others as a major part of it. We grow most when we help others. We influence most when we serve others.
This article is paradoxical, perhaps, but it is a profound paradox. Achievement of whatever you wish in life requires that you recognize what is in your control and take full responsibility for it, and then as you do that, let go of yourself and focus on others.
When you figure out this balance, you are on your way to success – however you choose to define it.