“Life can only be understood backwards;
but it must be lived forwards.” – Soren Kierkegaard
The past week or so has been packed with family adventures and awesome conversations with friends. Incoming emails were almost nonexistent and much of my team was also unplugged for the holidays. Between skiing, Yankee swapping, building snow forts, and sipping wine, I had the space to reflect and think about the past year and what’s in store in 2019. You know I hate goals and new year’s resolutions, but a bit of reflection never hurt anyone.
Every year I learn so much about myself, about business, about leadership, about relationships, about spirituality, and more. Here are the top 5 lessons I learned in 2018:
- LISTEN AND TRIANGULATE INFORMATION, THEN DECIDE
We constantly hear how important it is to provide clear and concise information and to develop distinct channels of communication. Most of us (myself included) think we are doing this at a high level. That is, until miscommunication runs rampant, and you realize you’re not as good as you think you are. I thought I was operating at an 8 out of 10 on communication. Turns out, I was more like a 4. There are always three sides to every story: one team member’s perception of reality, another team member’s perception of reality, and the truth. One understanding of events is only one perspective. It could be a good one, but it’s not the only one. And the kicker is, everyone’s perspective and interpretation of the vision is right.
As a leader, it is our job to make sure the vision is communicated consistently. But it is so much more than that. Vision is one thing, but it’s just as important, perhaps more so, to provide daily tactical training, direction, and re-calibration. You must constantly be monitoring the organization’s energy and using your leadership at the right times to communicate and focus your team. If you have a kick-ass team, they are already working really hard. Now it’s your job to ensure they are working really hard on the right things. This means you must listen, watch, and triangulate information to ensure you are seeing each scenario from all sides before redirecting focus or making a decision. I use a tool called the 5 Daily Accountability Questions to triangulate information from my leadership team. Listen, triangulate the information, then execute with your team on your decision.
- USE YOUR LEADERSHIP CAPITAL WISELY
As a leader, you can always pull rank, lay down the law, and dictate what is going to happen. Sometimes this has to happen. That’s why there are leaders in the first place. Some situations call for swift and decisive action and as a leader it is your responsibility and duty to step up to the challenge. However, it’s your leadership capital that will dictate the response from your team. If you are constantly throwing around your position or consistently overruling your team, then the team will get used to that and either stop respecting your authority and/or become complacent and stop offering ideas or solutions. Just like your cell phone battery, you have a finite amount of leadership capital – you can deplete it and you can charge it, depending on your words and actions. You must pick and choose when you put your foot down. You must gain as much information as you can from the people who you trust to provide you with clear and unbiased advice, and then execute. Leadership capital must be wielded carefully. Empower your team to make decisions, make mistakes, and learn, only stepping in when absolutely necessary. Otherwise, you end up with a dysfunctional, unproductive, and unmotivated team who lacks innovation and proper risk-taking skills, and who are reliant upon you to make every decision. Take your leadership capital a step further by teaching your team members how to grow their leadership capital. Then you all win.
- LOOK INSIDE YOUR COMPANY FOR YOUR NEXT HIRE
We know that getting the right people on the bus is important and that getting the right people on the right seat on the bus is even more critical. What really struck home with me this year was that the person you are looking for to take your business or division to the next level is often right in front of you. That person is already on the bus, but in the wrong seat. I’ve found that some of the best people don’t even realize they are not in the right seat. They are so dedicated to your company that they will stay in that seat for you and the company indefinitely. But it’s our job as leaders to identify when a new seat needs to be opened up and who is going to take it. You must be willing to look outside the box of their current job description to see what they are great at, what they naturally gravitate towards, and how they can use their strengths within your company.
My Chief of Staff, Hallie, was hired about eight years ago as a real estate marketing assistant and my then real estate marketing assistant was promoted to Executive Assistant. But within about three months, I knew they were in the wrong positions. I brought them both into my office and after a brief discussion about roles and responsibilities, they switched places and the rest is history. More recently, we promoted Hergenrother Realty Group’s (HergGroup) Director of Marketing, Erin McCormick, to COO and after almost a year-long search for a Controller for HergGroup, realized the best person for the job was our current Director of Operations, Becca Shanahan. We had the right people. They just needed a new seat on the bus.
Also, you have to understand when you just have the wrong people on the bus or in the wrong seat. They slow the bus down. Not everyone is going to agree with you or see it the same way, and then you are faced with some very tough leadership decisions. But that is what leadership is all about – making the tough decisions every day that impact people in your organization. Leadership ain’t sexy, my friends! But when you’ve got a great team around you, it makes it that much better.
- ELIMINATE THE EXCESS
Earlier this year our team made a conscious decision to start eliminating waste from each company. Any extra expenses went out the window. I tasked each team to cut 10% from our budgets each month for the entire year. When you start going down this path, you would be surprised what you find (i.e. the extra junk you’ve bought and accumulated)! Yes, this applies to staff too. You can easily buy into the idea of hiring additional people in preparation for growth, but that can also cause major expense issues. Be careful here. You may need to make a hire, you may not. I will always be a proponent for investing into people, but wait as long as possible before pulling the trigger and then make sure it’s the right person, in the right seat.
Think about your personal spending. When you have a big cash month (whatever that means to you), $100 or $1000 or $10,000 doesn’t feel the same. You get sloppy with your money and think it will always last. Well, we know it doesn’t. So you have to set aside the extra money you earned in reserves and hold every dollar you spend accountable. If this level of money management is just not your thing, put someone in charge of it. Don’t distract your team. Get them focused on one or two pillars that produce the biggest return and eliminate any lead generation platform, administrative or technology tool, or employee or client perk that isn’t producing the result you need. Remember, you can be turning a profit from an expense at say at 2X return, but something else you’re doing can be returning a 8X return. Put more energy towards the 8X return and drop the 2X. This can be challenging, but rewarding. Find joy in saving, instead of spending. Remove the excess and celebrate expense management!
- LOVE AND APPRECIATE YOUR LIFE
You didn’t think you’d get away with a blog post from me without talking a bit about gratitude, did you? Wouldn’t it be great if every lesson we needed to learn showed up on January 1st so we could put it to work throughout the year? But that’s not how it works. My last, and most impactful, lesson of the year came to me yesterday. I had scheduled a visit to my wife, Sarah’s, grandparent’s retirement facility and I almost bailed. But something was nudging me to go, so I went. Man, was I glad I did. Grandma Alta is 87 and is a ball of love. She is extremely caring and loving. She is a shining example of how we should care for others. Alta has stage 4 breast cancer and is in the greatest of spirits. She is so proud of her life and the love she shared. Alta and her husband, Roger, have been married for 68 years. Yup, you read that right, 68 years. They started dated when she was just 15. Roger has sever dementia and lives in the Alzheimer’s section of the retirement facility. We spent time with Alta for about an hour and then went to see Roger. He doesn’t remember anyone at this point. Except Alta. Every time Alta walks down the hall to visit him he sees her and goes hysterical, gasping for breathe and screaming with joy like it’s the first time he’s seen her in years. I witnessed this yesterday and it touched me so deeply. The love he has for her, the joy in his eyes, the passion he still feels for her, was truly moving. My kids jumped back when he screamed for her; they and I were both startled! But if you could see this, you couldn’t have helped but be deeply moved too. Picture this, a man who doesn’t remember anyone or anything sees the love of his life and every day he sees her it’s like he is seeing her for the first time again and again. Now that is love. This put me into some deep introspection. I began questioning how I could love and appreciate life more. How could I gain an even deeper appreciate for loving what I’m doing each day, the events of the day, the people in my life, loving who I am, loving my failures, loving the struggle, loving those weird things I or others do?
It was by far one of the best moments of my year. I challenge you to learn to love all aspects of your life. All of it. The struggles, the pain, the joy, the weaknesses, the laughter. Appreciate the fact that you are alive!
I am so grateful for everything that I learned this year and how it has challenged and pushed me to grow.
What did you learn this year?