Will We Ever Get There – Leading When Success Seems Far Away at Best

Okay, so I’m done encouraging you to set goals. I’m moving on to a new and nearly universal leadership question: What are the key leadership strategies to succeed when the goals you are striving to reach will take a long time, and when there are variables that may entirely prevent you from reaching them? Perhaps some examples will help. A mayor might have the goal of reducing drug use in her community. Somebody might have the goal of getting the Lions in the playoffs. And the next governor will, if s/he’s smart share my wife’s goal of diversifying Michigan’s economy and heightening our educational achievement levels. Maybe your goal is to lose 50 pounds, publish a book, raise your 12 year old to be a gentleman and a scholar, or maybe you are committed to beat cancer. For all of those examples, and perhaps with your goals, there will likely be tough stretches when it seems goal attainment is all but impossible. This week and following I’ll offer some core strategies to keep moving forward. Two strategies for today.

Develop a key mental discipline to cleanly separate goal and reality. Don’t let your mind drown your goal with the reality of the moment. Okay, so almost nobody can keep that from happening. Instead we say, “I’ll never lose 50 pounds; I’ve lost only 1 pound in three weeks, and that almost killed me!” Or, “How can I reduce the drug trade, when my city council just laid off two police officers.” The dismal thoughts of futility will come unbidden and unwelcome, so the discipline is to keep making this mental separation: goal and reality are two different things. I will NOT let go of my goal. And I WILL keep looking at reality, cuz what is, is. Keep the goal in front of you. On a flip-chart. On your planner cover, your refrigerator, dashboard, the back of your hand, weekly agenda, and prayer list. The goal belongs to the future, to spirit, to faith, to your heart, and reaching it likely means good things for others as well as yourself. So, keep it strong in these realms.

Second, savor and celebrate the small wins. We’ve all learned that elephants can only be eaten one way, and that’s a bite at a time. So, recognize when you have finished eating the elephant’s ear (hopefully at the county fair). Our unstoppable cultural shifts make it hard to stop, and to focus on the positives. The culture wants immediate gratification – part way doesn’t count! Look how little time we’ve given President Obama to solve extraordinarily complex issues like a global recession, terrorism, and health care reform. So, he must work like crazy to find ways to remind us of signs of hope, and point to the data of progress. The culture also loves to see the car crash, what’s a mess, the blood on the highway. It’s not just the media. It’s us. Anyone raising teens to be ladies and gentlemen knows that the tendency is to see all they’re not doing and to dwell on the mistakes. It takes really paying attention to see the wins they’re achieving and not just the goof-ups. But whether it’s a personal goal like dieting, fitness, or going back to school; or if it’s a collective goal, like improving school graduation rates or lowering obesity; energy grows when we focus on gains and not just on losses. In a long race like a half marathon, I bolster myself by mentally walking through all the twists in the road behind me, not dwelling on the miles still to come. When I do that I can feel the energy surge, realizing how far I’ve come and what I have accomplished.

Let me close this week by saying congratulations to the Detroit Free Press which is looking to savor and celebrate the wins as Michigan seeks to diversify. They are seeking nominations to recognize the folks who are making Michigan’s economy more green.

In the following weeks I’ll offer more strategies – and I welcome your observations and strategies – to help pushing ahead when a goal seems distant if not unreachable. That’s the critical work of those of you who want to

Lead with your best self.

Listen to the audio here!

  • Paul Wellstone may have said it best: “I think the future also will not belong to those who are cynical or those who stand on the sidelines.”

    I’m also reminded of when FDR called fear “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror that paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” He could have said the same about cynicism and doubt, and he would’ve been just as spot-on.

    Why – why – are so many people so cynical? It does not make sense! I suppose it may have to do with how bad things are right now, but that still doesn’t justify having such an attitude. The only thing I am cynical about is how far you can (or can’t) go when you live in doubt.

    Also, reality and optimism are not one in the same, but neither are reality and pessimism! How many times do people use the word ‘reality’ in a negative context – i.e. by suggesting that those who are hopeful and optimistic are not viewing a situation in a realistic light? Reality isn’t always bad – it can be great! The most optimistic people and the most pessimistic people can all have a realistic view of a situation and still view the situation differently.

    As always, Dan, thank you for your wisdom and your can-do spirit!

  • Dan,

    Keep inspiring us to finish the race and we will do so! Some us us need to be pushed! I needed to be kicked (thank you).

    But as long as we stay focused on the goal and maintain that positive spirit that you encourage us to have we will reach our goals.

    The TIP Lady

  • Dan, what you are suggesting seems to be couched in the belief in an abudance mentality.

    Far from being polyanish, an abundance approach calls us to seek the blessings, gifts and successes that are present even in the midst of some scarcities.

    I believe that many of us fear genuine success. We fear our own success because the standard by which we succeed may one day be the standard by which we fail. We fear others’ success because we compare ourselves to them and consider ourselves less successful, or perhaps even failures. There are many other reasons we fear success, many of the deep and personal in nature.

    It seems sometimes as though we are conditioned daily to observe and give power to scarcity . . . it is what seems to sell. Our media reports it ad-nauseum. Our political leaders love to point out their adversaries’ failures – imagine if they only spoke of their own successes, and said nothing of their adversaires!

    Imagine if each one of us were to start our day by naming one positive thing about us. What if we then made it a practice to name one positive thing about each person we encountered that day . . . and shared it with them? What if we began our work day with one positive acknowledgement about our work – whether something we appreciate about the nature of it, or something we’ve accomplished, or a colleague with whom we appreciate working, or the fact that we have one . . . ?

    I easily fall into the trap of a scarcity mentality, and am reminded time and again that abundance thinking truly has the power to shift my mind, my focus, my energy, and my way of being in all facets of my life.

    I am one of the many in our state who lost my job last year. Even in the midst of financial scarcity, I have been gifted with much abundance. I have the opportunity to redefine what is important to me. I have the time to pursue work about which I am passionate. I have the opportunity to poke my head out of some ruts, and redirect my thinking and doing in more productive ways. I have the joy of volunteering a little more, and making a difference in someone else’s life. I have the opportunity to empathise with others in a new way. I have the gift of rediscovering the value and appreciation I hold for meaningful work and a steady income.

    Things are, and may for some time still be difficult, but these gifts and many others will continue to remind me of the abundance that is present to me – I only need to reach out and grab hold of it.

    In the spirit of abundance,

    Thank You.

  • Some interesting, and somewhat spot on, positive vibes rallying behind you here Dan.

    I’d like to play a littl bit of devil’s advocate though……

    Richard, you’ve lost your job in the past year, yet your exhuberance for the freedom of choices that have come your way astound me…….only in one aspect that you did not possibly edict, an ommision that needs a deeper view into…….are you afforded these new freedoms, due to unemployment…..here is the kicker…..at the expense of both taxpayers and the 24/7 printing machines inside the treasury dept, with a direct deposit unemployment check, that seems to get extension after extension provided………remember, there are multitudes that don’t have the ‘luxury’ of the nanny state free ride programs in abundance…..appeasement band-aids that do nothing to root out the core problem of greed, corruption, malfeasance, moral and civil decay, et al…..in both the private, predominant in the public, sectors. There are multiudes of realitiesthat do need to be looked at,with a raiosed eyebrow…..on’s pespective would call it pessimism, the other optimism…….when the leaders in this country are on the same page as the citizenry, same duration of time spent working in relaton to pensions received, ie., social security, and another being the same exact health care as the citizens, then public servant-hood realms will become reinsituted and our country can continue as it once was. Where can you get a job that after serving one six year term, you become vested with a 100% retirement (based on senatorial wage)? This was never considered the ultimate in acheiving the American Dream……common(sense) folks consider it criminal.

    I am not singling out Democrats here, as there are just as many maligned Republicans out there in the political sphere. However, with the addage of absolute power corrupts absolutely so ‘perfectly’ engendered, the likes of Barney Franks and Chris Dodd, both intrinsically involved in the ill-run mortgage industry/Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, then their ‘chutspa’ to sit at the podium and point fingers away from themselves, Harry Reid’s and Nancy Pelosi’s self serving interests re: stimulus funds…..then we have your venues in Michigan,TARP funding on Wall St., egregious bonuses paid from said public funds for poor performance to Wall St. execs,, et al….well it is easy to see past the spin doctors who tout everything is okay, things are looking up….blah blah blah….

    Ask President Obama to look at some archive tapes of his candidancy platforms, and thenask him to tell us why he as not dfollowed through on them…….I’m talking about what I refer to ashis rhetoric, relative to eliminating lobbyist influence, transparency of government (these 32 czars halt that process), streamlining spending, getting out of the war business in Iraq and Afghanistan (I say business because of the derth of wealth going to public assist agencies such as Halliburton, Bechtel, KBR, Blackwater, a gazillion more.
    As you know,I voted for the first time in my life for a Republican this past November. Am I a Republican? NO WAY. Am I a Democrat? NO WAY. Am I a Patriot? HELL YES!

    I wish Jesus would return soon,and bring Thomas Jefferson with him.

    Thank you.

    • Remember, people who receive unemployment compensation have paid into the system for years. When they receive that direct deposit after getting laid off, it’s payback time.

      Workers invest in the state for years as taxpayers. Then, once they establish eligibility and a training provider in some growth profession, the state invests in them via a No Worker Left Behind training grant so they can become taxpayers again.

      A very good system, in my opinion!

    • Mark,

      First, note that I too do not consider myself either Republican or Democrat, and that, just by reading your short post, I’d guess we share several views about how things could be different.

      That being said, I take exception to the notion of receiving any kind of “free ride” at anyone’s expense. I paid into the educational system (very few handouts or grants – just loans) when I earned my degrees. I paid into the social-wellness system for decades as a tax-paying worker. I continue to pay into our community in whatever way I can, even when it can’t be financial.

      I could imagine that unemployment would seem like a free ride if:
      * I didn’t believe in supporting people when they needed it.
      * I didn’t believe in receiving support from others when I needed it.
      * I didn’t work diligently during the time that I received support to get back into the paying end of the system.

      Though I cannot say I was proud to receive an unemployment benefit, I can honestly say I was very thankful. Though I can’t say that I “deserved” the check, I can say that it made a significant difference in keeping me going. I believe that my efforts to make a difference in my community in other ways somewhat compensate for the burden that others may perceive me (and other unemployed people like me) to be on our society.

      Should the day come when i once again need a hand to keep me going, I hope I won’t be too proud to accept it, nor to ungrateful to return it’s value many times over.

  • Dan,

    As I read your column I was reminded of a quote from Nelson Henderson: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

    Building a legacy (or reaching a cherished goal) is a grand vision, and incredibly difficult when focused on the day-to-day setbacks the world, the universe, our neighbors, and our individual actions generate for us. Henderson’s image has always resonated with me. The long-term results of today’s efforts are sometimes difficult to envision, but the world is full of examples: When I and my family moved into our present home, about 31 years ago, there was a forlorn-looking, and slightly misshapen long-needle pine in our back yard. I was tempted to remove it, but remembered somethings my grandfather taught me about trimming the “candles” on pines and helping them find their true shape. I spent a few years trimming the small pine until it grew a bit too large for trimming.

    Now, there is a majestic 35 foot-tall pine behind my house.

    There is a Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.” To those who see only evil and greed, waste and loss, I say: “Forget your lamentations over the tree that was not planted 20 years ago, plant one now.” I too, have been on unemployment for the first time in my life. At first, I cursed the darkness created by the loss of my job, and dreaded the terrible feeling of “the free ride.” I was raised to work for each and every penny of income I received, and I did that for more than 44 years. I was a dark day when I filed that claim. But the last year has taught me a valuable lesson: If you begin to fall, and your neighbor offers a hand to stop your fall…and if you slap away his hand, perhaps you deserve to fall. My “neighbors” offered me a hand, and I grabbed it with both of mine. What matters most is what you do with your life, after your neighbor saves it.

    2009 was a year of loss for us. It was also a year of some wonderful “small” wins. I watched an old forest burn quickly to the ground, and I grieved for my old forest. But new growth as started and I even planted a few young trees myself. When I stumble over a pile of ashes that used to be one of my treasured trees, I weep a little. But I have been fortunate to have have friends that remind me of my burgeoning new forest and that I have new trees to tend.

    For those who curse the system and see only the billboards with negative messages on them, perhaps it is time to help the billboards fall, so you can once again see the forest. My favorite poet, Ogden Nash lamented those billboards, so I will close with his words:

    I think that I shall never see
    A billboard lovely as a tree.
    Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
    I’ll never see a tree at all.
    ~Ogden Nash, “Song of the Open Road,” 1933


  • In my experience, it’s best not to “own” whether the goal gets accomplished at all; just progress towards it, as long as it’s a worthwhile goal that benefits everyone over the long term as R. Buckminter “Bucky” Fuller recommended. As Robert Schuler always said, “Inch by inch, everything’s a cinch.” As Hebrew scripture has it, “Some sow while others bring in the sheaves.” I just keep plodding along, one day at a time, doing what I can do. Often, eventually, I get to where I want to go. When I don’t, I don’t beat myself up about it. Too many dynamics determine whether a goal gets accomplished in a certain timeframe. Like my lifespan.

  • Will we get there? Who cares when people you respect and thought was actually perfect, then you realize that, that person is far, far from being perfect. This person lies and hate, even hate people that they never meant, just heard of. People are better off if they just not like anyone and not bothering being disappointed later. Don’t try to be like anyone, especially don’t like anyone. Whitney Houston says it best in her one song. So, will we get get there? It doesn’t matter, you’ll only be disappointed anyways when you get there, just like suicide. Death is welcomed sometimes.

  • Buffy,
    Sorry to hear of your disappointment in believing in someone who let you down. That can be so very difficult. It’s great to have heroes, and part of what’s so hard about this time is that we want them, then we seem to work so hard (like with Tiger Woods) to see every little ugly inch of them.
    I hope you can rebound from the disappointment and use it to figure out what YOU want to be. Sometimes when people – like our parents show us their weaknesses – they offer us an opportunity to know what it is that we really care about. We see its importance when we realize it’s not there where we thought it was. It may be something they don’t respect – or pretend they do. Clearly someone showed you that they lie, and obviously honesty is important to you. So own it in yourself.
    Hope this helps and that I got your point.

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