I spend a lot of time with senior executives and over the last several years there is something I’ve observed. When they find themselves in challenging circumstances, they tend to look around themselves – “do we have the right people” or “what if we were better capitalized” or “we need to improve our processes.” What would happen if they first looked in the mirror for improvement opportunities? Wouldn’t most agree it’s best to work from the inside-out instead of the outside-in? If so, you should start with yourself. I’ve noticed one opportunity that stands-out from the rest: sustained focus.

Here is a five step process to attain/regain it.

1. What does success mean now? The reason you are reading this article is to raise the bar on your effectiveness, but what exactly does that mean to you now? Is it the same as before? Does it mean spending a certain amount of time per month on succession activities, closing one more deal per quarter or establishing yourself as a thought leader? Whatever you decide, you need to visualize it.

2. Visualize it. It’s always easier to be successful if you are clear on what success looks like. Great runners (both sprinters and long-distance) close their eyes and visualize winning before each race. It’s a ritual, it’s a process and it works. While the runner may not win the race, even after visualizing it, they are more focused and perform better with visualization than without it.

I can remember preparing for a proposal meeting by visualizing how it would unfold, anticipating reservations throughout and figuring-out how I would help the client work towards satisfactory answers. The proposal had an A, B and C option. While I wanted them to choose the C option, because it was the most complete solution and required a larger financial commitment, they chose the A option. We both still won, even though the client didn’t choose C.

3. Add detail. The more detail you add to the vision you are focusing on the better. Detail adds propulsion to visualization. When preparing for the proposal meeting I thought about how I would keep the focus on the client. I planned to ask some key questions I had written-down to insure they would do most of the talking during the meeting. I thought about the meeting in three parts:

The beginning – has anything changed since we last met?

The middle – is everything in the proposal as you understood it?

The end – when do you want to start?

4. Look for someone who has been successful incorporating something new. Most athletes can readily tell you who they grew-up emulating or whose style made an impression on them as they progressed
in their career. The same opportunity exists with personal effectiveness. If someone sustains long-term effectiveness, it is because they have evolved over time. We all need to have someone like this we look towards in our professional lives. Someone who has done what we want to do in a manner that aligns with our morals and ethics.

I’ve been following the same consultant for the last eight years. One thing I’ve

learned from him is that goals shouldn’t necessarily be numerical. For example, reducing labor intensity, adding as many high-quality clients as possible or writing more articles than last year are actually more valuable.

5. Tell others. Finally, share your goals with everyone you know, if it serves you.

I’m a soccer player and I remember weighing 145 pounds at the end of my junior year of high school. My friends, who played football, wanted me to play football. I happened to declare that I would play if I weighed 160 pounds before summer workouts began in mid-July. You are only allowed one guess at what happened… To my dismay, I weighed over 160 pounds by mid-July. There was no turning-back. I had to follow-through on what I publicly stated.

The same thing is true in regards to business. I’ve written articles for years and I’ve never written a book. I decided not only to declare I was writing a book, I started telling my clients. To go one step further, I’ve interviewed my clients to include their anecdotes in the book. Do you think there’s sufficient motivation now to write this book? What happens if I don’t?

Challenging circumstances don’t automatically require wholesale changes to move things in a satisfactory direction. Just because a solution doesn’t involve consuming large amounts of resources or taking a big risk doesn’t mean it couldn’t be the most impactful option you have to choose from. Avoid linear thinking. A+B doesn’t always = C.

All team members and the decisions they make within an organization are important. At the same time, each team member’s decisions differ in regards to how they impact the organization financially. A 2% improvement in the decision making of a cadre of project managers in a business unit is valuable and is an example of where senior executives like to go first for solutions (outside-in approach). Contrast that scenario with a 2% improvement in the decision making ability of a senior executive of a multi-million dollar organization, which is a higher leverage step that can also be taken (inside-out approach). Get the picture?

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