Taking Pride in the Journey

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A few weeks ago, I heard Chris Warner speak.  Chris is one of America’s most renowned mountaineers having summited five of the worlds’ tallest peaks including both Everest and K2.  He also is an entrepreneur (the founder and President of Earth Treks, Inc.), publisher and speaker sharing the lessons that he has learned on leadership through his many expeditions.  In 2007, he led the Shared Summits expedition successfully summiting K2 and proceeded to produce an Emmy award-winning film about the expedition.

His message in his talk was a good one.  He spoke in reference to his journey to the top of K2. Other athletes on other teams abandoned some of their friends, didn’t help others succeed and even stole equipment from his team. Alternatively, his team’s approach was different. They helped others to succeed and stay safe. Some of these choices to help others along the way caused additional hardship to Chris’s team. But, in the end, they completed a successful climb that they are proud of until this day.  My favorite quotation was:

Don’t get to the top of the peak you are climbing and not be proud of the way that you got there. – Chris Warner

There are a few reasons why this resonated with me so much:

  1. Often times as a goal-oriented person, it can be easy to see my individual choices and actions as a means to achieve the end goal.  Instead, what I constantly have to remind myself is that the journey is what I will remember and learn from. It is what builds my life. Without remembering this, I can get too focused on the end and not enjoy the process of getting there.
  2. My gut instinct is so often right.  In my life, there have been moments where I didn’t feel good about a decision I made.  My gut often times was telling me in the moment to make a different decision, or to reverse my course.  Sometimes I listened, sometimes I didn’t. Luckily, these decisions were small and time passed with no consequence.  However, despite the lack of consequence, I have regretted not trusting my instinct and reversing my course if for nothing but the knowledge that it would’ve been the right thing to do.
  3. I only have one life to live.  How I live this life, or in Chris’s case how he climbed K2, is the ultimate reflection of my character. I try my hardest to do what is right at every turn, to make choices that I would be proud of my children knowing that I made.

Words that Matter: The Definition of Strategy

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Maybe it is a pet-peeve, but one of the things that bugs me the most at work is the misuse of the word strategy.  As per Merriam-Websters, the short definition of strategy is a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time.  In my experience, people in a business setting throw this word around in ways that isn’t helpful.  The misuse of the term drives confusion within their working team.  Here are five of the ways I heard this week alone, where strategy was used in a way that wasn’t what the person speaking intended.

1.  “You need to be more strategic.”  This week I heard one of my managers give this feedback about their direct report.  Having been on both sides of this conversation, I find this one of the most confusing pieces of feedback that you can give an individual.  To have a skill in strategy, my perspective is that it means you can develop and execute plans that aid the achievement of your long-term goals.  This leader didn’t mean that, although that may have been valide feedback as well.  What they truly meant was, this person doesn’t think big picture and thus the work that they are doing isn’t aligned with our strategy.  Be confusing the words, how is the individual on the other side of the feedback expected to know what to work on to improve the skill?

2.  “We need a strategy.”  This week at work, I heard this phrase used in a way that wasn’t clear.  I hear this as “we need a careful plan to achieve our goal.”  The problem is that the individual wasn’t talking about the plan, they were talking about the goal or the objective.  If you mean, “we need a goal” then say it.  If you ask for a strategy, you are asking for a plan to get the goal accomplished.

3.  “That is not strategically aligned.”  I love this statement as long as it is used with accuracy.  It truly helps an organization stay focused on the plan that they have created to achieve their goals.  That said, I heard someone use this during this week at work when what they were really intending to say was, “I am not aligned with our strategic plan.”  A small difference in words, but if they would have said this instead we could have more easily discussed and resolved that problem.

4.  “We need to be more strategic and less tactical.”  If you look up the word strategic in Merriam-Webster, a synonym is tactical.  All of these words come from military history.  Tactics are specific steps taken to achieve a military strategy.  Usually when people use this phrase in business, they mean that the broader plan isn’t clear but we are executing a lot of specifics.  Often times, saying this is an attempt to pull a team out of the specifics for a moment in order to reasses the broader plan to ensure that it is the right plan to meet the goals of the organization.

5.  “Our goals need to be more strategic.”  Goals or objectives are where you are aiming.  By definition, goals cannot be strategic, as the strategy is the plan it takes to achieve these goals.   Often times when someone says this phrase, what they are truly saying is that they don’t believe that the current goals are the right goals for the organization.  If that is what you mean, just say it.

None of these ways of using the word strategy or strategic are bad, as long as when said, it is what you truly mean.  Let’s not use the word to cover up what we truly mean and our organizations will continue to be more productive than they are without effective clarity.

Commitments: Shape the Future Through Lessons Learned

Over the last two weeks, I have spent time setting my work goals for 2015.  I like this process every year as it is a time to reflect on where I have come over the last year, and it helps to drive clarity as to what I want from the next year. This year it is particularly gratifying as feel like I am coming off the best year ever for my team (thank you to any of you are reading this!).  As I set up for an even better 2015, I reflect on the lessons that I have learned this year.

1.  The Power of Attitude.  However cliche this may sound, I continue to be reminded as each year passes how important my daily attitude is to accomplishing things.  This year a handful of work challenges reminded me of this more than ever.  It is hard to maintain a positive attitude each day, and everyone has ups and downs.  This year, more than once, I stepped away from my desk when I had a bad attitude and it helped tremendously.  And, those times I didn’t, it dramatically impacted the effectiveness of my decision making.

2.  Worrying Won’t Get You Anywhere, Acting Will.  I am a born worrier.  My grandmother was a worrier, my mom is a worrier, and thus, I am a worrier.  Often times, when I am left with downtime, I fill it with worries.  At the end of the summer, I was driving myself crazy worrying about how back-to-school was going to go, and how I was going to handle another year with Jon traveling.  Finally, I just decided to act.  Today, we have some help now with the kids a few days a week after school and I feel more balanced because of it.  It wasn’t a hard solution, but one that I couldn’t see while I was worrying.

3.  Ask for What You Want.  You can call this “leaning in” or simply being clear.  One of the hardest things about this lesson, and unfortunately what I have struggled with before, is that you have to know what you want to ask for it.  Without asking for it, the people around you will not infer from your actions what it is.  You have to make it explicitly clear.  When you do this, it will be hard, but it is a critical step in reaching your goals.

Most days I feel stronger than I did a year ago, and I believe recognizing the lessons of last year will help make next year even better.  My commitment for today is to shape the future from the lessons of the past.

Resolutions: Making Them Happen

Last year was the first year that I set a new years resolution that I kept.  I always viewed resolutions as cheesy, things made to be broken, or just a waste of time.  In December of 2013, as the new year approached, I felt like I was coming into a year of renewal.  With Matthew just over 18 months old and personally being one year post shoulder surgery, I sat reflective of how difficult the last year had been.  I had a heavy year at work, Jon and I were raising two adorable yet time intensive little ones, and I had dedicated almost all of my free time to recovering from my surgery.  It felt like I was just hanging on.

I decided that the upcoming new year was a time for a change, time to dedicate more of my free time to myself, and time to regain my love of exercising and feeling better about my health.  It took me a few weeks to overcome my historical bias against New Year’s resolutions, but ultimately I decided to take the leap.  I resolved to workout half of the days in 2014, 183 days to be exact.  At the time, it seemed unachievable as exercise wasn’t a part of my routine.  I didn’t have a plan other than to try to workout 3-4 times a week, and to hold myself accountable each month as versus just the annual goal.  One of the most game changing decisions was to report my status on the resolution once per month on Facebook…nothing like a social announcement to hold you accountable.

And, I made it.  On December 31, 2014, I worked out in the morning to complete my 183rd day for the year.  There were moments of stress, pressure, but most of all accomplishment.  Ironically, I spend most of my professional life setting goals for myself at work, and planning what it takes to get achieve these goals, yet meeting this goal was one of my sweetest accomplishments in a long time.  This is because I not only met the goal, but I learned to love being healthy and working out again.  Better than that, my kids learned that working out is a part of what their mom does.  And today, January 7, 2015, after a week of no exercise and some well deserved rest, I want to keep going.

To resolve means a lot of things, but one is to make a definite and serious decision to do something.  In hindsight, I am a woman who resolves a lot.  My historical baggage on the New Year’s resolution is gone.  January provides a wonderful time to look at what I need in my life, and set the goals I have for the year ahead and make them happen.