In a particularly powerful scene in the movie “Apollo 13,” Jim Lovell looks up at the moon and says to his wife, “From now on we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. It’s not a miracle. We just decided to go.” Deciding to go is the first step on the journey to any accomplishment. But complacency is powerful. Past success can be, and usually is, the enemy of future success.
When I do The Leadership Workshop with companies I notice that people often want to focus on how they can create “superstar” performance or “wow” factors. But successful leaders know that we win customer loyalty with the seemingly small, yet incredibly powerful things that we can do everyday, in almost any situation.
1. Lack of Feedback: Failing to provide adequate and constructive feedback is the most common mistake that leaders make. If I don’t know how I’m doing, you’re depriving me of the opportunity to improve my performance. 2. Failure to identify/clarify what’s most important.
I was speaking to an audience of about eighty people in a downtown Toronto hotel ballroom during a leadership meeting for a financial services client. In the middle of my presentation, the service door behind me opened; and in walked a hotel employee with a tray of full water pitchers.
Have you ever looked in your refrigerator for something that you know is there, but you just can’t find it? You move the pickles, you take out the mayonnaise, you look behind the leftover meat loaf, but you still can’t see what you’re looking for. Finally, you are hit with a blinding flash of the obvious: you need to clean out the refrigerator!
President John Kennedy understood the incredible power of simplicity and focus, and he used it to help drive the United States of America to accomplish a seemingly impossible goal – putting a man on the moon. In the early 1960’s, for reasons involving the need for progress and the pressures of the cold war with Russia, President John Kennedy and his advisors determined that accomplishing the goal of putting a man on the moon should become a priority for our nation.
Whether it’s your vision, your mission, your family values, or your goals for the year, try and make it 20 words or less. Write it so that a child can understand it. Many people have fallen into the trap of thinking that the more complicated something is, the more effective or powerful or useful it must be. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
The value of focus and clarity is as true for a family as it is for a business. A very successful and effective leader for a telecommunications company once told me that he got his belief in the importance of clarity from his father, who had one simple and focused message for his children, which he repeated over and over: “Remember who you are.”
One great leader who was a master of simplicity and focus was George C. Marshall, the Secretary of State for President Harry Truman. Almost everyone, no matter what political party they belonged to, had great respect for Marshall. It was said of him that “he could distinguish what was important from what was unimportant, and this made him valuable.”
Great leaders have the ability to simplify and get everyone focused on a shared goal or vision. Years ago I was working with a company that was struggling. The CEO called a meeting of his top leadership team to discuss how to get the company back on track. The CEO’s speech to the team was a tirade of dissatisfaction, frustration, and anger, which he ended by shouting “Every one of you has to go back and get your people on board! That is the most important thing I expect from you, to get everyone on board!”