Take Charge of Yourself

A problem for the busy professional is the ability to work through the “noise” of everything demanding your time.  No matter how much you plan, work on productivity or “work smarter”, not harder, the surf keeps pounding, and you’re wondering whether what you do counts.

The Problem

The problem is not that people are (not) good at what they do. It is that they don’t feel they own enough of themselves to make things happen that they believe are important.  The outside forces work on them, demand them, and ask of them for many things.  The more capable, and better result driven person you are, the more likely that others will come to see you as someone they need assistance from.  

The Reversal

It’s good that your good at something, and that people believe in you.  If you’re a leader, it makes it even more critical that the subtle forces of everything else don’t drown out the following things:

  • Your ability to think about what you are doing.
  • Your ability to institute changes and developments that prove helpful to yourself and others.  
  • The ability to tap into your desire to be effective, and do what is needed.

The Solution

The solution is not a cookbook.  It is about having the resolve to realign what you already know is important, in a more centered way of your life.  Remember, you are the solution, but looking at external resources may be important to address the demands, and ensure you are able to institute what you need to maintain good balance.

  • Say no to certain things.
  • Stay connected with what gets shoved underneath the rug.
  • Decide the importance of things.
  • Change the impact of certain demands, reassign others, schedule the important.
  • Get to the key root causes of the problem.  Look for ways you have addressed these issues in the past.

Only you can change you.  A lot of fine things and people can push how and what you do. It’s never too late to re-evaluate and make course corrections.  Chances are, you may need to do this on a regular basis, to ensure you are staying true to your mission.


Task Fatigue

Productivity tasks can be a help and a problem.  Lists can be worthless when there is little meaning behind them other than categorizing what needs to be done.  Tasks management is a great word, providing that what we are managing has real meaning.  Over time, the idea of task management means drudgery, if it doesn’t connect with what’s important.



Making Tasks Work For You

There is a lot of ways to make tasks work for you.  Equally, there is a lot of ways that tasks can keep you from moving ahead.  Lists beyond their physical presence in front of you can just lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, not being on target and a sense that you are not making any progress.

Ways to Make Tasks Work:

  • Pick at least three of the most important tasks for the day (only three)
  • Keep the other tasks on a list, or schedule them on different days
  • Keep in mind that certain tasks are going to take more time than others, consider that when you are choosing them.
  • The task should have some material importance for you.
  • Eliminate other distractions…including new tasks for that day.  
  • Look at reassigning other tasks where possible.


A common problem is how the impact of distractions play in our ability to further our goals. Other people’s distractions (and our own) can kill momentum toward doing the important things.  Seeing our chosen tasks through is important.  Doing this consistently, will begin to impact how we see ourselves, our effectiveness, and our capacity to eliminate future distractions.


There is nothing written that says: “You must get everything done.”  If you have too much on your plate, then it’s time to reassess what you are doing, and reorganize your functions.  Saying no, is a critical element to task completion, because other things don’t suck out the energy to do the important tasks.  

Resilient Leaders

Bad things can happen, and difficulties and challenges occur…resilient people have an uncanny ability to move through the challenges, and others believe reaction is the best way to proceed.


Resilient people (and leaders):

1. Evaluate situations and manifest possibilities.

2. See the glass half full rather than half empty.

3. Look at the total picture, rather than the immediate issue.

4. Derive strength from available support systems.

Resilient leaders are not excuse makers.  They understand that there will be difficulties and use experience and clear understanding to work through challenges.  They weather the storm, but they also have thought ahead enough to know that immediate reactions are not the most expedient way to resolve problems.  They draw upon available supports, look beyond the barrier, and spend less time getting into emotional reactions, and more time working toward a solution that will move forward.

Consider: Have you ever experienced the energy of a resilient person?  What does this feel and look like?

  • The person smiles
  • They don’t minimize issues, but they don’t let themselves go to lower levels of emotions – such as reactive behavior, blaming or vendettas.
  • They allow people with negative energy to move beyond them, or they go around them.
  • They like who they are, believe in themselves and others around them – they are loyal.


If you’ve ever been around one of these people, their energy and mannerisms can be contagious – if you allow it.  Resiliency is the opposite of stress.  Many people subject themselves to stressful reaction, rather than resilient response.  The problems are still there, but the capacity to deal with issues is greater because there is a bigger reservoir of resources, ideas.  Stress kills the capacity to think and respond.  Personalizing the issue kills the ability to be response-able to generate a path forward.

One final consideration…

Examine your problem or stress areas.  How do you respond?  How well do you generate a way forward when consumed with reaction?


Knowing-Saying-Doing – Follow Through

Knowing you need to do something, does not necessarily mean it will happen…Saying it needs done, does not mean it will happen. The space between knowing and saying can be expansive, without a clear path to “the doing.”

Faulty Assumptions:
Follow through is the the Gold Standard for progress. Being a “do-er” requires a special subset to one’s personality. Often making the transition from the plan to the result requires a set of actions to actually perform the doing. Why is it so hard to follow through?

1. The belief that “it’s someone else’s responsibility.”

2. We don’t know how. It’s going to require too much effort.

3. A clear path to the finish line is not well defined.

4. There is too much confusion about what it is to do.

Photo: Brian Dick

Somewhere there needs to be a path between knowing something needs to be done, and the actual doing. Becoming a problem solver and a “do-er” means that you’re willing to risk the effort, and time to get closure. The difference being do-ers and non-do-ers can include the following:

1. Do-ers can see opportunities and ways to follow through – “path clarity”

2. Non-do-ers are dependent on others and the outside world.

3. Do-ers practice ways and institute problem solving – they enjoy accomplishment.

4. Non-do-ers are happy with others showing the way.

In Summary:
Doing = Activity and Engagement

To obtain Follow Through means that there has to be a desire.

Doing = Activity + Engagement + Desire

What are you not accomplishing? What component is holding you back?

Healthy Discomfort and Change

Change is a constant, but I’m sure that comfort with change will never change…it will continue to be uncomfortable.

Much has been written on a daily basis about change, making changes, personal growth, and adapting to change. It is popular fodder for discussion, but in real life making changes – if done well, is down right uncomfortable for some. It’s easy to discuss and think making change. If change is real, it can be uncomfortable.

A View to Consider:
“Making improvements and change should be uncomfortable in a healthy way. If we’re not comfortable with it, then it may just be window dressing. Real changes require us to be uncomforble (at least cognitively and behaviorally) in order for them to stick.”

The concept:
Cognitive Dissonance: The idea that what we think-feel-behave, is at some kind of mismatch with other known circumstances. Just because we know what needs to be done, doesn’t always lead to the change. Instead, the gap is closed by denial, procrastination, and self-defeating behaviors.

The reasons why some people don’t change:
1. Change requires choice and follow though. Some people don’t possess either.
2. Discomfort means we have to confront our beliefs about the world, and our shortcomings.
3. People like to hold on to old ways. The problem is not immediate or urgent.
4. Weaknesses are not a popular topic.

If a change is needed, there has to be a clear payoff. No payoff, then there is little desire to institute a change. For some, delaying what we think we need to do, will eventually ACT on us, and something will need to be done.

Change is both Uncomfortable and Process:
If you’re not uncomfortable making a change, then what you’re doing is not change. If you think change is a matter of a task list, you’re into self-deception. Change is also not about someone doing something to you. It is about doing something different yourself.

The Change Process:
1. Knowing you have to make a change.
2. Identifying the personal sacrifices that have to be made.
3. Making and keeping promises….repeatedly. And, then again.
4. The payoff – Why are you doing this?

What is keeping you from real change?


What is Your Leadership Footprint?

Before we start – please take a moment to consider this exercise. Visualize yourself for a moment many years ahead of your present status as a leader:

Imagine that you are attending your retirement gathering. The people assembled are there to celebrate your retirement from the organization. After many accumulated years, your leadership within the organization will be passed to your successor. You have had many individuals under your guidance over the years. You have affected many lives. The room where the celebration is taking place is filled with significant respect, but also a sadness that a transition is about to happen now that you are retiring. Your reach is vast. You have at least two generations of individuals you have influenced, that came far and wide to celebrate your milestone.

Photo by Brian E. Dick. “Is your leadership building a bridge for future leaders?”

The Footprint You Hope to Make
If you took a moment and envisioned your retirement, hopefully you envisioned the kind of impact you would liked to have made by that time. The opportunity you take now to evaluate the kind of impact you are making now, could lead you to consider the kind of action, or change that needs to be made now. Was the visualization a comfortable, or unnerving experience?

Some Questions to Ask Yourself
What type of impact do you want to make in your organization?
Even if you don’t have a formal title, how still have you been a leader?
Is your leadership style about building a sense of meaning, or about just having the prestige?
What weaknesses do you possess that could be addressed in the future?

Generativity vs. Isolation
The human development theorist Erik Erikson is widely known for the concept of lifespan stages of development, and their component tasks at each stage of the lifespan. One of the last stages that Erikson proposed was Generativity vs. Isolation. In other words, do we look back/and/forward with richness, appreciation, continued contribution? Or, do we reach a point in our future, where the footprints we make in our leadership journey suggest hollow, and unfulfilled dreams, missed opportunity, and isolation? Did you focus on the wrong things too long. Struggled too long without tangible results? Finally, did we enrich others, mentor them, make good leaders?

The Impact We Make
We may not realize it, but in the course of our career, we have thousands of opportunities to influence and leave significant contributions in the course of our interactions. If we have left a good footprint, others that have been influenced will carry our presence forward into the future. You may not realize it, but the little ways that you have influenced others for the good, gradually enlarge your reach and your impact on others. You might be surprised.

There are Good and Bad
Without sounding too dichotomous, we have all been influenced by the good and the bad leader, good supervisor, or poor mentor. Hopefully, we have carried a few of the good leadership examples forward with us, which in turn influence those we lead positively. It is important to retrospectively consider who influenced us, and why. It would be far preferable for others to consider how our actions impacted and influenced the footprints they are making.

Course Adjustment or Wake up Call
Your leadership journey is about considering carefully how you would want to be considered after many years. It is never too late for course adjustments to change, or to even evaluate whether you making the right imprint or “footprint” on others.

The Benefits of Storytelling

Storytelling sometimes gets a bad rap. It implies that to tell someone a story, means that a half-truth or diversion is being communicated.

In reality, the power of a story has many practical benefits and can bridge gaps in knowledge where information or professional literature cannot. Humans often connect around common themes, and themes can be in many circumstances communicated well using a well formed story. Traditions, and human beings for centuries if not more, have used the story as a way to connect, learn, or communicate important things. Cave drawings? They were forms of getting messages to others.

20130408-182132.jpg. Photo by: Brian E. Dick

Reasons a Story Works:
1. Stories communicate meanings to others in non-direct ways.
2. We can reach others better through information that makes us think.
3. Stories often represent common ground, traditions, and ways of holding our interest.
4. Learning is faster.

The reality is: Often others will not listen if material is not seen to pertain to them. Often a message is avoided when it seems too confrontational, unpleasant, or disinteresting. When someone tells a story that communicates a message, it has a higher likelihood of reaching the listener, because they are more open to the information and can decide what they will make of it.

A personal story
“Last evening, as I was putting my daughter to bed, she was upset about the idea of having to go to bed. This is not necessarily uncommon. Instantly however, I decided to use a short family story that helped her connect with one of her personal interests. With what seemed to be a neutral story, opened up influence, and created more conversation. As some time passed, she was ready for bed.”. Whether you are young or old, stories and the use of narrative appears to be a universal approach to connect with others, and motivate others.

Too many people feel talked to, rather than talked with. Using narrative is an important way to build influence, open minds, build rapport, and communicate tough topics in ways that can be received in better ways.

When was the last time you used a story to engage your audience? What would happen to your message, your sales pitch, or your team that you managed if you told a relevant story that connects with the ideas you are trying to communicate? Chances are, others would consider the message more, especially if they connect with many of the underlying ideas.