Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Keep Heading Towards Your Big and Daunting Goals

stairway-828883_1920

Do you know where you want to be in a year, in 5 years, in 10 years? Do you know what you want to achieve in your life? Do you know what you want to proudly look back at when it’s time to make the big tally.

Know where you want to go and keep your goal in focus. Find opportunities to celebrate and award yourself along the way. Suck it up if times are tough, but also be gentle and forgiving to yourself – not everything will always work out exactly as you thought.

I hope you don’t just idle along from day to day, getting blown around by the random winds of life.

Know your goals

It all starts with knowing where you want to go. Don’t merely think about the next step you could do from where you are. Think about where you want to be when all is said and done. Then work backwards from that end goal and lay out the path that gets you there.

Think longterm. Prepare, invest and build for your future. Don’t fall prey to the easy way out or the instant gratification. Keep your eyes on the goal post.

Find little rewards on the way

When you have a goal that’s a little out there and maybe even daunting, it’s important to find and set rewards along the way.

Do what engaging games are doing: establish little goals and rewards along the way. Celebrate when you achieve those milestones. Keep yourself moving to your distant end goal by setting in-between goals that you reach along the way. Set rewards with those goals that keep you excited and keep you going.

Train your resilience

Some times, probably many times, it will be hard to push to your goal. There will be many temptations to go the easier way that provides instant gratification but distracts your from your desired outcome (e.g. plucking down in front of the TV instead of going for a run).

Here are some things you can do when ‘the going gets tough’:

  • Look forward – keep your goal in mind, keep the forward momentum in focus
  • Get perspective – put things into perspective, don’t get stuck in the current feeling but look at the bigger picture
  • Know your why – be clear with yourself why you are doing things, what drives you
  • Build on your passion – find the things in the current moment or the challenging situation that you are passionate about, spend as much time as you can on those

80:20

While all of the above is true and good, sometimes life happens. If you head towards your goals 80% of the time, you can be proud of yourself. If you strive for 100% you will get hard, myopic and will probably miss out on bunch of equally important things.

Always remember:

The art lies in the empty space.

Give yourself some slack every now and then. Be focused but also let go when the pressure builds up too much. Even the strongest tank needs a pressure valve.

Be focused but also let go. Don’t force yourself too much. Take a day off. Forget all your rules and duties, put down this guide and just enjoy life for at least one day the week.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Not Everything is as Urgent as it Appears

time-2203698_1920

A critical part of being accountable and delivering against your commitments (promises!) is to actually have bandwidth for them, in other words to not over-commit.

We already talked about how it is ok – actually expected – to say ‘no’ when needed. What we didn’t talk about yet are timelines (or ‘deadlines’ to make it even more scary sounding).

Not everything is as urgent as it might appear at first glance.

Clarify expectations

Not everything that comes from your leadership comes with a “drop everything else and do this right now” expectation. In most cases, leaders just want to know when they can expect an answer and have the confidence that they don’t need to spend their energy to track that deliverable for you.

Don’t assume. Clarify and verify.

If a request came in without a timeline or clarification on urgency, don’t assume. Just ask: “Hey, when do you need this by?

No decent leader will hold it against you if you ask, “By when do you need this?” I’m actually pretty sure for most leaders this will register as a plus point (if it doesn’t it’s time to look for a different leader).

What leaders want to know is whether you commit to provide the answer and by when. They want to be confident that you will do it and that they don’t have to worry about it. They will tell you if a timeline is not flexible and why.

As an employee, train your leader to provide that information with her requests in the future. However, also make extra-sure that you are managing yourself against that timeline! It is super frustrating as a leader if you need to keep your own reminders on everything you need, because you cannot rely on open loops to be closed without your constant follow-up.

Understand timelines

Not everything needs to happen right now. In fact, very few things are truly urgent, although many are perceived or presented as urgent or initially appear non-negotiable.

Unfortunately corporate culture has developed many bad habits in order to try to compensate for low accountability:

  • Setting deadlines way ahead of time to build in buffer
  • Setting short deadlines so that people do it right now and don’t get distracted
  • Setting deadlines just because that’s what you do
  • And the worst: setting a short deadline because something was sitting idle on your own desk for too long and now it’s really time to make progress

Understand the true urgency and timeline. Offer a plan to get there. Make sure you hit the plan.

Feel empowered to understand and validate urgency and tight deadlines. Ask for when a task is truly due. If it requires you to drop other things, understand what drives the urgency and what breaks if the deadline is missed.

If you think a deadline has a ‘safety buffer’ built in, ask for the real deadline. However, once you get the real deadline, you must make sure that you will be ready by that time. Otherwise, you just teach your partners to add additional buffers to manage in the future to work around your tardiness and unreliability.

If a deadline is infeasible, check your calendar and priorities and see when you can make it. Offer that alternative plan and check for agreement. If pushed, be clear what you will have to sacrifice in order to make that timeline.

In most cases, you will find that a deadline is actually negotiable.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Situational Leadership

0 (1)

The “Situational Leadership” framework by Ken Blanchard, is by far my favorite framework for managing and coaching people, regardless of whether it’s formal or peer coaching, work or personal. You might have heard of it before. There are classes, books and of course a WikiPedia page.

Coaching applies to all of us. As managers, we coach direct reports as part of their career development. As leaders, we coach peers to help them be more effective, overcome temporary hurdles, and to make the team better by sharing best practices. As individuals, we receive coaching and want it to be as effective as possible.

The Situational Leadership framework applies to both sides of the equation – it’s a framework for leaders to give coaching but it’s also a framework for individuals to ask for more targeted support.

The framework

The basic idea of the framework is that we all go through four stages of proficiency for any given skill set. It is critical to call out that this is not about our seniority overall, it is specific to the task at hand. For example, I might be extremely experienced and self-sufficient in writing specifications but I have never done a strategy document before. I would be D4 for specifications but D1 for strategy (see below for more explanation).

For every new task or area of competency, we go through that lifecycle of learning, from beginner to master. If we are faced with a new area, we of course retain mastery in the areas we already command, but we start as a rookie in the new area. Life-long learning at its best!

Situational Leadership asserts, that we need different kinds of direction, coaching and support, depending on what stage we’re in for that specific area and task. Coaching is not one-size-fits-all but specific to the person and the situation.

As we make our way through new challenges, we go through four phases. See the below chart for an illustration. The lower chart is the coaching style, the upper chart is the stage an individual is in for that specific task (I keep underlining ‘that specific task’ because you screw up coaching completely if you assess at the scope of the person, not the task).

situational

For the following discussion, I will make up my own attributes for the stages just for fun and emphasis; you can see the ‘official’ ones in the chart. The flow in the chart is from right to left, don’t ask me why that would make any sense. You see the inverse-U shaped flow. You can see it as a hill that you have to overcome as your motivation goes down in D2 and D3.

Stage 1: Clueless, a little scared but really motivated

“This is awesome. But please tell me what I should do, I’m lost.”

As an individual, I just got a big new area assigned. It’s awesome and I’m excited. However, to be honest I’m also deeply scared because I don’t really know where to start. I feel like there is a great chance to fail, and left on my own devices, I will need to put in many hours to figure out how to approach this.

As someone who coaches, motivation is not the issue (your coachee can’t yet anticipate the potential challenges ahead). There is plenty of motivation, but there also is plenty of worry as to the pure mechanics of solving the problem. In this stage, leaders need to give clear guidance on how the problem should be solved and what the specific steps and quality gates should look like. In short provide the cook book for solving the problem and explain what success should look like.

“Here is what you need to do. Let’s meet weekly and talk about progress.”

Stage 2: Got some ideas, facing early challenges

“Alright, I see what you want me to do. This is harder than I thought.”

As an individual, I have made first progress on the task. I have a plan, but things are harder than I anticipated. This starts to suck just a little bit. How can I make this easier?

This is the valley of frustration. As a leader, you need to give both moral support, but also clear guidance on how specific hurdles and blockers can be overcome. The coachee is still learning their ropes and needs guidance that they can transform into their own solutions and frameworks.

“How are things going? What’s challenging? Here is what I would do in that situation.”

Stage 3: Got a handle on it (mostly), not quite smooth sailing yet

“I think I have a plan, but let me double check with you. Things are getting a little easier.”

As an individual, your confidence is increasing. You are facing problems that you have seen before, and you start having frameworks to solve them. It feels like things are becoming just a little easier lately.

The coachee is coming out of their valley of frustration. Slowly. You still need to help and support them to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They will have their own plan and solutions, which will be spot on many times, but not always. Your job becomes much more a reviewing and tweaking role. You become a sounding board.

“Show me what you got, what’s your plan? Interesting challenge, how do you plan to solve it?”

Stage 4: I know what to do, all is under control

“I got it. Get out of my way, you’re slowing me down.”

As an individual, you know what you need to do. You have successfully faced similar situations before. You feel confident and since you have the frameworks in place, things now go much easier and with less effort.

As a coach, your main job is to get out of the way and only stay informed what’s going on. Give space and freedom, but be there when needed. Things are flowing for your coachee and they are highly effective at the specific task. The thing you should spend time on now is to understand what the next growth area, learning opportunity and challenge for that coachee can be and to work with them to figure out how to align new growth areas with their long-term plans. The biggest risk at this stage is for the coachee is to eventually get bored.

“Anything I should know about the project? Let’s talk about what new opportunities we can prepare for you.”

Key principles

These are the things I believe a crucial to keep in mind. It’s not an official list:

  1. Always make it specific to the task – The experience model is specific to a task, not the person as a whole! Don’t put the whole person into a specific bucket. If a person gets a new area they never faced before, they will likely drop back to stage 1.
  2. Identifying the right stage matters – You need to find the right level. Giving too little and too high level coaching (directionless) is just as bad as giving too much coaching (micromanagement).
  3. People move through the stages – Watch! As you coach, people will move through levels. That’s the whole point. Don’t put someone in a box and leave them there. Adjust your style as the experience evolves.
  4. If you’re not sure, ask – If you’re not sure how much coaching someone needs, check back. Ask them “How confident are you that you know what you need to do? Do you need any help?”
  5. Get feedback – Check in explicitly as to whether you are giving the right level of feedback. “Does that help? Is there anything else that I can help with? Do you know what to do next or do you want me to step in more?”

When you give coaching

We all have our own leadership style. Few people naturally coach at all levels, but most of us have a preferred style that comes more natural to us. Some of us tend to be more directive and always present solutions, while others tend to be more hands-off and ask for (or assume) plans. If we don’t make a conscious decision, we will fall into that style and it will not always be the right style for the person and situation (there’s a 3:1 chance it will be the wrong style).

Understand what your coachee needs for the specific task. Consciously try to identify the stage and then check back with the coachee if you’re not sure. Make a mental check after the coaching session if you gave the right type of feedback and correct quickly if you didn’t.

It’s not about what you like to do, it’s about what they need!

When you receive coaching

You can either hope that your manager, coach or mentor knows what you need, or you can tell them. I would do the latter. See where they go, but if you feel you’re still unclear what to do or you feel over-managed, tell them! “Can you give me a little more guidance, I really don’t know where to start on this?” or in the other case “I think I have a plan. Let me work on it and we’ll review it together in two days.”

Don’t leave it to the coach, be specific. If your coach makes the right assessment, awesome. If not, clarify and help them. Likewise, if you feel you have moved on to the next stage, let your coach know that you would like the type of feedback to change.

Needing more direction for a new challenge is not a bad thing at all. Not articulating it and then falling behind is.

Situational Leadership requires a little more work. However, the impact is astounding.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Small Changes Can Have Huge Impact

coffee-2238109_1920

I am not obsessed with my weight. To me, weight is just one input to an overall healthy life and lifestyle. However, I noticed that I had gained almost 15 pounds over the last half-year without really knowing why. That disturbed and frustrated me to be honest.

I did make a plan to do more sports but couldn’t follow through to the extent that I wished due to work demands. Actually I didn’t increase my workout frequency at all. So I decided to accept the gain for now and tackle it in a few months when work demands have calmed down a little bit.

Surprisingly, over the last few weeks I noticed that my weight has dropped back down 10 pounds. I didn’t really focus on anything specific to get there. I didn’t even know what caused it. So I went on a little inventory of changes that I had made to my rhythms and habits lately:

  • I stopped drinking my one or two glasses of wine with dinner in the evening to have a better sleep
  • I stopped drinking a protein shake in the morning and a few lattes throughout the day, because milk left me with a ‘slimy’ feeling which I wanted to reduce
  • I wanted to leverage the quiet morning hours at work and thus skipped reading the news in the morning, instead going straight to the shower, which also meant I wouldn’t eat the 4 pieces of chocolate while checking for news

Those are really the only lifestyle changes I can think of, yet they made me get back towards my optimal weight without explicitly trying.

Small changes do have an outsized impact!

Don’t try to make big swoops of dramatic changes to your life. They are hard. Rather chip away on the small things and allow them to add up.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: The Four Burners

teapots-1858601_1920

I read and interesting article about work life balance, “The Downside of Work Life Balance” by James Clear.

The theory

The theory is that you can compare juggling your life with four burners. One for Family, one for health, one for friends and one for career (you might notice that I sorted and prioritized them differently from James).

The statement then is that in order to be successful you have to cut down one burner so you can focus on the others. In order to be really successful you have to cut down two burners.

James talks about various strategies you can apply to get there. I see a core of truth and value in most of them, but I think they are also each similarly dangerous for a balanced life.

Life has seasons

The strategy that comes closest to something that makes sense to me is the ‘seasonal strategy’ – you focus on different things in different life stages. That does make sense, you want to set priorities as you go through life. When you start a new career, focus on learning, when you have kids, focus on raising them well.

Where I disagree is the assumption that you should focus completely during those times. What good is a high paying job and a great career if you don’t live long enough to enjoy the fruits? How much is your wealth worth if your kids don’t talk to you anymore when you’re old and seeking company? How useful is that dream body if you don’t have friends?

Seek a balanced life but set focus points

My point here is that the key is a balanced life. Yes it is! Work life balance got a bad vibe in recent years with our gig economy and always-on mentality. You need to balance though! You need to invest in the long-term!

You can make the seasonal model work if you pick a few constraints:

  • Family – Never compromise on family. Ever. Really.
  • Health – Have a baseline for health. Don’t go below it. You might not need to train for Iron Man every year, but you do want to live to your retirement.
  • Career – Double down on career growth when the return is right. Change your career when it isn’t. However doubling down needs to come with a timeline. You cannot double down for 30 years. Treat it like a marathon with deliberate sprints in between.
  • Friends – The friends that truly matter. They will understand if you have times when you’re busy and need to focus on other things. Just explain it to them. They will wait for you.

Never compromise on family, never go under a baseline for health, adjust the rest with a clear focused plan.

Yes, it’s four burners. But if you turn any of them down too much for too long of a time, your meal will go bad before you can serve it.

Life is not a sprint. Life is a marathon with sprints in between.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Living is Learning

reading-1246520_1920

I was reading “Mastery” by Robert Green and one of the things that stuck out for me was how Robert stressed the importance of the ‘apprenticeship phase’ before creativity and mastery can be reached. It reminded me of key lessons I learned early (and unconsciously) through martial arts practice.

However reflecting a little more I would suggest the learning mindset should never change and what one should truly develop is a ‘lifelong apprentice mindset’.

Never stop learning new areas

Everyone talks about lifelong learning today. Most people think about deepening their subject area expertise when they do. I think there is a bigger opportunity hidden in expanding into completely new areas.

Robert Greene has some such examples in his book as well, as he discusses people who went through multiple different apprenticeships over the time of their life, finally merging those skills together to understand underlying principles better or to develop completely new areas.

The most compelling opportunity that learning new areas opens up is the fact that the spectrum of things you can do widens instead of shrinking. If your focus is on getting better and better at one single thing, you face a good chance of either that thing becoming obsolete in the future or someone else outcompeting you in that narrowly scoped area. If you learn to do many things well, then your horizon of opportunities keeps expanding through your life as you mix those abilities into new compelling portfolios.

I learned this in martial arts, studying diverse disciplines and with that enhancing my core style. Looking back it rubbed off on my approach to professional life as well, where over the years I pursued experiences in coding, marketing, business development, PR, product management and teaching.

Learn to love pain and frustration

Robert Greene mentions this as well: you must learn to embrace and seek learning experiences that are painful and frustrating. If you don’t focus on the things that are hardest for you (and thus most painful and frustrating), then you won’t learn the traits of your trade that you are deficient in and will never truly master the area.

It’s way too easy to focus on the easy wins and the things that you’re good at. I am guilty of that too. However only playing to your strengths will prevent you from expanding the scope of your abilities. While leading to quicker wins in the short time, it will limit your ability to master an area long term since you will never close those capability gaps.

Martial arts teaches through pain, sweat and tears. For good schools that’s figuratively rather than literally (maybe with the exception of the sweat part). However they make you constantly face your biggest challenges and learn to overcome them. I think the same is true for our professional development, only with the big difference that it’s usually up to you to push yourself beyond your limits. Business often offers you an easy way out until the day when it’s too late to change. You need to be pushing yourself.

  • Never stop learning – Never think you ‘know it’.
  • Disrupt yourself – When you feel like you’ve reached a comfortable level in mastering an area, then it’s time to disrupt yourself and move on to something entirely different.
  • Face the challenges – Focus on learning the skills that are hard for you. You will learn the things that align with your strengths anyway. As to learning time, your knowledge gaps are what needs the most attention.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Spiritual Balance – Week 48: Hike Your Own Hike!

hiker-1082297_1920

Up to now we have talked about many new habits and behaviors to live healthier, be more effective at our jobs and give more time to our spirituality. We gave you many suggestions and frameworks to balance your lives.

Try it; then adopt it and make it yours

Try them out and see what works for you. Then sit back and reflect. Use what works, change and adapt what doesn’t and discard what feels wrong. It needs to be about you. I know what works for me, I cannot know and prescribe what works for you.

There are two martial arts teachings that reflect this well. One is a old principle for teaching martial arts:

The teacher shows the door. The students needs to walk through it on their own.

The other is my favorite quote from the famous founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba:

“Learn and forget.”
Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido

Don’t blindly follow gurus and role models, or what I am writing in this book. All of those are inputs, suggestions, food for thought. Only you can find out what works for you. No one else can do that for you.

Learn new ways. Try them out until you understand them. Then forget the rules and let your intuition kick in. Be surprised and amazed by what will unfold.

What you ‘can’ versus what you ‘want’

Be careful to understand what you WANT to do. Often we just keep doing what we’re doing because we became reasonably good at it.

For example, I like to help others. I see where I can pitch in and make others great while also making a great living for myself. I am good at working in big IT companies, managing complex projects and products. But is it what I really want? That is a question that I need to check in with myself on a regular basis and get to a honest answer.

It’s too easy to just keep doing what you’re good at. To just follow the inertia of the path you started on when you were a different person all those years ago after High School.

I’m not saying you need to change your path. I’m saying though, that you need to be conscious and deliberate about it. Don’t just let it happen. When it’s time, find the courage to re-invent yourself.

Be careful to differentiate between what you can do, what is the natural next step to do (inertia) and what you really want.

Find your own way

Once you know what works for you and you know what path you want to follow, go there. Blaze your own trail, or as they say in the hiker community: “Hike your own hike.”

Be courageous. Don’t look at others for models or confirmations. Invent your path as you push forward. ‘Boldly go where no man has gone before.’ (You have to find where that reference comes from… 🙂

Hike your own hike!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.