Willpower: It’s Not Just About Getting to the Gym!

Willpower: It’s Not Just About Getting to the Gym!

By Tomwsulcer (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Tomwsulcer (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Recently I was able to attend a speech given by former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich. He made a statement at the beginning of his remarks about “limiting strategic goals to our resources and willpower.” This is not a new idea in the world of foreign policy, but I think it is worth exploring on a more everyday scale as we look at setting our own goals and objectives and leading our teams through achieving them.

I’m certainly not going to get into a discussion about foreign policy or politics here today! I’m mostly interested in discussing the idea of our “willpower” as leaders. I’m not advocating limiting our goals (and I don’t think Mr. Gingrich was either), but I do believe that there’s a certain amount of follow-through required to keep from being pulled away onto efforts that detract from our overall vision. Just like sticking to a diet or getting to the gym every day, it takes willpower to follow through on our vision and keep ourselves and our teams focused on achieving it. If we don’t have the willpower, we’ll fall short of achieving the goal.

No matter what our vision is, we need to ask ourselves, “Are my actions and decisions today aligned with my overall vision?” It can be extremely easy to gloss over this question when faced with all the problems that crop up. Some mental preparation can help us build that willpower before we need to make those daily decisions. A few specific questions that you can ask yourself to align your willpower with your goals:

1) Do you have a strategy to achieve your overall vision? It is a rare and gifted leader who can bring all his people and resources together to achieve a large goal without thinking about what smaller steps need to be achieved to get there.

2) Are all of your short-term objectives in line with achieving the larger goal? If they’re not, consider if they should still be objectives. If external forces are setting these objectives, consider how much priority they deserve if they don’t help your overall vision.

3) Are those short-term goals aligned in a united effort or are they working at cross-purposes? This is more common than you might think. A goal that sounds like a good idea today can actually take resources away from other initiatives and hinder your effort to achieve the big picture. Periodic re-evaluation of the impact short-term goals have on the overall vision is a must.

Finally, it’s important that you don’t set your sights too low as you create your vision. All too often, we limit our goals to what is “realistic” as opposed to what we really would like to accomplish. My message for you today is not to limit your vision, but to focus your willpower on following through to achieve that vision and reap the rewards that come with it!

If Patton Had an iPad

It’s pretty clear that the world is rapidly changing around us. Technology has enabled us all to work with mobility and connectivity that was unimaginable just a few years ago. Raise your hand if you’re reading this on your phone or tablet!

Unfortunately many managers and leaders have responded to this unprecedented freedom by implementing stricter controls and supervision over their team members. Instead of allowing individuals to maximize their time, effort and creativity to benefit the team; some leaders bind remote or traveling team members to the “office schedule”, demand more and more frequent status updates and review and correct products over and over again with little impact on the actual success of the project. This restrictive environment not only hinders the team member’s ability to get the job done, but prevents the leader from focusing on the overall vision of the organization. It also keeps the leader from thinking about ways to grow and expand into new areas.

But this post isn’t about what other people are doing wrong. It’s about what we as leaders can do RIGHT! As a leader you want to be focused on achieving results that further the vision and goals of your organization. This is true at every level, not just at the very top. Even if you don’t sit in the corner office, it’s still a good idea to be thinking about how what you and your team do achieves the vision of the organization.

Most leaders have heard the advice offered by George S. Patton decades ago: “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” As a general officer, Patton had such huge responsibilities and span of control that there was no way he could interact in real-time with every subordinate unit at every level under his command. He achieved victory by telling his immediate subordinates what he wanted done and expecting them to achieve it. And they did. People have differing opinions about if Patton was a great leader or not, but I think his advice here provides a great model to take advantage of the freedom and mobility today’s technology offers.

Three things leaders can start doing today to use Patton’s advice to their advantage:

1) Clearly define the goals and objectives that you want your team to achieve. Having a clear definition of what success looks like will help you stay focused on achieving that end-state and avoid getting wrapped up in minutiae.

2) Clearly communicate the end-states of those goals to your team. Once they understand what you want as a final product, they’ll get the work done to get there, no matter where they are working from or what schedule they are on. (Team members who aren’t pulling their own weight or meeting deadlines is a topic for another day)

3) Mentor your team through the effort. Provide guidance, support and the tools they need to achieve the end-state. Don’t dictate how they should get it done, but if they are struggling, provide alternate perspectives and possible solutions to their challenges. Be available, but not over their shoulder.

These three ideas may sound obvious and not be new to any of you reading this. That’s the point. By remembering a few traditional leadership tenets, your team can be achieving results for you from home, the coffee shop around the corner or on the other side of the world.

Do you have any success stories where you took advantage of the freedom and mobility provided by new technology? Has Patton’s advice worked for you as a leader in the 21st Century?