SLOW IS SMOOTH, SMOOTH IS FAST

I love efficiency.  It’s beautiful to watch. When you see a truly proficient element executing tasks it’s almost surgical in how precise they are.  The team becomes a well-oiled machine capable of feats far beyond each member’s individual capabilities.

Who isn’t impressed watching the efficiency of a pit stop crew in a NASCAR race?

When training or operating in Special Forces we always kept one fact in the forefront of our mind: Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

This forced us to focus on smooth, flawless execution for each task we performed.  It does not come easy.  I have hundreds (maybe thousands) of stories of events in which I or others completely ruined training evolutions when developing new skills.  A particular day in a “shoot-house” in North Carolina still comes to mind many years later…

INEXPERIENCED MAY ALSO MEAN INSECURE

“In America the young are always ready to give to those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience.” Oscar Wilde

Obviously, Special Forces training is hugely different from corporate training, but the intent remains true.  In the Special Operations world blowing past a door and not “clearing it” means potential danger for your teammates.   Mistakes may mean a teammate gets hurt or dies.

In the corporate world no one gets hurt, hopefully, but going too fast through a brief, sales call, presentation, or design may have very far-reaching implications nonetheless.

Experience matters.  In Special Forces we refer to it as “mastering the basics.” We know, however, that mastering the basics takes time and energy and is rarely pain-free.

And yet we embrace it in everything we do.  I don’t see the same mastery with most civilian organizations.

Hiring is often conducted solely to fill a vacancy and we tend to look for bodies rather than experience.  Promotions are the result of tenure with the company, not mastery of a skill-set or inherent ability.

This lack of experience from organizational members may seem small, but their inexperience and lack of mastery will cost you over time.

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” Aristotle

When teaching military personnel prior to them deploying I would remind myself of the environment for which we were training them.  Generic training only gets you generic results – we tried to tie the training to their future operational environment as much as possible.

The trainees would get tired of me reminding them there are two types of muscle memory when training: Negative and Positive.

Negative muscle memory consists of all the bad habits we have.  It is a byproduct of what is accomplished when you react – often choosing to react emotionally.  Negative muscle memories are ingrained reactions influenced by poor training and overconfidence.

Positive muscle memory, however, are the things that happen by default.  If I were to throw you a ball – your hands would instantly reach up and try to catch it – expected or not.  Positive muscle memory is trained thinking – see a problem and by default your training allows you to formulate a solution.

EFFICIENCY TAKES TIME

“There can be economy only where there is efficiency.” Benjamin Disraeli

There is a belief today that after graduating a course or gaining a certificate you become a subject matter expert on all things in that field.  This feeling of entitlement and pride can be disastrous for the organization and is the genesis of many errors.

Instead try to view that new certificate or graduation as your entrance ticket into the stadium.  It doesn’t make you the captain of the team and certainly not an expert in the field, future Hall of Famer or All-Star…

Think of it this way: would you prefer a recently graduated ivy league cardiac surgeon or the surgeon who has performed the procedure successfully 1,000 times previously?  Now choose which one you would want operating on your spouse or your child.

Special Forces operators understand that earning your Green Beret isn’t the end of your learning.  It’s just the beginning.

Select the right person for the job and remember credentials and certificates don’t make exceptional team members or leaders.

Experience and attitude are what matter.  If you don’t have it then find someone to help you.

Don’t rush the job; just do it right.  Then do it right again and again until it becomes second nature to you.  That’s when you’ve started to get it.

Remember to slow down and become truly masterful at the task.  Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.  Fast is good.

Success is an option

I love the show “Shark Tank” and I have a quote from Mark Cuban, one of the “sharks” and the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, taped above my desk: “FINAO – my word for my companies: Failure Is Not An Option.”

When thinking about his quote one day I decided to seek out differing opinions and found one from Seth Godin, an American author and entrepreneur.  Godin writes: “If failure is not an option, than neither is success.”

At that moment I realized a great many people simply don’t choose success.

SUCCESS ISN’T EASY

“It’s not how many times you get knocked down; it’s how many times you get back up.” George Armstrong Custer

Success is defined differently for each of us.  No matter, though, if it’s personal, financial, or corporate, success takes hard work and energy.

There will be hard times – times when you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Times when getting up after a knockdown seems like too much work.

Times when choosing the “hard right over the easy wrong” seems not worth the effort.

But it’s what you do during the hard times that define you as a person.

Success doesn’t only happen between the hours of 9-5.  It doesn’t only do the bare minimum required, nor does it embrace a “good enough” attitude.  Success doesn’t know the meaning of the word “mediocre.”

It definitely doesn’t believe “everyone is a winner” and it doesn’t care about your dreams.

Success loves quitters and it kicks the unworthy to the curb and doesn’t look back.

SUCCESS TAKES COURAGE

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”   Sir Winston Churchill

Self-doubt and fear of success can be crippling.  The fear of failure can overwhelm even the best of us.

Sometimes it’s hard to look at ourselves and believe we are worthy of the success we desire. We tell ourselves we can’t do something even before we try.

It’s easier to not believe in ourselves and not have to tell others our goals and dreams than to believe not only can we do it, but that we are supposed to do it.

It’s not easy.  Believing in yourself takes courage, dedication, and conviction.

YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE SUCCESS AND WORK FOR IT

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”  Michael Jordan

Success isn’t only the result of in-action; it’s also the result of the deliberate choices we make along the path of life.

We all know people who have the brains, the insights, and the ability – just not the drive.  We all know people who desire success, but are too comfortable or fearful to get up, chase it, and go work for it.

Too many people simply don’t choose to be successful because that choice is hard.  They’ve made their choice and it’s impossible to change their mind.

Don’t let them influence you, because trust me: they will try.

Choose success.  Understand it will be difficult and may often seem like it isn’t worth the effort – but stay the course.  Nothing good comes easy.

Define and set attainable action steps to get you there.   Learn from your mistakes and celebrate victories along the way.  Even the small ones.

And remember – don’t let the fearful of this world sway you.  Don’t give them the satisfaction of bringing you to their side – they don’t deserve it.

You can do far more than you think are able to do – just realize it won’t be easy, but good things never are.

Remember the adage: How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

Lead by example

Leaders lead.  That’s about as simplistic as I can make it.

The problem is, though, few people actually know how.  I’m not saying they aren’t proficient at their jobs, I’m simply pointing out they don’t know how to lead.

Leadership isn’t a numbers game.  Having more direct reports in no way means you are a better leader.

Nor is it a title.  Titles don’t make leaders, actions do.

 DO AS I SAY NOT AS I DO

“Nothing speaks like results. If you want to build the kind of credibility that connects with people, then deliver results before you deliver a message. Get out and do what you advice others to do. Communicate from experience.” John C. Maxwell

I’d wager the majority of us know the type of leader who follows the “Do as I say, not as I do.” policy.  The leader who consistently breaks the rules but severely punishes employees that commit minor infractions.

The doctor who’s obese yet tells you to watch your diet.

The politician who runs a conservative campaign as a family man yet gets caught days later sexting photos of himself to strangers.

The four star Army General who crushes subordinates for minor infractions while simultaneously having an extramarital affair and allowing his mistress access to high level classified information…

I could go on, but for the sake of brevity I’ll stop and let your mind wander for a bit.

The good news is these hypocrites rarely fool anyone with their antics. They eventually are found out and forced to answer for their hypocrisy.

NEVER MIND, I’LL JUST DO IT MYSELF

 “Nothing so conclusively proves a man’s ability to lead others, as what he does from day to day to lead himself.” Thomas J. Watson, Former Chairman of IBM

In addition to the “do as I say” leader, another classic problem is a lack of ability to delegate work to subordinates.

This is a problem close to my own heart.  I speak from experience and for years I worked my tail off embracing the mantra of “If you want it done right, do it yourself.”

Eventually, though, I woke up and looked around.

My direct reports were making very good salaries while I did a large portion of their work.  They were often able to go home early while I arrived home barely in time to put my children to bed.

This observation hit me hard, and I learned quickly to task people more effectively.  It wasn’t that I didn’t trust them.  Far from it.  It wasn’t that they weren’t fully capable.  They were.

It was me – I had to learn to let go, communicate effectively, and manage expectations across the board.

Changing wasn’t easy for me and it wasn’t immediate, but in the end it was very much worth it.

SET THE EXAMPLE

“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means,” Albert Einstein 

You are the person your employees look to for guidance. If you are habitually late, consistently break the rules, or berate others they will feel that behavior is the norm and emulate it whenever possible.

Gandhi said it best when he said: “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”

Your actions speak volumes – be the leader you are capable of being and set the tone for the entire organization.

No one said leadership is easy and one of the most difficult lessons is learning to do that which only you are capable of doing.

Delegating items to others and communicating to them the expected results is difficult to master.

Remember that practice makes perfect, and it takes lots time and lots of practice to become a better leader and communicator.

You aren’t infallible, and you will make mistakes.  Learn from them and grow.

Most importantly set the proper example – in all things.

Fear is a liar.

I was talking with some friends of mine today and they asked me about the quote “Fear is a liar” from my new book and what I meant by it.  It took me a second to make sure they weren’t setting me up for a trap or an argument as it’s always a touchy subject as people tend to dismiss whatever I say due to my Special Forces background.

But that’s nonsense.

Any special operator (no matter the branch) who tells you they were never scared is lying to you. Period. End of story.

But that’s just it.  There’s no magic trick we learn in training that makes us resistant to fear.  It’s the opposite.  We learn ways to deal with fear, compartmentalize it, and then move on and do what we have to do.  We learn to accept it.  But I’ll get back to that in a second.

Since this is a blog post, not a full psychological discussion, I won’t be talking about depression and the thousands of other specialty illnesses that hurt our future – today I’m talking about FEAR.

Let’s start with when we are unafraid.  When we’re unafraid and planning or going about our daily routines we never allow absolute thoughts to rule our world.  We know we can drive to the store without dying.  We know the plane won’t crash just because we are on it.  We know we can cut a steak without cutting our self.

But when we are afraid we tend to start thinking only in absolutes and worst case scenarios.  There is no “what if” there is no “maybe” – there is only a certainty that whatever it is we are fearful of WILL OCCUR.  Guaranteed.

You aren’t enjoying a new activity outdoors – you are going to die when the equipment fails and you get lost.

You don’t have a potential financial opportunity – you are going to quickly and violently go bankrupt.

You know that squeak in the living room at midnight is a sword wielding ninja waiting to attack you.

Your idea can’t be told to anyone at work – as soon as she hears it your boss will fire you.

You can’t trust your partner, your staff, your coworkers, your friends – you know they will fail you.

Despite the statistics you know the plane is going to crash in a large body of water (even though you aren’t flying over water).

These thoughts are all based in fear.  But here’s the thing – we don’t think like that all the time.  When we’re unafraid and planning we tend to think like this: “Oh, that’ll never happen.” “But – I’ve got this….”  Etc.

Think of it this way: if your Uncle Buck came to your house and treated you like fear does – would you allow it?  Would you allow him to sway you from doing the things you normally do?

“Scott – don’t light the barbecue – it’ll explode and you will die leaving your wife a widow and your kids fatherless.”

“Scott – don’t drive to the store, an 18 wheeler will plow into you and leave you paralyzed.”

“Scott – put that steak knife down, it’s sharp!”

Of course you wouldn’t think like that.  You know living in fear is ridiculous.   Deep down, we all know it.

That’s why I tell people fear is a liar.  Not only is it a liar – it’s a thief.  If you allow it to – fear will steal your future from you.  Life is meant to be lived.  Get out and start living yours without the lies of fear.

Stop being afraid of what COULD go wrong and instead learn to focus on what is going right. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.

You Can’t Fly

We live in amazing times. Never before have people had access to the amount of information available to us today.  We swim in it. The sheer immediacy of it surrounds us like a fog and you almost have to try to NOT let it envelope you.

And I love it.  I love the speed at which information, data, and news flow.

I see a tweet about a new book someone has recommended and in roughly 90 seconds I have looked up the book, checked out the reviews, ordered it, and downloaded it to my Kindle.

Missed your favorite TV show’s most recent episode? No problem, watch it on iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, etc and you can be catching up in about 5 minutes.

Think back to the time before iTunes or Amazon in which we had to go to a store and look for the book, CD, DVD, etc.

As a kid that often meant persuading my parents to take me when they had time.

I had to wait for it.  But having to wait is rare in today’s society.

THE CONVENIENCE

“The advent of the digital age and the immediacy and convenience of digital video and photography allows people to become an integral part of the feedback loop which actively shapes the content we are fed.” Damien Loeb

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing today’s access to information. It’s great.  We’re able to communicate with our spouses and our kids from half a world away with minimal investment of time, money, or setup.

There are little to no barriers to learning; web sites like iTunes University, Lynda.com and YouTube can teach you things you never imagined you would know without serious investment of time, money, or energy.

Didn’t go to college?  No problem, now you can go online.

I bring all this up for a reason. This immediacy of information has allowed us to grow at a level far faster than that of generations previous.  People are thriving and gaining momentum in their careers through access to the information available to them via the web and elsewhere.

Therein lies the problem.

THE PROBLEM

“The prevailing structures of personal reputation and career advancement mean the biggest rewards often follow the flashiest work, not the best.” Randy Schekman

Smart people don’t often have difficulty in being identified as such. With that recognition comes fast career advancement – which is typically a good thing.

The smartest, most competitive, and most aggressive grow fastest and in most corporations growth means taking on newer and greater responsibilities. More often than not this growth also means growing into a management role.

This may sound overly simplistic, but I will remind you this would entail being a “manager” or “leader” of people.  The problem is, these new managers have never learned to manage or to lead.  I’ve seen over and over again the after effects on entire departments (organizations even) with these new “untrained” leaders.

I think Dave Ramsey absolutely nailed it in EntreLeadership when he wrote: “You can’t fly.  I don’t care how many podcasts or CDs you listen to or how many goals you set or how positively you think… you can’t fly.”

Leaders expect their smart and disciplined workers will do what they have always done in their short careers: figure it out.

The problem is that leading and managing is something you don’t often have the luxury of attempting to figure out on the fly.  By the time the new manager figures out how to lead his staff of three, they promote them to leading a staff of six.  Or more.

By that time these newly minted managers start to believe the hype.

They start to embrace their willingness to learn on the fly and adapt. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with improvisation, I heartily embrace it, the problem lies with people who rely on it as a daily “get out of jail free card.”

THE SOLUTION

Look around you at the people in your office or at your school.  How many of them have grown into a position in which they are wholly unqualified?

Were they in the right place at the right time to get the position?  Are you surrounded by leaders that don’t know how to lead?

Did they not have to wait for it?  Education of your staff is key, but have you skipped a few steps along the way?

We Don’t Always Get What We Want

Life is hard.  I’ll be blunt – if you think it isn’t you’re fooling yourself.

The good news is that life is what you make of it.  You, alone, are able to directly influence the quality of your life.

Some people are more than happy, though, to sit back and stare at the lemons life gives them.

Others, like me, are only content to take lemons if they are, in fact, what we ordered.  If I didn’t order lemons from life, you can bet I am not going to take them when they come my way. I don’t care what happens to the lemons in the kitchen after sending them back – that’s a problem for another day.

NOTHING GOOD COMES EASY
“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!” Audrey Hepburn

I looked up synonyms for the word “obstacle” on Thesaurus.com.  Here are fifteen for you to peruse: bump, difficulty, handicap, hardship, hurdle, interference, obstruction, restriction, snag, stumbling block, encumbrance, hamper, hang-up, interruption and booby trap.

Those fifteen words are only half of the total options given – there are 30 synonyms for obstacles for a reason. Why? Because they are commonplace.

Knowing that – you must realize you are going to hit obstacles in life.

HOW MUCH DO YOU WANT IT?
“Imagine the unimaginable; humor your imagination.” Pete Blaber

The imaginable and the unimaginable are going to happen to you.  I promise.
When some people see an obstacle they stop and stare. I figure out ways to get around the obstacles and I’m able to do so because I am prepared for contingencies.  My problem is that once
I’ve decided on a course of action and I am going – I don’t like to stop.

Veterans have a saying that the plan “never survives contact with the enemy”. This means we understand plans are great – but no matter the amount of time I’ve devoted to the “plan” – I will alter it if and when necessary in order to successfully complete the mission.

We don’t fall in love with plans – just use them as the tool they are. And we always have a backup.

DON’T COMPLAIN, JUST WORK HARDER
“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” Randy Pausch

Dr. Randy Pausch was a tenured professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania.  In September of 2007 he was given a terminal diagnosis of 3-6 months to live due to pancreatic cancer. He succumbed to the disease 9 months later in July of 2008.

During that time, however, he gave a series of talks about the way to live your life.  To say they are inspirational is a massive understatement.

Randy Pausch knew how to live and he knew better than to throw in the towel, sit back, and commence to feeling sorry for himself.  He didn’t quit, he thrived.

Quitting isn’t an option.  If you are reading this I’m guessing that you are looking for ways to better yourself or your organization.

Life is more than just getting what you want.  So quit worrying and learn to embrace life for the challenges it throws at you.

Imagine your unimaginable. It’s going to happen.

When it does, are you ready or will you stick with your original plan?

Why?

Each morning at my previous job, as a Department of Defense Program Manager, we had a “sync” meeting at 8am.  This meeting was intended to allow our Operations Officer and the department to stay up to date with the activities of each sub-element and was scheduled to last half an hour.

It very often ran over its allotted time and if not traveling, I loathed attending it.

For varying reasons, the information I had to pass was irrelevant to 95% of people in the room.  Equally important, the information they passed to the Operations Officer was about 95% irrelevant to my staff and I.

On the glorious but rare occasion in which the meeting was cancelled, it gave me an immediate euphoria knowing I could reclaim that precious half hour.

All previous attempts to psych myself up for the meetings had failed.  I tried everything.  Sadly, neither using internal humor nor invoking a sense of professionalism, allowed me to look forward to it.

At this point I should let you know that this had gone on every weekday for over five years.

Historically, with different Operations Officers, these meetings had also been used for other agendas (in addition to “syncing” information).

Some examples of these incorporated agendas: mandatory 10 minutes’ discussions designed for junior professional development, lectures on Articles of the US Constitution, historical daily significant events, and brief training evolutions (nutritional advice, body language, French, and Computer Security being some of the better ones I recall).

I had made it known to those in my circle of trust that I thought the meetings were a complete and utter waste of time… until this next event happened.

THE MOMENT IT HIT ME

I still laugh and use the following as a training tool.  But allow me to take a moment and set the stage.

There was a rather entertaining employee within our shop who serves in the position of Information Management Officer.  I’ll refer to him as Richard.

Richard was in charge of the set up and maintenance for all departmental meetings and he relished his role.

Due to his extroverted personality and his passion, Richard could always be counted on to do one of two things: attempt to lighten the mood and/or offer an opinion.  Often he’d do both, which just added to the overall enjoyment of my daily wasted half hour.

One of Richard’s many responsibilities was the maintenance of the Microsoft Outlook/SharePoint calendars for the VIPs on our staff.  This ensured our department functioned seamlessly in the scheduling of the multitude of meetings, video teleconferences (VTCs), etc. the shop relied on to run efficiently.

This morning’s meeting was going EXACTLY like every other, except it had the extra bonus of being on a wet boring Monday and was the first meeting our boss was attending upon return from a multi-week trip out west.

Everyone had their chance to sync and it came upon Richard, sitting in the corner, to brief the week’s upcoming events.  Typically, when it was Richard’s turn, everyone in the room woke up in an effort to ensure he hadn’t signed them up for a meeting for which they are either unprepared or unwilling to attend.

I was glancing at the upcoming week on the projector screen when the guy beside me leaned over and asked “what’s the 2 hour ‘SGO’ meeting starting at 2pm?”  I shrugged and looked to Richard for an answer.

Before I could ask Richard announced to the room the Commander had killed the ‘SGO’ meeting as he didn’t need it that week.

Still attempting to place the acronym and not wanting to admit my ignorance of it, I was ecstatic when someone else asked him what it was.   Richard seemed to be expecting the question and with a straight face replied “‘Shit Going On’. I didn’t know what else to name the boss’s new weekly update brief and ‘SGO’ sounded official”.

As everyone in the room gave Richard the expected chuckle it hit me that this was a perfect example of something our shop was doing incredibly wrong.  Not only were we wasting everyone’s time, precious time, but we had instilled within our shop the misperception that meetings were both productive and integral to the smooth operations of our undermanned and overworked department.

I went home at the end of the day chewing on the fact I knew something was wrong with the mentality of our shop and intent on finding a solution.

THE EPIPHANY

I’m well known amongst my colleagues for the statement “I was having a cigar last night,” and following that statement with something I view as a near epiphany.

Jake Breeden says in his phenomenal book Tipping Sacred Cows; Kick the Bad Work Habits That Masquerade as Virtues “Meetings are ritualized collaboration, with more talking about the work than doing the work… To lead more accountable collaboration, you’ll need to seek out lazy collaboration by default and eliminate it. Then ruthlessly destroy the teams that exist without a clear purpose and the meetings that happen without an important point.”

Why were we all gathering at the door the conference room at 7:50 each morning waiting for the Operations Officer to arrive so we could all blindly “sync” with each other?  Why were we wasting everyone’s time with 30 minutes of updates that weren’t valid to anyone other than maybe the department head?

Why couldn’t each lead have a 5 minute “mini-meeting” with the Operations Officer to get him up to speed on progress they were making?  Why were we stuck on a system that many (if not all) knew was ineffectual and inefficient?  Why were we promoting lazy collaboration rather than attempting to eliminate it from all possible venues?

You may notice that each question above starts with the word “why”.  I believe “why” to be one of the most feared words for a manager or leader to encounter as typically they don’t have an immediate answer.

I used to tell my direct reports when I ask them anything starting with “why” they need not start their answer with the word “because”.  I know the words that almost always immediately follow “because” consist of something along the lines of “we have always done it that way.”

It will most definitely be some variation of an excuse.

TIP SACRED COWS

Paradigms can be broken, and if the consensus is that they need to be broken, a shift need occur as quickly as possible.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is from the book Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier-Hansson in which they offer up this opinion: “Meetings are toxic as they often include at least one moron who inevitably gets his turn to waste everyone’s time with nonsense.”

I couldn’t agree more.  I now understand why we were having these meetings: because we had always done it that way.

Today’s marketplace is too volatile to let inefficiency reign over you.

Realize what you or your organization are wasting time on and stamp it out with a quickness.

The 7 P’s

There are many sayings and acronyms from the military that translate well into civilian life, but one saying I love that most people are unfamiliar with is “The 7 P’s”.

Proper Planning and Practice Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

I’ll admit I do hear some variations of it from time to time with the most common being: Proper planning prevents poor performance.

That lacks two critical words though – if you don’t practice and rehearse odds are you will have piss poor performance.

Trust me – there is a cost associated with a lack of practice and that cost will show itself before too long.

PROPER PLANNING

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

Proper planning allows you to successfully envision the outcomes of your endeavors and prepare for all contingencies.

It allows you and your team to envision hurdles that will arise during the execution of the plan.

Proper planning takes time and requires input from multiple sources.  These inputs must be collectively gathered from all team members and stakeholders.  Not all input will be valid, and quite a bit won’t make it to the final plan, but that’s ok.  Expect it and move on.

A great guide for planning can be found in the Army’s Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) which is briefly outlined below.

1. Receipt of Mission: The task that drives the planning process is delivered.  This step should clearly articulate: what you are trying to do?

2. Mission Analysis: This drives the entire planning process; if you don’t know what your successful conclusion is – how are you going to reach it?  This step ends with a concise mission statement that will drive further planning.  It’s amazing the number of times I see plans with no clear idea of what exactly the plan is meant to accomplish.

3. Course of Action (COA) Development: Develop a minimum of three different Courses of Action to discover possible solutions to reach your desired end-state.  Each of these developed courses of action must support the successful conclusion reached previously, and each must be unique or distinct from the others.  Think of this step as collective brainstorming. Remember that all input is valid and seek input from all team members.  If you’ve selected and educated your team effectively to this point you should know to value their input.

4. Course of Action (COA) Analysis: During this step each identified Course of Action is assessed for strengths and weaknesses – again after taking into account input from all stakeholders and team members.  Think of this step as your troubleshooting phase.

5. Course of Action (COA) Comparison: Results from the assessment are compared, and overall strengths and weaknesses are determined.  At the conclusion of this phase the planning team should have reached a consensus on the preferred way ahead.

6. Course of Action (COA) Approval: Leadership and key stakeholders see the results from planning, and select the Course of Action determined to best accomplish organizational objectives.  Many new leaders make the mistake of not taking into account the full input of the planning team and mistakenly approving the least preferred Course of Action.

7. Orders Production: This is the point at which the actual plan starts to develop.  Action items and roles are determined and a schedule is created.

PRACTICE

“I play to win, whether in practice or a real game. And I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win.” Michael Jordan

In the Special Forces we have several sayings endorsing the absolute necessity of rehearsals and practice.

The saying my team adopted for regular use was “Train like you fight.”  Then we would rehearse.  And rehearse.  Then fine tune.  And then rehearse again…

If you treat every practice event like actual combat – combat becomes “routine.”

Neglecting practice is one of the biggest mistakes I see people make on a regular basis.  Everything we do requires practice and rehearsals.  Presentations, sales calls, developing meeting agendas, shareholder meetings, networking events, hiring interviews: everything.

Even after you have perfected the process you must still practice and rehearse to ensure complacency doesn’t set in.

A final yet beautiful benefit of practice is that it also allows you to see any flaws in earlier planning and adjust your plans accordingly.  Before it’s too late.  Proactively – not reactively.

PREVENTION

“Think ahead. Don’t let day to day operations drive out planning.” Donald Rumsfeld

There’s no excuse for lack of preparedness in today’s corporate world.  The corporate landscape is far too volatile for us to think we can survive on outdated planning processes and without practicing and honing our edge.

Once you realize“piss poor performance” can be eliminated through proper planning and practice you will never look at planning the same way again.

We all know failure is costly and it’s up to you to determine how much you are willing to pay.

The Answer Isn’t What You Think

What’s real wealth?  The newest luxury toys?  A new luxury car or the latest HDTV?  Having enough stable income that you can order all the new Apple products the very day they come out?

Some would argue yes – that’s the answer – I nailed it.  For the record, I don’t disagree.  I certainly enjoy those things.  But I think I have a better overall answer.

Real wealth is, as the legendary consultant Alan Weiss says, “discretionary time.”

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU WHEN YOU GO

Jason Fried puts it perfectly in his book Rework: “Workaholics aren’t heroes.  They don’t save the day; they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.

When you find yourself obsessively refreshing Twitter or Facebook from the office – you are very wrong.

If you find yourself bored at work in general – you are wrong.

If you find yourself bored and wandering around with the latest batch of gossip – you are wrong.  I don’t know how else to put it.

At work if you are effectively tasked and employed your tasks should fill each workday without impacting your overall quality of life.

WORK TO STANDARD – NOT TIME

Tasks and action items must have clearly defined parameters.  As a professional, you should be able to identify with certainty when these tasks are complete.

But, who among us doesn’t know the person that comes in early and stays late solely because they hate their life?

I know about 50 of them, as a matter of fact.  Sadly, I can also tell you that most of them are either highly overpaid or in positions of authority.

I often notice in many organizations some employees are tasked until “the bell rings” while others enjoy quite a bit of water cooler time.  As a leader it is your job, and no one else’s, to ensure the health and welfare of your subordinates.

Don’t punish performers for being performers.  It’s easy to do so inadvertently as they often shoulder more responsibility than others under you.

Remember, it is your job as a leader to distribute the tasks evenly across the spectrum of employees you have at your disposal.

WHAT DOES RIGHT LOOK LIKE?

Trust me when I tell you this, and I’m not trying to brag, I’m a busy man.  Having said that, as a leader I try to follow the advice I’d give my direct reports “If you don’t have anything to do, don’t do it here.”

Babysitting adults, especially when they are bored, has never been on my to do list.   People get paid a professional salary and, amazingly, I expect them to act like they deserve it.  People often forget to earn the money being paid them.

When you set your daily goals and set about slaying them be sure you understand the completion point.

When the work is done, go home.  When the job is done, the job is done.

Rarely do I see compensation packages that pay more for staying later for salaried employees.  Most organizations I’m familiar with make their employees explain overtime.  I’m guessing the explanation provided never includes the words “Well, I spent three hours on Facebook and YouTube so I stayed late and now you have to pay me.

We know what wrong looks like.  If you don’t, I will explain it this way: It’s the opposite of right.

If you know what the right answer is – by definition the opposite of right is wrong.

Don’t be wrong.  It may not feel like it, but it is under your control.