Clarity is achieved when we know where we are and where we want to go. Establish your core values.
Focus is the ability to keep the main things the main things!
Execution is our effective ability to get to our desired destination. Execution is about getting the right things done…on purpose! Execution powerfully transitions clarity and focus into action so that the expected results become reality.
No matter who you are, you are the byproduct of who you associate with, the books you read, and what you choose to listen to. This last sentence has actually been said many different ways – for example, the late Jim Rohn said that “we’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” Might I suggest that at least three of your future best friends should be; Clarity, Focus, & Execution!
There are as many models for success as there are personal opinions – but any of these models without these three best friends are inadequate, lacking, and incomplete, for sure and for certain! Without Clarity, Focus, and Execution, lasting, enduring, life-long success (no matter the definition you prefer) will not happen. There may be fleeting moments of temporary success, and hopefully these will light the fire of your desire to make the changes necessary to live the type of life that will lead to enduring success.
As a disciple of Stephen R. Covey, and a Certified Trainer of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I see the application of the 7 Habits in every successful model. It certainly plays a major role in the implementation of these three best friends of success. The reason the 7 Habits are so universally relevant is the principles upon which they are based are foundational, or as Covey says, they’re lighthouse principles that never change. They’ve been around forever, and will always be important when any discussion deals with permanence or longevity – consider them bedrock upon which to build a better you.
Let’s take a deeper look into these three friends of success to learn more of the relevance they play in your success dynasty. Note that an entire book could be written about each of these friends of success (and in fact many have) so this will be a nutshell examination, a brief introductory look at what I think is most important with each of these friends.
Being crystal clear in your objectives provides you with both freedom and energy. You don’t have to be hampered with wondering whether to go this way or that way, so you’re free to move and progress in a confident and energetic way. There are obvious parallels between this ‘best friend’ of success Clarity, and Covey’s Habits 2 & 3! Habit 2 is “Begin With the End in Mind” and 3 is “Put First Things First”. These two habits define a life of clarity and predetermined purpose.
There is no way anyone can accomplish his or her lifelong potential of objectives if they are unclear of what those very objectives are, their level of significance, and how they relate to one another in priority of importance. Beginning with the end in mind is where we create the blueprint of our very life. By beginning with the end in mind we start with what we what to achieve when we would have arrived at our utopic destination, then work backwards to our present time with the blueprint, creating the steps of what needs to be done in order for our desired accomplishments to be a reality. Remember, this is an ongoing process, and there are bound to be obstacles, or better said, ‘interruptions’, that will get in the way.
Often times, these interruptions will attempt to thwart our course, but like J.C. Penny, who started a dynasty company in a tiny Wyoming town, said, “long-range goals keep you from being frustrated by short-term failures.” And J. Willard Marriott, from Marriott and Ritz Carlton fame said, “It’s the little things that make the big things possible.” Once we actually take the time to incorporate Habit 2, "Begin With the End in Mind", we have the lifetime viewpoint that helps us develop clarity which will keep us from short term frustrations.
This blueprint is certainly not unlike the physical blueprint that would be used by a master builder, created long before the construction of a most magnificent mansion, or any other construction project – including the 10’ x 10’ deck in your backyard. Every detail is thought of in advance, right down to the location of electrical outlets and switch plates. The creation of this master blueprint is not an easy or a quick endeavor. Plan to dedicate many hours to this process, for it cannot be finalized in an evening or a weekend.
To be complete, the end result of the Habit 2 portion of Clarity will be defining your purpose, or the ‘why’ of the things you want to accomplish. Close to the why are the values that will direct your decisions as you identify strategic objectives. We’re talking about your core values, and often these are not necessarily easy to identify – but they will be a tremendous help once you’re introduced to frustrations, interruptions, and obstacles.
Now that the Habit 2 portion is well underway it is time to concentrate on the Habit 3 portion – Putting First Things First. Once the blueprint is prepared, it serves as a map to hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly activities. Now the task at hand is to make the main things, the main things. It is much easier to put first things first at this point. Your clarity is actually the byproduct of the implementation of Habits 2 & 3. This is the perfect lead into FOCUS, the second ‘best friend’ of success.
Focus is the ability to stay on task and keep the main thing the main thing! The strategy to create the proper focus is:
1. Mandating the correct action items…
2. Creating the detail to support the actions…
3. Creating benchmarks that can measure results…
Being focused reminds me of a story I heard years ago about an extremely busy farmer who got so distracted that he never really accomplished anything. You see, he was in the field working on a fence after dinner, when he noticed that he needed a particular tool, thinking it was in the truck he walked back to the truck but couldn’t quickly find it, so he took a few moments to organize the truck to make sure the tool wasn’t there.
Once done with that task he drove back to the barn to get the tool from the tool room. Unfortunately, as he opened the barn door he realized that it was sagging, so he left the barn door open and proceeded to the tool room, which by the way was as cluttered as his truck, but he found a hinge and screws to fix the barn door and proceeded to take care of that issue. Once done he returned to the tool room and was unable to find the tool he needed for the fence project – being sure that the tool was there, he organized the tool room for the next hour and still couldn’t find the fence tool. Frustrated – it was now time to feed the animals, so off he went on that task. Once completed he returned to the barn, by now it’s getting dark so he attempted to turn on the lights, only to discover that the bulbs were out in the corner of the barn where he was now sure he’d left the tool to fix the fence! On the way to the garage to get the bulbs for the barn, he realized that his wife’s car had a flat tire, so he changed the tire (luckily the spare was holding air) – so he put the flat tire in the trunk of the car and proceeded to get the bulbs for the barn. His supply of bulbs was low so he created a shopping list for the next morning so he could buy the needed bulbs at the implement store, while the tire was being repaired, realizing it was too late to go now as the stores were closed. His distracted evening was infuriating because the fence was still broken and nothing could be done about it now until tomorrow. He’d planned to move the cattle into that area of the field, but now that had been delayed also...
The lessons we can learn from Albert Einstein are almost limitless, but one thought in particular seems so applicable to being focused. You see, persevering on a particular task until it's complete or delegated is a simple concept, but it isn’t an easy one with all the distractions – and in an office environment it’s even worse than on the farm because of co-workers who are constantly interrupting.
Albert Einstein said, “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” While the concept of multi-tasking isn’t new, it isn’t necessarily the best process, because the concept of multi-tasking creates interruptions by its very nature. Now we all have multiple things that must be done each and every day – so is there a simple system that actually does work and helps us accomplish more than the distracted farmer? Yes.
In the early days of Andrew Carnegie’s Bethlehem Steel, while Charles Schwab was serving as president, Schwab was anxious to increase the efficiency and productivity of the employees. Ivy Lee, a well-known efficiency expert of the time, approached Mr. Schwab with a request for an appointment. In a brief 25 minutes, Ivy Lee asked Mr. Schwab to make a list of the most important five things that needed to be done the next day. After that task was done, he was asked to order them in the importance that they needed to be accomplished. Mr. Schwab was told to immediately begin on the #1 item first thing in the morning, and stay focused on that task until it was accomplished, delegated, or progressed as far as it could be without input from others.
Then proceed to item #2, then #3 until all the items were accomplished. Do the same thing each and every day, and have everyone at Bethlehem Steel do the same thing.
Ivy Lee told Schwab to try the concept and then send him a check for what he thought it was worth. About 90 days later he received a check for $25,000! This idea has been credited with helping Bethlehem Steel become the successful company it was! At the time of this story the average wage for a worker as $2 a day, so Charles Schwab was so impressed with this simple (but not easy) concept that he paid Lee $1000 a minute for the time it took to introduce the idea! And yes, the idea works today! Follow it and see – and stay focused so you avoid distraction.
Dr. Covey taught a simple concept; that we should focus on making the main things the main things! It’s not necessarily easy, at least at the start, but as we accomplish more and more we can then say ‘NO’ to interruptions that damage our focus.
It’s been said that a ‘B’ plan, or even a ‘C’ plan that is properly executed is better than an ‘A’ plan that isn’t!
Execution is about getting the right things done…on purpose! Execution powerfully transitions clarity and focus into action so that the expected results become reality. The lack of proper execution is the downfall of almost every failed company! Most companies have good ideas, even great ideas – but they do not execute to fruition.
Execution is the implementation of Habit 1 of the 7 Habits, Proactivity. Be proactive – but be proactive with the right things. Otherwise you’re the farmer in the above story, wheels constantly spinning – but the fence isn’t getting fixed!
It’s a fact that it’s impossible to implement each and every good or great idea that we have, or that our co-workers might have. We must execute the right things, the most important things, or our accomplishments will be nothing but average (bottom of the top, top of the bottom – cream of the crap!).
In the whitewater world we live in, most companies, families, groups, and organizations are bombarded with initiative overload! The byproduct is frustration - IF these entities attempt to implement every good idea. That certainly doesn’t mean that you want to remove your suggestion box, or discredit ideas that could help make the entity better. The more the merrier, and input from employees should be appreciated and solicited, but the mentality should be known from the bottom of the organization to the top that only the cream of the crop will become an implemented initiative.
As Stephen R. Covey said, “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, unapologetically – to say 'no' to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.”
Good luck with your new best friends – and be patient with yourself, it takes a long time to develop good new habits.