Earlier this month, I had a dear friend send along a brief article that was sourced from Harvard business Review, dated January 4th, 2010. The author reflected on the executives that he had a chance to work with over the past year and organized that group into two categories, those that performed well and those that he wished had done better. In an expected move, characteristics for both groups were captured. I was very taken by the list for those executives “performing well” and I want to suggest an approach that will allow all of us to look for, and act on, ways to improve our performance in 2010.
1.) “They set clear, measurable goals for themselves and their organization. They talk about these goals often, and hold themselves to them.”
2.) “They seek feedback from others on those goals. I believe that most people are hesitant to ask for help and even find it abrasive or self-centered. Not these executives. They recognize the value of seeking out strong mentors and peers. They are not afraid to ask for help or guidance.”
3.) “They communicate thoughtfully. They understand the power of words to motivate, direct and bring clarity, or when used carelessly, to confuse, alienate and misdirect.”
4.) “The act thoughtfully. Sure they are opportunistic, but they are not impetuous. Risks are calculated.”
5.) “After they are thoughtful, they are decisive. In short, they can execute and rarely suffer analysis paralysis.”
6.) “They have integrity, and as a result, people follow them. They keep their word and care.”
7.) “They have ego-less confidence. This is what allows them to be bold and open to feedback at the same time. It’s critical.”
8.) “They are smart and they study to get smarter. They are students of business. Even the best continue to learn and never think they’ve learned it all.”
As an action item, take a moment to step out of your day-to-day activities and put yourself in the third person. Many years ago, I suggested to a hard-driving young executive “that a moment in the third person could change your life.” My thought is that we are all so busy trying to execute in the first person that it’s rare to step back and take a moment of reflection. With that admonition in mind, take a moment to reread the list above and reflect on your own performance against each of the characteristics. It would be probably helpful to print this entry, and using it as a worksheet, score yourself 1-5 on each of the eight. (1 for low, 3 for average, and 5 for high.) Seek input from a trusted friend, peer, mentor or manager (see #2 above) but if you are uncomfortable, score yourself privately.
Now, using the back, write your two highest rated characteristics and on one half of the paper then the two lowest rated on the other half.. For the highest-rated characteristics, write at least one action that you WILL do this year to amplify and take advantage of these strengths. For the lowest-rated characteristics, write at least one action that you WILL do this year to seek improvement in that area.
As a final step, sign and date the sheet and make two copies. Keep one for yourself (in your desk, in your briefcase, someplace convenient) and put the other in an envelope that you stamp and address to yourself. Look for a friend, (a peer, a boss, or a spouse, etc.) and ask them to send you that letter in three months. While there is no guarantee that these actions will FORCE you to take action, they will continue to remind you that there are a variety of things we all can take action on today to improve our performance now and in the future.