“I’ve got good news and bad news.” “Oh yeah?” “Yeah, which do you want first?”
Always start with the bad news and save the best for last. It will always be more difficult for people to get over the sour news (most people dwell on bad stuff longer than good stuff), so the best thing you can do is end with the good news and hope for a softer blow overall. By ending with the good news, you stand a chance to inspire solutions, optimism or even an antidote to the bad news.
What’s the point? How could you possibly believe in what you’re doing? How could you understand what you are doing? Or why you’re doing it? Or who you are doing it for? If you don’t use the product you’re building, how can you really understand the value it provides? The way it works and the way it doesn’t? How and where it fits in the marketplace? If you do not use the product you are building, how can you truly inspire your team to believe? Inspiration, relevance, and quality comes from the top. If you don’t do it, how can you expect anyone else to? How can you genuinely market to customers and ask them to? How can you build a successful business you’re not invested in?
The public cares little about how long Olympians train or how many practices football teams suffer before playing a game; the public cares about gold medals and victories. Big wins define success. Many successful companies grew by the hand of all-nighters and sweat, others by beer and four-day work weeks. What matters at the end of the day is attitude, strategy and inspiration. With a team on the same page and in good mental health, the engine can plow forward full steam ahead. Through calculated innovation and disruption, an organization can leapfrog the competition overnight. If everyone believes in what they are doing and work hard to make a difference, anything is possible. Long work days are symptomatic of success and passion – hardly ever the source. Man hours do not scale an organization – that’s industrial era nonsense. Asking your people to work longer days will not shovel fresh coal into the fire. The message should be: care more. If your team does not inherently care a lot, then find different ways to get them charged. Set the vision. Plaster a mission statement to the wall. Whatever it takes to remind everyone why they wake up everyday and come together.
It’s exciting to see the success and growth of an organization through the numbers: sales milestones, unique visitors, engagement statistics and more. It’s very practical and momentous to set metric goals that everyone can reach for and beat. But numbers cannot tell the whole story. And metrics can only inspire a team so far. It takes a portrait of the future painted zealously by leadership to truly inspire. Something greater to work towards. Something to believe in.
The best preachers don’t talk statistics or business. True vision cannot paint by numbers. There are no formulas or metrics for dreams. Speaking abstractly and passionately about a vision for the long-term future can open minds to the possibilities and help your team imagine their way out of the status quo.
Metrics and numbers keep an organization accountable to measurable improvements. Numbers have their place and should be respected. But they only serve to measure movements that already exist. Why not strive to make new movements and invent new metrics? A vision by numbers is not enough. The opportunities are boundless for your organization, but only if the vision you paint for your team allows them to be.
Before doing anything else, you should check to make sure your entire team agrees with and can own the mission at hand. It’s very important to make sure that you are on the same page with everyone before embarking on a collaboration. If people diverge in completely different directions, you stretch the project thin and go nowhere. You cannot easily push the cart in one direction if your partner is pulling it in the other. Discuss the mission and agree on the meaning behind the problem you are trying to solve first before setting out to find a solution. If everyone is pushing in the same direction, you may have enough momentum to get the cart out of the mud.
Do you even know? No one can genuinely create a sense of urgency without cause or reason. Everyone is competing against the clock (we’re mortals, after all), but why? For what reason? Is it a race? Against whom?
If you have a clear opponent to beat, that’s easy. Wave the enemy’s flag in spite and embrace competition as a positive energy in your organization or life. Move forward and fast, as if it were a fun game.
If you are a startup or non-profit without grasp of a market, what are you competing against? Most small organizations compete against sinking bank accounts. Young companies not yet cash-flow positive must sweat their burn rates and execute on their vision before running out of money. If the money drain is your greatest enemy, make a big deal about that, too. Don’t hide it from your people; share the bank statement with managers if you want them to understand that particular sense of urgency. They will understand.
You cannot motivate people from scratch. You can only give them the tools, information and environment to hopefully inspire them to motivate themselves. As a leader, you must know what you are competing against. And do not forget to share that information with your people who suffer the whip every day.
“Surround yourself with people who believe in your dreams.” I love the quote, but it predisposes that you already have dreams outlined. When your dreams are not yet refined, surround yourself with other dreamers. Live and breathe conversation and collaboration with people who embrace lofty ideas, live outside of themselves and strive to change the world. Through these relationships, you can shape an actionable vision and live out your purpose. That’s a huge deal.
Many Gen Y folks (myself included) challenge the value of higher education. One irrefutable benefit to attending a university, however, is the opportunity to meet and foster relationships with other dreamers. College, above all else, is a forum to explore and learn. In few other places can you share in the joy of discovery or higher thinking with others.
Even with your dreams defined, always keep good company with people equipped to make a difference. Dreamers roll with other dreamers.
You cannot call yourself a visionary if you need to see it to believe it. At that point, you’re just a spectator. Can you really see the possibilities? Do you really believe in it? It takes a lot of dedication and persistence to reach a point where you can qualify the vision. To get that far, the goal needs to be clear and indisputable to all parties invested. You need to understand the vision and believe wholeheartedly in it. You need to have faith that you are on the right path.
Keep your eyes open all the time. You never know what opportunities lie at the edge of your vision. Keep your mind free to all possibilities. Focus may be productive, but it has a very negative side effect: myopia. The real pros do not ruthlessly blockade distractions from their lives; they listen to all options, see everything, and train themselves to sort through variables faster than everyone else. If you want to rule the world, learn to dissect the world efficiently. Pay attention to everything and consider it all before filtering away. The email at the bottom of the list, the girl in the corner of the room, or that side panel advertisement may actually be the most important twists in your life. But you’ll never know unless your mind’s eye stays open.