I once thought that inspirational things inspired people, but I've realized that people are inspired by inspiration itself. Inspiration can be born of many things - a great idea, strong leadership (especially in difficult times), the opportunity to contribute or make a difference, or simply realizing that by taking action you can make things better in some way. As a soldier for many years, I had occasion to encounter circumstances that could quickly demoralize people and whole organizations. It was during those times that I discovered a key that worked time and again to keep people engaged, effective and enthused. The key is the power of perpetual optimism.
As a vision coach, I work with successful entrepreneurs and business leaders to help them turn their very good, accomplished lives into truly wonderful, fulfilling lives. One of the most frequent complaints I hear from the individuals and groups I work with is that they can’t seem to strike a comfortable work-life balance. An entrepreneur myself, I rode the teeter-totter of work-life balance for years. Then, after intensive study, I realized that this concept of “balance” we’ve been seeking may not really be the Holy Grail, after all.
Gandhi said that, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony,” and he was right. At iMatter, my vision coaching company, we teach that true fulfillment stems from having all things in alignment. We seek harmony rather than balance.
My wife and I are approaching our 40th anniversary, so lately I’ve been reflecting on all the years we spent together. In our first 30 years, we were an active duty Army family. That means we traveled a lot and spent a lot of time apart – a hard way to start a marriage, much less keep it going strong for three decades! If it weren’t for discipline and communication (not to mention, the amazing patience and commitment of my wife), we wouldn’t have such a wonderful milestone to look forward to this year.
I remember experiencing a great revelation one night while dancing with my wife to the Lou Rawls song “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Before the song was through, she told me she enjoyed being the wind beneath my wings as I advanced my career as an Army officer. Those words meant a lot to me – but, at the same time, it occurred to me that our relationship was focusing on my goals and aspirations at the expense of hers.
Life comes at us fast these days. So much activity, so much data to be absorbed, so many decisions to be made, and very little time to act. In these circumstances, it is vitally important to understand what really matters, to stay focused on those key areas, and to not become distracted by the “noise.” However, the challenge for many of us is in figuring out what to focus on, and then staying focused.
Staying focused can be particularly difficult in our present business climate, when people and organizations are pushed to show immediate results. The rub often occurs when the plans and strategies can’t keep pace with the demands of modern life and business. This, in turn, leads to frustration. It’s not uncommon for people to lose sight of their original purpose as they react to immediate demands.
I’ve seen it time and time again in my ten years as a strategy development and implementation consultant: “Excessive Management Syndrome.” Let’s call it “EMS.” The higher up in the chain of command, the harder it strikes, and entrepreneurs are particularly susceptible.
What is it? It’s a leader’s overwhelming inclination to take everything upon his or her own shoulders – solving all the problems, making all the major decisions and playing the hero. Symptoms can include severe cases of “nothing getting done,” or worse, “complete failure.” There are just too many actions that must be devised and implemented for one person to be able to singlehandedly address the needs of an entire organization.
The U.S. Army underwent a significant transformation during my 30-year career as an officer. Although many different programs and technologies enabled this transformation, one of the most significant was the After Action Review (AAR) process. The AAR was practiced across the Army, and it led to significant and lasting performance improvement at all levels.
My appreciation for the AAR has transferred over into my career as a business consultant. Its simplicity and effectiveness make it as useful in the boardroom as it was on the battlefield.