I want to give you four magic words that will transform your performance the next time you are asked to do something outside of your comfort zone. Yesterday I was driving to a funeral where I had been asked to share a few words. As I reflected on what I was going to say I remembered the first funeral I had ever spoken at. I was in my mid 20′s and at the time I was a young minister in training. I had been asked to conduct a funeral service for a young woman who had been tragically killed in a subway accident.

I remember agonizing for days about what to say, how to say it, and worried myself sick that I would mess it up. I will never forget the day that I arrived at the funeral home. There were people sobbing, and crying. It was a terribly sad occasion. I also remember how insecure and out of my element I felt. Everyone there was looking for me to take charge and I was looking for an exit. I thought about how draining this whole experience was and how I wished they had picked someone besides me to do this.

While I was cowering in a side room having my own pity party, it suddenly hit me. I was not the one having the tough week; these people who just lost their friend, their daughter, their sister; they were the ones having the tough time. My problem was miniscule compared to theirs. And with that simple thought came a mind shift that completely transformed how I performed. I realized that it’s not about me, it’s about them. I had become so self-focused and self conscious that I was not able to effectively do the job I was brought here to do. Once I had this on straight, it completely changed how I thought, how I felt and how I acted. In short, I forgot about me and got focused on them.

I see this same thing happen everywhere I go. I might ask someone to lead a meeting or get up in front of an audience to say a few words and their first reaction is much like me at the funeral home back when I was in my 20’s. People groan, drop their shoulders and say things like, “Can’t you find somebody else?” But what’s really going on is they have been hit with a wave of self-doubt and it’s become all about them; what they’re afraid to lose, what mistakes they’re scared of making, and how stupid they might look if the blow it. And when this is our focus, we never bring our best to the table. Self-focus steals our presence, our happiness, and causes us to play it safe. The result? We don’t get a chance to perform at our best and those around us don’t get a chance to be impacted by what we have to offer.

So the next time you are asked to do something outside of your comfort zone, and you are feeling afraid and wishing someone else could do it, simply repeat these four little words, “It’s not about me.” Doing so will lift your eyes off of yourself, allowing you to see the needs around you. It will also give you the courage to take action and make a difference in the lives of those around you.

I want to share with you a simple method I have discovered that has led to powerful changes in my life. Anytime you want to make a radical change, you have to create new habits. The problem is that new habits are hard to make because old habits are hard to break.

Over the years I have learned some powerful lessons about personal change. The first and most prominent is that when it comes to big life changes, I can usually only conquer one of them at a time. In addition, I have found it takes me about 100 days to lock in a new lifestyle. This means I’m good for around three life changes a year. While this may not sound like much, each of these life changes has a radical impact on the future quality and success of my life.

So here are the steps I take when it comes to making a radical lifestyle change:

1. Identify ONE thing I want to change and why.
It’s OK if this a general statement like “Get in shape,” or “Improve my relationships with my kids.” Step 3 will take care of the specifics. The hardest part is limiting yourself to only one thing.

2. Create a scorecard with 100 empty spaces.
I have attached below the page I use which I created. I call my 100-day periods “A Centurion Challenge.” after the ancient roman commanders who were responsible for units of 100 men.

3. Over the next 100 days I keep track of one action, and one action only.
The action must be the one key activity that I can measure that will lead me to my desired end goal. So if I am trying to improve my marriage my chosen activity might be to spend time daily connecting with my spouse. If I am trying to get on top of my finances my one activity might be to daily update my finances. If I am trying to get in shape my one activity might be to eat healthy.

Sounds almost too simple doesn’t it? But the secret is in the simplicity. By over complicating change you increase your likelihood of not making any at all.

4. I Track my progress without judgment or guilt.  This is essential.
I first discovered this when I was trying to create a new habit of writing in a journal everyday. I started off guns a blazing, recording my thoughts almost everyday, but by week three I was back to once or twice a week. I didn’t get down on myself or judge my effort as a failure. I just kept trying and tracking my progress. You can actually see what happened in the image below.

Notice that something almost magical happened around day 78. I started journaling consistently and have been ever since. I can’t point to any turning point moment. There was no speech I listened to that made me recommit. Its almost as if my brain finally relented and said, “Well I guess he really does want to do this so we better get on board.” I have been journaling now for about 18 months and it has been a tremendous gift to my life. It was a radical change that took a lot of tiny steps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have seen a similar patter with other life changes I have focused on. There is an initial short period of success followed by a couple of months of failing. But as long as I continue to measure without condemnation, it eventually catches hold. Of course I have other smaller goals I set each year that have to do with things I want to accomplish, such as adventures to go on or books to write, but when it comes to these tough lifestyle changes, I have found this method works incredibly well. So try your own Centurion Challenge and let me know how it goes.

The Centurion Worksheet

Below is the actual sheet I use. You will see rows of 14 weeks. At the end of each week is a box that I use to keep score. Highest possible score each week is 7.If you download the sheet please be sure to leave a comment below letting me know what you are thinking of using it to change. Good luck!

Download my Centurion Challenge Worksheet

 

 

 

Nine Minutes on Monday Workshop is coming to a city near you.
http://youtu.be/TLJ5deRH4YQ

 

 

Here is James Robbins speaking on leadership.

 

Mandela is a hero of mine.

Last week the world mourned over the loss of a great leader. It’s very rare that someone’s life touches so many. Nelson Mandela will always be an iconic symbol of grace, forgiveness and inspirational leadership. But for all of his accomplishments, there is one that stands above the rest, at least for me. It was his decision to forgive his enemies who had thrown him in jail.

President Clinton once asked Mandela how he was able to forgive the men who had imprisoned him. Mandela apparently told President Clinton that if he didn’t leave his hate at the jailhouse door, he would never be free.  He decided to let it go. To me this was his defining moment.

Can you imagine how his story would have been different had he not forgiven his enemies? He would not have been much different than any other revolutionary who took power, eliminated his enemies, while making more in the process, only to have the entire cycle repeated all over again.

In forgiving his captors, Mandela exemplified the highest level of leadership; he put the needs of others above himself. By not seeking justice, he was able to pursue a much larger goal of healing a nation with a pure motive. This inspired not only a country but also the entire world.

On a more personal note:

More than once in my life I have had people wrong me, and letting go of it is never easy. But several times I have turned my thoughts to Mandela and found inspiration in his example. “If he could forgive his enemies,” I reason,” Then surely I can forgive mine.”

This is why Mandela is a hero to me.

 

 

Holidays are coming and you know it is customary for you as a manager to send greeting cards to your staff. The problem is you hate the whole process. I am going to show you how to create a holiday greeting card like they have never laid eyes on before.

In our virtual world of email and text messaging, the hand written card has been placed on the endangered species list. The good news is that with rarity comes great value. I want to encourage you as a manager to redefine the holiday greeting card. I want you to create something that will actually move your staff emotionally. What we want to get away from are the usual cards everyone writes each year; the one’s where we sign our name and maybe write the words “Seasons Greetings” if they are not already included on the card.

It’s time to raise the standards. I’m talking about a human resources work of art. Imagine for a minute that this year, your employees will actually keep the card you write them. Imagine that they actually take it home and show their family, and that they even bring it back to work in January and keep it in their desk to read every time they are feeling discouraged. Imagine that they auction it off on eBay for a ton of money as “Best Card Ever Written…” Ok, now we are getting carried away.

We have become numb to the mechanical expectation of exchanging cards, and the good news for you and me is expectations are at an all time low. Employees do not expect their greeting cards from their managers to say much. So if you are willing to spend a little extra time, you can make a big impression on your employees this holiday season. Here are some ideas how.

Don’t assume Hallmark can say it better than you.

In fact go and buy the Cards that are blank on the inside. This forces you to write something yourself. Now what do you write?

Personalize it

In the card you want to write more than just ‘Happy Holidays,’ or ‘Thanks for all the great effort.’ Use the card to inspire, thank, recognize and uplift the employee.

Praise the past

Include a memory detailing one of their specific accomplishments during the year. “Bob, I’ll never forget how in March you organized that meeting when tensions were high and you set everyone at ease. That was pure magic. You set an example for us all.”

Comment on their growth

Let each employee know how much you have seen him or her grow this year. “Sara, I am so proud to see how much you have grown as an up-and-coming manager. I remember how at the start of the year you used to get a bit stressed about the paperwork and now you handle it with ease which has freed you up to use that Midas Touch you seem to have with the rest of the staff.”

Let them know they are integral to the team

People want to feel they are needed. Let them know specifically how the team relies on them. “Joe, I hope you realize how important you are to the team here. Not only are you the one that cheers everyone up, but your knowledge base is incredible and continues to grow. When anyone in the office needs to know something it’s always “Go ask Joe.” I don’t know what we would do without you.”

Point out where you have learned from them

This is huge because people want to feel respected by you as a boss. If they feel like you have learned something from them, it will communicate a huge amount of respect from you. Whether it is something big or as little as how someone handles customers on the phone, the key is to let them know they have value. “Kelly, you may not realize it but I have learned a lot from you this year. I see how patient you are when training the new hires, and it has made a huge impression on me.  Because of your example I have become a more patient manager, thank you.”

Acknowledge Tough Times

If an employee suffered from something during the year, maybe an illness, death of a family member, or trials with home life, you can also comment on how you admire them for persisting in tough circumstances and that your thoughts will be with them this holidays. The key here is to be sensitive and really care. This will mean a lot.

If you follow even a couple of these ideas, it will make your greeting cards stand out. Your staff will not bother comparing cards to see if you wrote the same thing in everyone’s card because they are all so individualized. Remember the key is it has to be genuine and from the heart. This is not just a way to manipulate your staff into staying with you longer.

I know what you might be thinking, how on earth will you have time to write a card like this to everyone of your employees? That’s why I am sending this to you in November. The secret is to start now. Do not wait until December, because December is the busiest month of all. Write one a day, or one a week depending on how many direct reports you have. In the end it is a small thing to do that goes a long way. All you need to do is start early and you will be amazed at how many employees warmly thank you for the card at the company Christmas party. You may even here “It’s the nicest card any boss has ever given me.”

One more thing. In light of this year’s economic tough times, it is things like these that make a huge difference. Many people are heading into one of the most stressed Christmases they have had in years. (Fiscal Cliff anyone?) Do not underestimate the nice touch this will add to your staff.

 

 

Want a perfect Christmas gift for a manager you know? Send them a copy of Nine Minutes on Monday. It really is a gift that will keep on giving. Order here.

 

 

Ever had a boss who wouldn’t stop what they were doing when you went to speak with them? How’d it make you feel? Like an interruption? Probably. The challenge in today’s hectic world, is that it can be all too easy to fall into the same bad habit. If I’m honest, I hate interruptions, especially when I have a ton of work to do or I’m in a creative groove. The temptation is to keep working even while a staff member is trying to talk to me. This split focus however, divides your attention and steals your presence, and presence is what makes an employee feel respected.

One of the biggest drivers of employee engagement is when people feel they are valued at work. People need to be more than a number. One of the best ways you can help your staff feel respected and valued is by giving them your full attention. Your staff know that you’re busy, so it means even more when you can stop what you’re doing and look them straight in the eye.

So this week, practice presence. Whenever one of your staff needs your attention, stop doing whatever you’re doing and give it to them.  If you are in the middle of something that is too important to interrupt, simply tell them you can’t give them your full attention right now and ask them to come back later. Being fully present will separate you from the rest of the pack, who are too busy multitasking to notice that they’re only half there.

There are plenty of apps I find useful but one of my favorite is Evernote. If you lead anything I would encourage you to check it out. Evernote is a filing system that allows you to organize information on your computer, or your mobile device. Think of it as a filing cabinet that holds your documents, ideas, photos, receipts, and notes that you can access from anywhere. In Evernote, you create separate notebooks for different topics and then fill these notebooks with individual notes or entries. The best part is that it’s free.

There are thousands of ways to use Evernote and leaders can benefit from many of them. Here are some of the ways I currently use this app as a leader. I hope you find them helpful.

Strategy Sessions
I have a large whiteboard in my office. I use it everyday. Whenever I am pouring out my thoughts during a brainstorming session I will take a photo and store it in Evernote. I have a notebook called White Board Sessions This way I can erase the board and not worry about losing any of the ideas. If I need to bring it up again, I can print out the photo or project it onto the whiteboard using an LCD projector.

Leadership Ideas
When I come across a creative idea on let’s say recognizing employees, I will copy and paste it into a notebook on Employee Recognition. At anytime I can pull up the notebook and scan through the collection of ideas. Leaders can create notebooks for topics such as: employee recognition, coaching tips, effective meeting ideas, fun at work ideas, principles of motivation, etc.

Employee Coaching
I recently started using Evernote in staff coaching. I have notebooks for each leader I mentor and before we meet for our weekly one-on-one, I review what we discussed in last week’s coaching time. This helps me walk into these meetings more prepared and clear on what items we need to discuss or what I need to hold them accountable on from last week.

Anecdotes
Whenever I find a great anecdote that I could potentially use in a speech or a meeting, I will copy and paste it into an Evernote notebook called Anecdotes. You can even tag each entry by topic to make finding them again even easier. You can also record voice memos in Evernote as well.

Client Meetings
I am still a paper and pen guy. When I am on the phone with a potential client I like to ask a lot of questions to assess their needs. After the phone call I usually have two pages of notes. I simply snap a photo and load into Evernote under my notebook Client Calls. This allows me to access these notes anytime I want. If a potential speaking client happens to call me and I am sitting in Starbucks, I simply bring up my notes on my phone.

Books I want to read
Whenever I see a title of a book I’d like to buy I simply snap a photo of the cover and then store it under my Books to Read notebook.

How do I get Evernote?
To get Evernote simply search your app store, or Google it and then follow the instructions for installation. Once it has been installed on your computer and/or phone, you want to set up separate Notebooks for your big topics. These notebooks will then contain all of your individual Notes (or files).

Get Evernote here.

For those of you who already use Evernote, please leave a comment below outlining some of the ways in which you use it to help you lead?

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