Sunday, April 05, 2009

No excuses!

One of my personal heroes is a former boss who was a no-excuses kind of guy. He would ask for the most complicated meetings, with the most pie-in-the-sky schedule, and it was challenging. I couldn't always get everyone in the same room at the same time. I did my best given the information and resources I had, but I almost always saw room for improvement:

I could have started earlier.
I could have continued longer.
I could have called people at home.
I could have e-mailed people at home.
I could have tried contacting them through other channels.
I could have been more persistent, insistent, or annoying.
I could have delegated to others who had more influence.

What stopped me from doing those things? My own thoughts or beliefs. Typically, they fell into one of three categories:
1. What I've done is good enough. (I've got commitments from the key people, I've met the most important requirements, etc..)

2. It's not worth it. (Investing more effort would likely have diminishing returns; time or quality on another project would suffer.)

3. There will be another opportunity to achieve the outcome. (We can have another meeting for people who couldn't make the first one, or we can have one-on-one meetings or phone calls.)
Sometimes these beliefs were true. What I'd done was good enough. Investing more time or energy wasn't a good choice. Another opportunity did lie ahead. Sometimes they weren't true; they were excuses.

The significant point for me isn't whether the beliefs are true or not - that's secondary to the point that beliefs guide (or motivate) my actions. What I believe is always going to be more important than what's true.

I need to choose my beliefs carefully and be excruciatingly honest with myself.

Perfection isn't possible. No matter what I do, there's going to be room for improvement. The key questions for me are, "What do I want to achieve?" and "What beliefs will move me forward toward that?" and "Am I being honest with myself in those beliefs?"

Being clear about my goals helps me recognize the difference between an excuse and a change in priorities. A change in priorities keeps me moving forward. An excuse derails me. For instance, if my boss said, "Get these 15 people together for a meeting in two weeks," that's the assumed goal. If I couldn't do it because some people's schedules were already booked, I could say, "I can't do this." That's an excuse. But if I ask, "Which is more important: 100% attendance or the two-week time frame?" that's a change in priorities that keeps me moving forward. After all, the meeting itself isn't what's important; the meeting is just a strategy in service to some larger goal. Knowing the end goal means I can change my approach and keep on going.

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