The people I consider successful all have at least one thing in common…they expect to win. They see themselves as winners and whatever they put their minds to they accomplish. Their ‘win’ does not always happen in the way they initially intend, but in the end they succeed.
“Removing what does not matter is the first step in figuring out what does.” This statement sums up one of the key indicators to sustainable and effective leadership as taught in the book The Leader’s Climb: A Business Tale of Rising to the New Leadership Challenge by Bob Parsanko and Paul Heagen.
The Leader’s Climb tells the story of how to lead more effectively and how to make a long-term, lasting contribution. Adam, the main character in the story, had been CEO of his company for about three years. He finds himself stuck in several areas of his life. The story of Adam is told as a “business fable” in a way that makes the principles taught come to life. The story weaves the pressure he feels from the board together with a difficult project he’s doing on his home and his love for rock climbing to tell a real-life story that’s easy to internalize.
Often leaders get to a point where they realize something is “off” between their sense of what they thought executive leadership would be and what it is turning out to be. This struggle—this path to decline—has a pattern:
Going to fast: Relying too heavily on what we know rather than slowing down and becoming genuinely curious about what we don’t know.
Fighting too much: Spending too much time and energy denying current realities.
Forcing too many decisions: Wasting energy and goodwill on winning at all costs, forcing other people’s hands or clawing for the edge.
The authors give three steps that reverse the decline and mark a new path toward a more sustainable and effective model of leadership and growth in today’s world:
1. More Awareness: Awareness is more than just knowing you have blind spots; it’s having the patience and discipline to slow down and open yourself up to what you do not know or have not yet experienced. Slow down, step back, and take a fresh look at your situation from a range of perspectives.
2. More Acceptance: It is human nature to overlook obstacles that stand in our path or to fight like mad to overwhelm them. Acceptance is the mature and reasoned embrace of our current realities. The forces we fight may actually help us to achieve some greater accomplishment.
3. More Abundance: By creating an abundance of choices, we open ourselves up to better decisions. It takes a different kind of leader to keep many paths open prior to reaching that ultimate point of decision.
The Leader’s Climb provides key principles for leaders, and the story is enjoyable and informative.
The Product Management Perspective: The point of creating abundance is important for product managers. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you have all the answers. To the extent you are willing to consider all options from the different stake holders, the better your products will turn out.
What does the statement “do hard things” mean to you? In its most simple form the statement can be broken down as follows: the word ‘do’ connotes action or “bring to pass;” the word ‘hard’ (in this case) means challenging or perhaps difficult; and ‘things’ can be any action, task, job or responsibility of your choice. However, there’s much more to this statement than its simple form. Doing hard things means intentionally taking action toward something that you know will not be easy, and yet the end result will far exceed the effort you will exert the pain you will suffer.
Knowing the road will not be easy, why should you do hard things? One reason stands out in my mind: doing hard things instills in you a sense of accomplishment and the knowledge that you can do what you say you will do. You build self-worth from which the desire for continuous improvement springs.
My most recent “do hard things” project was to run a marathon in 3:30 (three hours thirty minutes). I set the goal more than a year ago and determined to carry it out after being accepted to the St. George Marathon last spring. My previous best at St. George was 4:03 and my overall marathon PR (personal record) was 3:43. So, I knew my goal would be challenging. I trained hard running an average of 35 miles per week for 18 weeks. I improved my diet and nutrition, learned what I could do to improve my endurance, and studied the race course to set a strategy for averaging a pace of eight minutes per mile. The marathon runner Juma Ikanga said after winning the New York Marathon: “The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare.” I knew I had to prepare well if I were going to ‘win’ my race (i.e. reach my goal).
Fortunately everything came together as planned. The day was picture perfect and the race went as planned. I finished in 3:30:31. The training was hard. The race was hard. The last five miles were especially grueling. However, the feelings I experienced during the entire process, and especially after the race, were incredible. It was a great sense of accomplishment.
With that said, one additional — extremely important — aspect of doing hard things is this: make sure you have support from people who care about your success. Without my support team there is no way I could have reached my goal. I would not have succeeded without help from the following:
- God, for giving me everything I have.
- My dear wife Debbie, who despite thinking I was crazy for running a marathon, gave her complete support and encouragement to me throughout the entire process.
- My children for not hugging me after I would come home from a training run, but who always hugged me after I showered.
- My sister Jen for running several long training runs with me, and pushing me during the race.
- Other friends and family for continually asking me how the training was going and giving me encouragement along the way.
- Golden at the Runner’s Corner for convincing me to try a new, much lighter pair of shoes. He promised I’d gain at least five minutes during the run. I think it was at least ten.
- Duane Newman for helping me understand the course and map out a pacing strategy for the race.
- Many others who have encouraged me along the way.
Running the St. George marathon was an awesome experience and confirmed what I already knew: I can do hard things.
I recommend always having a “do hard things” project on which you are working. Doing so will provide continuous learning and motivation. Don’t shy away; do hard things.
Most people have more work to do than they have time to finish. In many cases there’s an endless array of work (or busywork) that gets in the way and takes up time that could be used more productively. Quite often the more trivial things get in the way of the more important things, which drains energy and decreases productivity.
I found a simple, yet powerful statement on Mark Sanborn’s post Ten Things to Improve Your Life Today: “schedule accomplishments, not activity.” How often as leaders do we schedule the activity that needs to happen, but leave out what we need to accomplish? I’ve seen this tendency among product managers (including myself) to write down what will happen, not the results. A few examples might include:
- Write the new PRD for (product name)
- Visit three customers in August
- Discuss market trends with management team.
While it’s better to schedule something than nothing at all (that surely leads to failure), would it not be more effective to schedule time to accomplish the desired result than simply to schedule time do the activity that leads to the result? If you schedule accomplishments, the needed activities are automatically implied. You will focus your efforts on the final results, rather than spend time “working” on things that may or may not lead to that end. Here’s and example of how you might change the statements above to focus on accomplishments:
- Review PRD with team and obtain their approval
- Get enough customer feedback in August to determine best solution for (product problem)
- Obtain approval from management team for new product proposal.
Accomplishing work of any significance will always require doing activities. However, scheduling the results will lead much more directly to the desired outcome.