Every once in a while, I have a truly outstanding week. These are weeks where my clients and I take on big challenges and tough issues, trying to figure out what courses of actions should be taken. Last week, I was with several clients, one in luxury real estate, two in high technology. Each is a top performer, not just within their own industries or regions, but they are viewed as top performers by those in other sectors.
As an example, I was running a planning workshop with one. Sitting as observers in the workshop were the senior sales executives of another company. They had asked if they could sit and watch, they were trying to understand what this client did, how they worked, and perhaps, what made them different.
I’m not sure these visitors discovered that “magic,” but it was clear to me–perhaps because I’ve spent some time with these people.
What was clear to me about each of these clients was an insatiable drive to be the very best they could be.
It wasn’t driven by competitive threat–each had outdistanced their competitors and continued to be innovators in their domains.
It wasn’t because of disruptions within their own markets and customers, not surprisingly, they tended to do the disrupting.
As I reflected on the series of meetings on the long plane flight, it seemed each team was driven by an insatiable desire to be the best they could possibly be.
They were obsessed with learning, with thinking about new ideas and approaches, with thinking, not only about how they could improve, but how they could help their customers improve (which was why that one group had been invited as observers.).
The discussions were focused, at some times very tough. The senior executive of that “observer group,” commented, “It seems to be a very safe environment. You are being very tough on yourselves and with each other, but you seem to be learning and growing from this.”
I contrasted that experience with what I see in too many organizations and individuals. Sometimes, I think they may have be complacent–things are OK, sometimes good, they are not “uncomfortable” with current performance and don’t see the need to change. Sometimes, they are struggling or troubled organizations–tending to be driven by panic, doing more of what wasn’t working–never taking the time to figure out why it isn’t working because they simply don’t know anything else. Sometimes, they are distracted by miracle cures, silver bullets, or wishful thinking. Sometimes leaders are unsure or swayed by the latest trends, competition and move from initiative to initiative, never sticking with one thing long enough to produce results–all the time confusing and wasting the time of their people.
In all these situations, there is usually some sort of blame game; the competitors have some sort of advantage, the customers aren’t reasonable, our products aren’t competitive, the dog ate our business plan, and on, and on, and on…. The reasons for their challenges are never their ability to recognize and effectively respond to them.
Common to each of these scenarios is the struggle to “be in control.,” yet never being so.
One quickly realizes, as much as we try to or think we can “be in control,” the only thing we can control is ourselves. We can’t control our customers, our competition, the markets, others in our organization, or our people (if we are managers).
The only thing we can control is ourselves and what we do with our time.
The outstanding organizations outlined in the beginning of this post recognize do thing differently than those outlined in the latter portion of this article. They are obsessed with learning, focus on what they can control, and relentless in their execution.