May 31, 2016

Six Habits to Help You Succeed

I did not post on Monday this week due to Memorial Day. I hope you all had a wonderful day off that you were able to spend with your loved ones, and I also hope you were able to find the time to recognize the true meaning of this wonderful holiday.

Now, this week's post will focus on six habits that have helped me become more productive, accomplish a number of lifelong goals, and simply improve my lifestyle over the past few years. These are in no particular order, and the habits that you form in your own life may vary from these in many ways. These are only suggestions I am making based off of my own experiences. I hope that you find them as beneficial as I have in my own life.

1.      Read books:

I start with this step for a few reasons. First, it has had the biggest impact on my life of any of the 6 steps I will list. When I tell you to read books, I don’t mean whatever is currently listed on the New York Times Best Sellers List. I don’t mean you need to read 50 Shades of Grey or the latest book by Nicholas Sparks. While these may be entertaining, they will not help you grow, and they will not push to think outside of the box. If you want to achieve success that others are too afraid to pursue, you must do what others are unwilling to do in their lives. Read books that focus on personal development, leadership, growth, spiritual exploration, economics, or business. Find authors who share the same passion as you and immerse yourself in their writing.

Now, I am not telling you that you cannot read fantasy novels or historical fiction. I’m not suggesting that you give up all books that do not focus on the topics I’ve listed above. As an English major in college, it would be hypocritical of me to suggest this when I religiously read the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. The point I am trying to make is that reading the right books, the kind that make you think about yourself and the strengths that you have within you, will put your mind in the right channel for success.

The second reason that I mention the importance of reading is that it is the most underused step to success of any I can imagine. More than 70% of Americans do not read another book after they graduate high school, and that’s a statistic that I find incredibly disappointing. Most of us have the ability to read, so why aren’t we applying this skill towards bettering our lives?

2.      Surround Yourself with Positive People: 

There is a phrase that I’ve learned to apply to my own life over the past few years and it is, “Your network equals your net worth”. So, who you choose to surround yourself with will have a massive impact on your mindset and the thoughts and actions that you allow in your life. If you are surrounded by people who choose to victimize the events of their lives and who choose to blame others for their horrible situations, you will soon develop the same bad habits. If your “friends” are in a constant state of depression because they hate their jobs and their lives but they refuse to do anything about it, you will develop the same habits.

But if you make the effort to seek out positive people, you will soon become a positive person. Choose to spend your free time with others who want to improve their lives and the lives of others around them. Find the men and women who seem to constantly be happy, and then apply that positivity to your own life. Join a club they’re a part of. Spend your lunch break with them. Do whatever it is that you need to do to include that positivity in your life, and you will soon exude that same lifestyle. So many of us are willing to settle in our lives, so we choose to surround ourselves with others who have settled. And you know what that creates? An average life. So find people who challenge average and try to spend as much time around them as you can.

3.      Have a Clearly Defined Goal:

Many times when discussing my morning ritual with people, they always ask why I choose to wake up before 5:00 am. Why get up so early in the morning if I don’t have to be at work for 2-3 hours? Why lose sleep to read or to work on a spreadsheet? And my answer is always, “Because it’s the only time I have.” I am passionate about my goals, and I’ve decided that accomplishing those goals is more important than sleep. You see, when you finally decide what it is that you want to accomplish in your life, you will be filled with an incredibly sense of urgency. You’ll want to jump out of bed and get straight to work, no matter what time it is or how late you were up the previous night. Your passion will burn twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. If you’re doing something you love, Mondays won’t matter…Weekends won’t matter….Holidays won’t matter.

So how do you define your goals? What’s the easiest way to clarify what it is that you want? This simplest answer I can give is to write your goals down. Write them down on a piece of paper and read it every day. Know what it is that you want. And better yet, break that big goal down into smaller goals. If you work for a car dealership and your goal is to sell more cars in 2016 than anyone else, break it down by the month and decide what number you need to hit every 30 days to reach your goal. This will help you get over the “Holy Cow” stage of your goal. Many people set a goal but then give up just as quickly because the goal seems unattainable. Its massive size seems so daunting that they think, “I’ll never be able to do this”. But once you break it down, it becomes manageable.

To give you an example, I’m starting an online business that sells books at a discounted price. My long-term goal for the business is to sell 5000 books/month. Now, when I first said this number out loud, I stuttered and could not believe that I had set that goal. How was I going to sell 5000 books in 30 days? It seemed impossible. But then I broke it down. We’re launching the business later this year, and our first month goal is to sell only 100 books. That’s it. 100 books in 30 days. If we do this, we can build the momentum and learn the necessary skills to then sell 300 a month. And within 24-36 months, we plan to reach that 5000 book threshold.

4.      Have a Group of Close “Truth-Tellers”:

The term “Truth-Teller” was first introduced to me by Curtis Stout, a former guest on my blog and the founder of Project 117, a non-profit organization based in Haiti that has built a school for underprivileged children in the area. The concept of a “Truth-Teller”, according to Curtis, is rather simple. Basically, it is someone you know closely who is willing to look you in the eye and tell you the truth about you or your work, regardless of whether that truth is comforting or disheartening. If you’ve done a poor job, they will tell you, but even better, they will help you improve upon it. As we each strive for change and improvement, it is easy to get caught up in motion simply for motion’s sake. We create new ideas or work on a project without stopping to consider its quality. Truth-Tellers are there to help you step back, analyze yourself and your performance, and make improvements where necessary. It is important that you have at least one Truth-Teller in your life, and preferably 3 or 4 who can help you improve in areas that you might have overlooked.

5.      Listen to Podcasts:

I have only started listening to podcasts over the past 12-18 months, but it has been a tremendous experience for me during that time. My two favorite podcasts at the moment are “The School of Greatness” by Lewis Howes (he also has a book by the same name that I recommend) and “This is Your Life” by Michael Hyatt. I love “The School of Greatness” because of the diverse guests that Lewis Howes brings onto his show. He has interviewed hundreds of successful businessmen/businesswomen, motivational speakers, and personal development gurus who share their own lessons. Additionally, Michael Hyatt’s “This is Your Life” is a wonderful podcast where he shares his own experiences as a form CEO of a major publishing company with his listeners.

The benefits of listening to different podcasts are tremendous. First, you are being exposed to the teachings of men/women who have done what you seek to do, who have been through the “trenches” and have come out successful. They offer their guidance, tips, and ideas for success, and they help expose you to new thought processes that you more than likely would not have discovered on your own. As you discover new podcasts, be willing to break away and listen to others you might have overlooked. There are hundreds of options, and each may have their own unique lessons waiting to be discovered.

6.      Get out of Your Comfort Zone:

This is probably the hardest of the six lessons to apply on a consistent basis. What do I mean when I say, “Get out of your comfort zone”? I mean that you should do anything and everything that might be foreign or unknown to you, and it doesn’t have to directly apply to your goals. Have you ever wanted to fly out to Vegas for the weekend but you’ve been to afraid? Go! Do you have the opportunity to go parasailing? Go! Is there a new job opportunity at work that would force you to move into a leadership position? Apply!

Open your eyes for the chances that might force you to do new things, and then have the fortitude to jump at those opportunities. Because guess what? Most people won’t take those risks. Most people will tell themselves, “I can’t afford a trip to Vegas” when they spent $100 last month on fast food or they just bought a new pair of shoes for $200. Most people will say, “I don’t really like heights…I can’t go parasailing” when what they really mean is that they’re afraid to try. Most people will look at that new job opportunity and say, “Well, there’s somebody else who my boss likes better. They’ll probably get the job” because they’re too afraid to even try. They don’t want to take the risk of either failing or actually getting the job and then not succeeding.

But that’s how we grow. It’s that simple. If you force yourself into situations where you feel uncomfortable, eventually you will learn the skills necessary to adapt to the situation. You will learn how to lead when others need a leader. You will learn how to balance your work with your personal life. Eventually, if you put in the work, the pieces will fall in place. You just have to be willing to be patient, and that is where most people fail. They look at the amount of work necessary to make their dreams become reality and they say, “That’s too much work. I can’t do that”. But what they really mean is that they’re too lazy. They don’t want it bad enough to put in the work. They’d rather settle for average, and they’ve convinced themselves that average is good enough. But it’s not good enough for me, and it shouldn’t be good enough for you.

These six steps are not a magic wand that can be used to make your dreams become reality. Performing them will not instantly publish that book you’ve always wanted to write, and they will not help your business succeed if it is not built on a solid foundation. No, the purpose of these six steps is to help you open your mind to new ideas and possibilities that, if applied to your life, will help you as an individual grow. You will soon discover that your mindset will shift as you take these lessons and make them a part of your lifestyle. You’ll discover new talents you didn’t know that you possessed, and you’ll be filled with a desire to share those talents with the world. So push yourself and don’t ever be discouraged by hard work. Because the act of pursuing your dreams is what will separate you from the concept of average.

Daniel Moffett

May 23, 2016

Important Lessons from The Five Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell

Few men have had as large an impact on personal development and leadership as John Maxwell, best-selling author and motivational speaker.  During his career, Maxwell has published dozens of books on productivity, leadership, personal growth, and other topics. His teachings have had a tremendous impact on me as I’ve worked to develop my own goals, and I strongly recommend his books to each and every one of you.

In his book The Five Levels of Leadership, he beautifully analyzes the different levels that an individual can hope to attain as they climb the ladder of leadership. These levels are fairly straightforward and consist of the following:

Level 1: Position - People Follow You Because They Have To

Level 2: Permission - You Can’t Lead Until You Like People

Level 3: Production – Making Things Happen Separates Real Leaders from Wannabes

Level 4: People Development – Helping Individual Leaders Grow Extends Your Influence and Impact

Level 5: The Pinnacle – The Highest Leadership Accomplishment is Developing Other Leaders to Level 4

Regardless of your current situation, I would bet that you have been influenced one way or another by a tremendous leader. Whether it was a coach, a boss at work, or even a parent, someone made a difference in how you see yourself or the world around you. They taught you important life lessons like humility and perseverance. They pushed you to do more than you thought possible. And because of that individual, your life has been altered in a positive way.

So how do we as individuals learn to become leaders? Is it possible to teach yourself to lead? Or are leaders simply born with the charisma and qualities necessary for leadership? 

I believe that we each have the tools to become great leaders. I will not be analyzing every level in Maxwell’s The Five Levels of Leadership (you’ll have to read the book), but I wanted to hit on a few important points that Maxwell discuses in his book.

First is the idea position. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you must be placed in a position such as Supervisor or Manager to be a great leader. It just means that you must be in a situation that allows for leadership.  Whatever scenario it is that you decide to lead, looking for opportunities to step forward and become a leader. Looking for a chance to help others accomplish their goals. When you do this, you stretch out of your comfort zone and put yourself in new situations where new skills can be acquired. Position is the first level, but you must be careful not to become dependent upon your position to lead. Those who use their title as their justification for leadership are poisonous to others and the organization. As Maxwell writes, “Positional leaders fear those who are excellent. They undermine their success, and great individuals then leave the company, leaving behind average people”.  So focus on obtaining the opportunities provided through position, but be sure to grow above your title.

Second, I wanted to touch on the level of Production. This is an important characteristic of any truly great leader. It is important to assemble a team around you that does not need to be micromanaged and you must motivate them to produce, but if you are not “in the trenches” with your team, your motivating words will eventually fall on deaf ears. They will not respect your suggestions, and few will follow you as you continue to try to lead. You must be willing and able to produce results at a higher level than you expect of your team. If you are not producing, what gives you the right to demand results from your team?

Finally, a great leader is more than someone who takes a team and hits all their numbers on a consistent basis. To truly lead, you must help develop other people to reach their full potential. Recognizing greatness in others and then working to grow that potential is what separates regular leaders from great leaders. It's what helps an organization go from solid to outstanding. When leaders are placed in a situation where they can grow, mature, and develop their skills, and then those leaders work to develop more leaders, an organization is laying a foundation for future success that cannot be matched.

Working to develop other people is a difficult skill to master, and it is one that many leaders never truly complete. I don't pretend to be at this level of leadership, but it's something that I strive for with my team every day. I work to develop my own abilities so that I can better work with and develop their skills. I put my people into situations where they may feel uncomfortable or uncertain because I know their potential. I recognize that if they push themselves, they already have the tools necessary to succeed. All they need is a little push in the right direction.

Leading is difficult, and it's not for everyone. That's not to say that everyone is not capable of leading, because you are, but you have to want to lead before you can become a great leader. And once you start down the path of leadership, you'll find that it can be frustrating at times. The men and women you strive to lead may not always take your advice, and they may fight back when you make suggestions or change a policy. Some people that you were certain would develop into great leaders may even leave your organization. And that can be frustrating. One quote from The Five Levels of Leadership that stuck with me was this: "You can tell you're on the road to success; it's uphill all the way" - Paul Harvey.

If you make the conscious decision to be a leader, be sure to commit wholeheartedly. Recognize that the people around you are your most important assets on the road to success, and that you should work to develop yourself so that you can develop others. The Five Levels of Leadership is a wonderful book for anyone who is interested in learning more about what it takes to be a lasting leader in any field.

Daniel Moffett