Friday, November 28, 2008

CEO of Thanksgiving

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! Just before the gluttony, I was reading the NY Times online and thoroughly enjoyed the article, "The C.E.O. of Thanksgiving Dinner." The strategic planner in me had a good laugh at how closely related life and business can be.

Written from the perspective of 2 business school professors, it offered some great leadership and management lessons in the context of preparing the Thanksgiving Day meal. They highlight possible approaches to planning and executing such a task. Creating a vision, delegating work, empowering "employees," outsourcing, communicating with key stakeholders, etc.

Vision and planning is essential to a winning Thanksgiving; only after you know the intended objectives should you move into execution.
It starts with asking yourself, as the Thanksgiving chief architect, what is your vision for this day and this meal.

...Don’t micromanage every dish and orchestrate every interaction among guests. Think bigger. Do you want to recreate exactly the meals your mother prepared? Or do you want to push through to a new culinary frontier? Do you want a day of reverent gratitude or lazy hedonistic pleasure? With a vision firmly carved out, the next task is what business leaders would call engaging key stakeholders and identifying their performance expectations. That means figuring out who are the most important people to you at the Thanksgiving table and asking what they really want from the day and from you, the host.
There are 2 different models for management: the old "command-and-control" versus the looser "organizing to innovate." The latter is much more flexible and creates greater buy-in, which is essential in a friendly setting. Delegating is also essential in pulling off such a big day.

If you decide to outsource particular tasks, like pie making, make sure the outside firm (i.e. your sister-in-law) has the right equipment and skill to create a pie that meets your expectations. If not, the job might have to go to another relative or you might have to allow her to pick up a pie from a subcontractor, which is also called a bakery.

Whatever the task, communicate it clearly and give some thought to who might benefit from doing it. Your brother always helped your late mother make the gravy. Shouldn’t he have the honors this year? A high school student allowed to lead grace will feel like an adult. Asking your shy neighbor to make sure everyone has a drink gives her a reason to interact.

...Just keep in mind what all successful executives know: Thank people publicly and often, and never, ever point a finger.

“A good leader,” Mr. Friedman said, “shares all the credit and takes all the blame.”

Remember, it's not just a meal with the family - it's a chance to hone your leadership skills. What type of leader or manager are you, in business and in life? Consider these gatherings to be practice. Even though you can't put it on your resume, every little bit helps!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Perfect is the Enemy of Good

  • Does it take you forever to post your vacation pictures?
  • Do you drag your feet on cleaning your desk, sorting your music, or emptying out your closet because you know it'll take up the entire day?
  • Are you reluctant to start an easy project (Christmas cards, consolidating your contacts online, finding an accountant, etc.) because you know you'll want to do a good job, no matter how insignificant the results are?

Let's face it, these things have been on your To-Do list forever and you're beginning to second guess just how good you are at taking care of business.

As an overachiever, there are probably 2 forces at work here - one friend and one foe.

The friendly force is your ability to prioritize. Critical projects take precedence and when these mundane tasks become urgent, they make it to the top of the list (the exception, of course, is when you're procrastinating and suddenly have time to rearrange your living room furniture).

The other force, your insistence on perfection, means well but works against you. You'll put off tasks until you can find a substantial block of time to do them thoroughly. You spend way too long organizing your desk, editing a simple email, and using 3 coats of paint when 2 would do just fine.

This mindset is part of what makes you an overachiever (you just can't do a crappy job), but your quest for perfection means that
  1. You avoid starting a task because it'll take an inordinate amount of time, and
  2. You're inefficient when you finally do these tasks.
I know, I know. You can't help it; you're compelled to do a thorough job. But your attention to detail is often unnecessary - your returns are not worth the investment of time and effort. Even when your hard work is noticed, it's seldom rewarded.

Since you already know you do it, when faced with a situation like this I encourage you to think of Voltaire's quote:

"Perfect is the enemy of good."

Don't spin your wheels doing a perfect job, when a good job will do. Your desire for perfection is the enemy (of good). There are diminishing returns for your diligence.
To attain a perfect thing, whatever that is, becomes infinitely more difficult as you near it. So, at some point, you have to cut your losses, and simply say -- "Good enough". This is not a justification for shoddy workmanship or laziness, for that certainly would not be, per se, "Good enough". The point is more to know when to realize that any additional effort toward improvement would result in a negligible improvement, especially in comparison to the effort required. link

Also recognize that not everything has to be a huge project and perfection isn't always necessary. Even just an "ordinary" effort can go a long way. Remember the 80/20 rule - the first 20% of the effort often gets you 80% of the way there (and usually 80% is good enough for mundane tasks).

Do what's important, maintain your high standards, but don't let them get in your way.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Definition of Overachiever

Overachievers are ambitious, driven, and motivated to do (and be) the best. They have a unique mindset that keeps their brain on overdrive and a work ethic that keeps them one step ahead. High expectations and focused intensity are definite characteristics of overachievers. They are always pushing themselves, for more, - whether it’s professionally, academically, personally, or in a sport or hobby.

Being an overachiever is more of a mindset and the manifestation of that mindset in the form of results and accomplishments. They naturally do well in what they choose to do; they put in the necessary effort and hold themselves to a high standard of performance. Overachievers typically work hard, squeeze in as many activities as possible, and try to do be a rockstar in everything they do. Oddly, they don’t see it that way – it’s just the way they are and they push themselves to that level.

Overachievers have high aspirations and like to dream big. There’s always a lot on their plate - their To-Do Lists are full and they have an abundance of ideas for future books, businesses, projects, and improvements. They see every moment as a valuable opportunity to invest in a worthwhile endeavor.

Overachievers also have an overwhelming sense of urgency. While this is part of their recipe for success, it can also backfire when they are unfocused or try to do everything at once. Anxiety strikes when they see their time slipping away and not accomplishing as much as they had hoped.

Despite doing 2-3 things at the same time and using tools/systems to be more effective, overachievers often feel guilty for not doing enough. They feel like they should always be doing more and this creates an ever-present pressure that can, oddly enough, get in the way of their path to achievement. To counteract this overarching need to do more, it's helpful to create a plan of action around their priorities and set realistic and clear goals for the future.

As a fellow overachiever and professional career coach, I work with ambitious people to do this; I help them refine and clarify what they want and how to get there. If you're an overachiever looking to investigate your professional direction or personal ambitions, check out the Overachiever Coach website or contact me directly. I understand what it means to be an overachiever and have helped a number of clients be even more successful in business and in life.