With the coming of spring, many of us are thinking about cleaning up our homes or physical spaces. But it’s also a good time to take stock of our goals, our habits, and even our careers. Because that’s what “spring cleaning” is really all about: regaining control of our environment and our lives.
This is important. Too often we let life become something that happens to us, rather than something that comes from within. We forget that we can be in control of ourselves. And we forget that the people around us can help, if only we take the time to build strong relationships.
So how do we break out of our ruts and regain clarity? How do we reclaim those dusty, forgotten goals we might have set back in January, or even decades ago? And how do we build the trust and influence that will get others on board, so those goals can become a reality?
For the latest episode of Taking Note, the Evernote podcast, we spoke with two experts who can guide us there.
Taking Note: S2 E2 — Michael Hyatt & Marvell Allen
Michael Hyatt: “Life is integrated. You can’t compartmentalize.”
In his new book, Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals, leadership mentor Michael Hyatt outlines a system for reconnecting with our goals, finding purpose, and building sustainable habits that can have a real impact on improving our lives. Here are some highlights from our conversation:
Your book came came out right at the start of January, timed with New Year’s resolutions. By now, most New Years’ resolutions have long since failed and been abandoned. It seems like every year, we get excited in December, maybe early January, we say we’re gonna do this thing this year and then we just fall right off the horse. How do we break that cycle so that we’re not waiting until next December to start again?
Well, first of all, I think we need to realize that there’s still a lot of time left in the year, and the year doesn’t have to be the calendar year, it could just be the next 12 months. It’s kind of an arbitrary way to measure time anyway.
I just got asked this question the other day on social media, somebody said, “Well, is it too late to have my best year ever?” And I said, “Absolutely not,” because nobody ever drifted to a destination they would have chosen. The only alternative to planning and intending for this to be your best year ever is to just drift through the next months, hoping that you have a better outcome. That’s not likely to happen without some planning and some intention.
I think there’s a couple of basic mistakes people make, in the difference between a resolution and a goal.
First of all, a goal is written. A resolution, it might be something you think of, it may be something you say to your best friend or your spouse, but it’s not often written, yet all the research shows that the mere act of writing a goal down not only produces clarity, but on average increases the likelihood of you achieving that goal by 42%.
Another thing though, that people often do, is they lose visibility on their goals, even if they write it down. How many times have you written down a goal list, or even in corporations where you do a strategic plan, you go to a lot of effort to create it, and then put it on the shelf, or tuck it away in a drawer, or let it collect digital dust on your hard drive. You’ve got to have a systematic way to keep those goals top of mind. To review them, to maintain their visibility, if you’re going to hope to accomplish them.
If I’ve had something that I considered as a resolution that just didn’t work out, and now I want to try again, that can be very disillusioning. Is just going back to square one and writing it down a good way to get over the failure?
I think there’s a process. In fact, in the entire second section of the book, Your Best Year Ever, I talk about processing the past. What you don’t want to do is drag the worst of the past into the best of the future. I borrowed a term from the US military, called ‘the after action review,’ where you go in and you look what worked, what didn’t work, and what can I learn, and do differently in the future. That’s part of the process.
But obviously that is not enough unto itself, and neither is just raw willpower, because probably that’s what we tried in January, and look how far it got us. If raw willpower can’t get it done, what can?
Well, I think first of all we’ve got to make sure that these are deeply related to something that we want. So many times we do things that we think we should do. Somebody else in our life says this is an important goal, I think you ought to pursue this, but what is it that we really want?
Do you feel that we should be taking the same approach at work and in our personal lives to achieving goals?
Totally. I think we’ve got to live an integrated life. That’s what I think fundamentally it means to live with integrity, is that our life is integrated. You can’t compartmentalize because all these things impact the other areas of our life.
For example, if we have a health crisis, that’s going to have an impact on our most important relationships. It’s going to have an impact at work. On the other hand, if we’re experiencing stress at work, it can have an impact on our health, or have an impact on our most important relationships.
I don’t think it’s so much about balance, but it’s about integrating these as a seamless whole. The goal-setting methodology that I use with my clients and with my customers for their business is the same exact thing that I advocate for their personal life. Regardless, I tell people you don’t need more than about 7-10 goals a year. More than that and you’re going to lose focus, and you really jeopardize your chance of hitting any of them.
In the book, you make a point that real life extends into multiple different domains. I think you listed 10 of them.There are so many different elements, and there are so many different demands on our time now, and so many distractions, but there are no more hours in a day. How do we attend to our whole lives in that environment?
Well, I think it begins by taking an honest assessment of where we are. We have an assessment tool where you can get a score that shows you exactly where you are at in the 10 domains of life.
What I encourage people to do is to take the areas where you didn’t score quite the way you wanted, and to come up with a plan, a goal, for how you could make that better over the course of this next year.
You know, I think sometimes we look at goals like we got to win the lottery. We forget the power of incremental change over time. If you’re overweight, you probably didn’t get that way overnight, and you’re probably not going to lose that weight overnight. There’s a power in incremental change over time.
That gets right into something else I wanted to ask you about because there are so many different kinds of goals. There are things you might be able to achieve in a month, or things that might take a decade or more, and then there’s just establishing a new habit. Where should we focus our energy?
Well, I think it’s both. I think you need kind of the 35,000 foot view so you can see the long range. I call that the ‘life planning process,’ and I’ve written a book on that called Living Forward. Then I think we need the annual planning process, and to be honest, I don’t do much between those two.
I see where I want to go in the next 10–25 years, and then I’m looking at where I want to go this next year, and that’s your best year ever. I break that down by a quarter, so 7–10 goals for the entire year, but no more than about two to three for any given quarter. Why? Because you’ve got a busy life. You’ve got other things you’re trying to do, and the things that are related to your goals are new things, things that are outside the scope of business as usual. You have to be very careful and very deliberate about those.
Then I break it down further into the three actions that I could take this week that would move me in the direction of accomplishing those quarterly goals, and even further, what are my daily big three? What are the three tasks that, if I could complete today, would move me in the direction of my weekly big three, which would move me in the direction of my quarterly big three, which would move me in the direction of my annual goals, and the fulfillment of my life plan?
“What are the three tasks that, if I could complete today, would move me in the direction of my weekly big three, which would move me in the direction of my quarterly big three, which would move me in the direction of my annual goals, and the fulfillment of my life plan?”
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in details that you can really lose sight of the “why.” So often the answer to why, is: “well, because I have to.” Is there a good exercise, or a simple way to help yourself break out of that mode of thinking and get to the why?
I get people for each goal, as they write down their goals for the next 12 months, to actually identify at least three whys. Why is it important that I achieve this goal? Or why is it important that I establish this habit? Then to rank those. What’s the one that’s the most compelling to you right now?
So, years ago I wrote a book called Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, and as I was writing that book I was nearing the deadline when I had to turn it in to the publisher, but I’d gone through a very busy season of speaking. I had a first draft that I wasn’t particularly happy with, and I really wanted to quit. I thought, you know, it’s too late to rally. I’m not sure I can meet the deadline, maybe I should just go ahead and quit. Except that I had written down on a piece of paper, with my goal about finishing that manuscript, what were my key motivations?
I tried to identify at the very beginning what were the things that motivated me, so that now, in the season when I wanted to quit, give the money back to the publisher, and just maybe do it next year, I didn’t. I said, “Yeah, those are still important to me.”
I re-engaged with the manuscript, I ended up being about four weeks later in turning it in, but the book went on to be a New York Times bestseller, and I am so glad that I finished. It would not have happened if I wasn’t able to reconnect with my why.
It sounds like the common thread through all of what we’ve talked about is the importance of just taking charge, not letting things happen to you, but making the things happen yourself.
I think this is one of the things we have to remind ourselves about. If all you do is watch the evening news, you would get the sense that the world is out of control, and maybe you, or a lot of people, are just victims. We don’t have any agency, we don’t have any control, we don’t have any business to change the outcome.
One of the thing that I learned from Dr. Stephen Covey years ago was the difference between your circle of concern and your circle of influence. There’s a lot of things that are happening in the world right now that may concern me, but I don’t have any influence over them. So, largely it’s a waste of time for me to think about them.
There’s a lot of stuff where I do have influence, where I do have control, and those are the things that need to be occupying most of my thinking. That’s where I can make a change, that’s where I can improve the quality of my life, that’s where I can impact the people that I love the most, and the people that I can influence.
Marvell Allen: “If I respect, I can influence better.”
Marvell Allen is the founder of Millennium Career Advantage, a professional coaching firm in the San Francisco Bay Area. Marvell came to Evernote’s Redwood City headquarters to talk about developing influence in the workplace, and what she had to say was so compelling we immediately invited her to join us on the podcast.
In a conversation with LeTisha Shaw from Evernote’s growth team, Marvell shared her advice for recognizing, developing, and harnessing the influence all of us already have, whether we realize it or not. And these ideas apply whether you’re an executive or a junior employee.
How do you personally define influence?
For me, I believe that my ability to influence effectively and successfully starts with sincerity, authenticity and passion about whatever it is that I’m involved in. I believe that I need to find out more about what other people are interested in and what’s important to them, so that I can do the requisite homework to be in the mode where they are.
There are so many stereotypes about management and influence. People believe only a certain segment of an organization A, can be leaders or B, can be managers and C, can have any influence in the organization. But if we’re paying attention with enough sensitivity about what really happens in organizational culture, and what the political realities are in organizations, often times it’s the so called “lower level employees” who have the most influence.
One of the current clients that we have has brought Millennium Career Advantage in to design a leadership development program, and the unique thing about this program is that everyone in it self-selected, meaning they said, “Oh, I want to be in that program.” And they were at all levels of the organization. We have two clerks sitting right next to people who are directors. And what this organization decided was [they] need everyone in the organization to have leadership development skills, to care about leadership, to be sensitive and have awareness around what’s important. That means you’re not cutting out that group that stereotypically would be perceived as only serving the organization. They can now “grow up” to be seen as potential leaders because they have the same information, have the same experiences, and work on the same projects as the people that we generally think about in terms of leadership.
“If I respect, I can influence better. If I care about what this manager or person thinks about, and I’ve listened to them carefully, I’m probably going to have more success in influencing them.”
It sounds like what you’re saying, Marvell, is it’s just not enough to do a good job. Influence is really an important part of your job. Now, do you see influence as the same as respect?
I think that you don’t go very far influencing anyone if no one has respect for you. That’s number one. Number two, you don’t go very far in influencing if you don’t have respect for the people you’re trying to influence.
I try to tell people, particularly with my coaching clients who may say, “I don’t really like that manager. How can I influence them?” I say, “Move aside your personal emotional feelings about that manager, unless there are ethical issues that you have with them. […] You need to think about the role that you’re in and the job that needs to be done, but you have respect for them, you work with them and you try to get to a place politically where you can respect one another.”
That means you find out a little bit more about them. What do they care about? Then give them information about you without backing down and making it seem like what they believe is more important than you. You need to be confident when you let them know that what they believe is just one side of the coin and your beliefs are also one side.
If I respect, I can influence better. If I care about what this manager or person thinks about, and I’ve listened to them carefully, I’m probably going to have more success in influencing them.
We realize that we don’t all work in isolation. We have to be part of a team. What are some of the unique challenges that you see in order for teams to work together work more effectively?
That’s a great question. Many organizations for many, many years would do this whole thing called team building. “Let’s do a team building, and that will create the opportunity for us to all have the Kumabaya moment, and huggy-touchy-kissy-body and we’re all great with one another.” The challenge with that was when it was a one-off and it did not have continual reinforcement around support for and respect for the differences that the various team members brought, then it, in many cases, failed.
What I love about group coaching is we take some of those key components of coaching and work with people where they are. I may be brought in to work with a team that needs to learn how to listen better to their colleagues. We insist that they listen to the issues and concerns of their colleagues, and we also do a little bit of peer coaching because you may have had an experience that I bring up, and I need to be open enough to hear what your recommendation is or how you dealt with that issue. It creates an opportunity for an intact team to be able to talk with one another in a confidential setting. You have myself and my colleague as the facilitators of their discussion as opposed to the complete giver of all the information.
When we’re in the one-on-one mode, many people who are coached think that their coach is the expert and should tell them everything. But we need to ask the appropriate questions for them to come to those answers themselves. I think the same happens in a group coaching setting.
But then I think the other piece is: to what extent are you moving this team to action? Is it just a session where everyone complains and then you leave and say, “Well, I feel better?”
If they’re to be moved to some kind of action on behalf of a project or on behalf of an initiative or just on behalf of them all working together, that becomes really important.
“Leadership development programs are only as good as the follow up that happens. Just doing the task management doesn’t make them a leader. It makes them a very good task manager.”
I have another client that I’ll be doing some group coaching sessions with and they will all be topic focused. One might be conflict and how we manage conflict. Not resolve conflict. Usually for leaders and managers, we need to be in a position of managing conflict to the extent that we can and let the people below us gain those skills to resolve. But one group is here, one’s here, one’s here, and they don’t know how to manage the conflict because they haven’t gotten past the emotion of, “It’s your fault. It’s not my fault. I’m not taking the blame.”
Group coaching is going to allow them an opportunity to hear from one another, hear the different perspectives. You get to now see that they’ve got some of the same challenges you do, and now what are we going to do to solve those challenges?
It’s not, “Let’s give you a performance evaluation. You don’t do good in this, you don’t do good in that.” No. Let’s give them the skills to make changes on their own, and have them support one another on their own, with a little bit of facilitated support.
Then, there will be lots of follow up because leadership development programs are only as good as the follow up that happens. If you do not have it, it allows people to just walk away and go back to doing their work. Just doing the task management doesn’t make them a leader. It makes them a very good task manager. That’s all it makes them.
Let’s say that I’m doing my homework and I’m practicing the principles around mastering influence, and I’m using my powers for good, not for evil. Now, there could be someone in my organization that is now starting to resent the influence that I’m starting to have. How do I deal with that?
I had that example when I was at a [previous] company. We were both at the same level. Both of us were director-level in the field and what I thought was that here was an opportunity to build a great relationship with someone who’d already been at the organization a long time, so I could learn where the political minefields were. I had many things that I believed I could give to that person as well. As it turned out, that person did not agree with me. They did watch me build more influence, but did not pay attention to how I was doing it. They felt they were losing the influence that they had.
Once it finally came to a head, I decided I had to think about what was really in their mind. Did they have an insecurity that maybe they would be usurped on certain projects or they should have a better relationship with the boss than I did? I decided to call them out, in a good sense: “Hey, I’d love to work with you on this project. Do I have enough information? What do you recommend?” And use them as my sounding board. That worked only for a bit.
[In the end,] what I decided to do was go to where I had my base — the managers that I was working with and their direct reports — and get them to understand what I was looking to do and get their support on it, so that it would nullify the potential for backstabbing. I needed to build some support in a very authentic way that would not put a negative bias on her, but would continue to show that my heart was in the right place.
Allies are critical because if I’m building influence, I’ve got to have people that I trust and I feel comfortable with, that will let me be vulnerable to get information, and I have to be okay with hearing them say, “No. Sorry, that sucks. You don’t want to do that.” I need to respect where they’re going to take me, then I need to come back to them and said, “Okay. I heard you. Here’s what I’m doing. Now, what do you think about these things.”