I was on a panel at the National Speakers Association where the moderator posed this question: "As a business owner, how do you allocate your time to be sure you are doing the right thing?" If you lead an organization of any size, that is THE question, isn't it?
It was a lay-up for me. Not because I always get it right. But because I actually have a formula that works.
Years ago, when I was starting my company, I didn't have a clue. I was paralyzed by indecision. How to spend those precious hours and days? So many things on my to do list, what were the real priorities?
It was critical because the piles on my desk were growing. I was drowning in a sea of good intentions. I still believed I would someday get it all done. This, by the way, is an even more killer problem for clean desk junkies; people whose hearts race when they walk in their offices and smell the fresh scent of lemon Pledge on gleaming blond wood, not a scrap of crap in sight.
My mentor made it simple. "Every morning I put the stuff on top that will make me money," she shared. "Really?" I said. "Yup, just do that stuff first and you'll be successful."
Now I am a simple person, so I like simple solutions. I have found this method really works. When I do it, it's amazing...I make money. When I don't, I get this nagging feeling that I am being pulled in too many directions. Take care of business first, and it's amazing how life falls into place.
I was really, deeply struck by what happened after I shared this story with my colleagues at NSA. Everybody...EVERYBODY in the room stopped and stared. All together, there was a silent, collective moment of communion. A shared realization about a simple little truth. Their eyes told me "Yes, I believe that's true. Yes, that's something I could do. Yes, that could help me."
Since I can't claim credit for the idea, I felt proud that I could pass it on. It was really fun and quite rewarding to see that light go on.
So here is the thing about you, oh wise leader. You have all this smart stuff inside you, and unfortunately, unless you share it, it will be lost. No one will benefit from this hard-won wisdom if you don't pass it on, preferably, in the form of a story. A thousand, million, billion PowerPoint slides will be created and viewed today; but they won't create moments. Find a way just to tell a simple story with a point of wisdom, and you can change somebody's life. Really.
When we teach storytelling to leaders we are always sure to remind them it is a skill, not a gift, and there's a formula to make them powerful. One important aspect of good stories is that they showcase you, the leader, as a "learner" - someone who has the humility to live through a moment of uncertainty or weakness or even despair and come out of it with a lesson that's relevant for others. Ironically, this act of sharing in a "leader as learner" style makes you not weaker, but more powerful.
By the way, as I write to you, I'm on an airplane on my way home from the conference. Before I left, I cleaned my desk. When I get home there will be another pile.
Guess what I will put on top?