You can't get what you want until you know what you want. That may sound obvious -- and even simple -- but lack of clarity of intent is a ubiquitous problem. If you want to check this premise, ask people what they really want in life. After a few glib answers about being rich, thin, healthy, happy and maybe famous, they will probably confess, "I don't know." The same is true for companies, organizations, clubs and families.
My "job one" with clients is to help them clarify their intent, to work with them on critical questions about what they really want -- and why -- until they have answers they can confidently and productively build on over the long-term.
Once you know what you want, you have to identify the issues -- opportunities and threats -- which must be addressed. This, too, may sound obvious, but improper issue identification is also a pervasive problem for people. Sometimes the "big issues" are too hard to grapple with, so lesser "urgent issues" get undue attention. Sometimes critical issues seem unresolvable, so they are either passed over or completely ignored. Sometimes folks just don't want to look at what's really getting in their way.
Thus, the second fundamental step in my work is to help people identify, categorize, prioritize and sequence their truly critical issues.
Somewhere along the line, people seem to have gotten the idea that there is a single, "right way" to handle issues. Self-help books and programs are full of checklists for "how to solve your problems." This is what I call the "got a problem, get a solution" approach. It sounds good -- and seems to sell well -- but it rarely works very well. The reason is because every issue is different and requires a process that is designed specifically to address and resolve it.
Nature doesn't let species resolve their issues all in the same way, and I don't let my clients try do so either. Good process design -- specific in linkage, time-frame, iteration, action and reporting -- is essential to effective issue resolution, and is the third general approach I teach.
Once you've clarified your intent, identified your issues and designed your processes, the next step is to make sure everything is aligned: plans, people and processes. Otherwise, you are likely to find that conflicting goals, agenda and activities keep you from getting what you want.
Whether it is "top-to-bottom" or "side-to-side" alignment, I help my clients effectively delineate components, evaluate respective positions and get them lined up right.
It always surprises me when people talk about "leaders" as if they are a separate and distinct category of human beings. The truth is that we all have to work with -- or at least interact with -- other people, so we are all in a leadership positions. Therefore, getting what you want in life requires developing your leadership skills.
One approach is to read a book by or about some so-called leader and to emulate his or her "leadership style." The problem is that unless you are that person, their style probably won't work for you. Leadership is a profoundly personal enterprise, stemming directly from an individual's uniqueness.
A far more useful approach is to understand what effective leaders actually do, then apply your own personal style to it. That approach is the last general topic I teach.