I’m sitting at the smooth, cool, luminescent bar at the Grand Hyatt in New York City, overlooking bustling 42nd Street, people streaming like ants to, from, and past Grand Central Station. In about 10 minutes I have a rendezvous with my secret weapon.
Normally by two weeks into a new year, I’ve got my next 12 months mapped out—my priorities, my metrics—but this year I wanted to wait until I got a chance to speak to one of my most valued mentors. He spent 30 years at McKinsey and since then, in retirement, has been training each new crop of McKinsey consultants in the critical skills of leadership and strategic thinking.
Give Paul a few broad strokes and his mental computer, honed by decades of pattern-recognition, will unfold an answer that, in my experience, is 99% right. He is my Yoda, my oracle. And today, his computer spit out "family and health." It’s been an amazing year. My speaking career has grown, I’ve visited distant terrain, worked with fascinating clients on big problems. But I’ve been traveling like crazy. It’s time to focus on my family and my health.
Now, this tactical theme does not give me my entire strategy, but it defined what Phil Cooke, author of the new book http://www.amazon.com/Unique-Telling-Story-Brands-Social/dp/0830765158" target="_blank">Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media, says is one of five critical elements of defining a plan for yourself that will work. Here are his five elements:
1. Change what matters: When you set a goal for this year, make sure it is informed by what is important to you. As Phil shared with me "Take control of your priorities, and you’ll take control of your life. We often fail because we don’t take the time to decide what’s really important." For me, strategy (whether for business or personal life) must ultimately define what is important and, therefore, what is not important. This year family is more important to me than visiting cool locations.
2. Know what makes you unique: Just as a company must look honestly at its unique assets and capabilities, we must assess without bias what makes us special. As Phil says "I’m amazed at the number of people who are living in denial, believing they have potential where there simply is none. Before you start following a dream, make sure you’re wired and equipped to make that dream happen." I am great at creating and connecting things, less so at structure and consistency. This year I will create rather than build.
3. Decide there is no other choice: According to Phil, "Most New Year’s resolutions fail because the stakes aren’t high enough." You define a goal early on but by June (or even February) you drop it because you don’t feel it is really important. If you are going to break a resolution anyway, why make it? Instead focus on what really matters to you. For me that means the happiness of my kids and the impact I have on their world. If my resolution has something to do with avoiding late-night popcorn, I know I will not be sufficiently committed to follow through next weekend when my wife and I hit the theater for a post-kid-bedtime showing of Zero Dark Thirty.
4. Prune unsupportive relationships: I’ve talked about this before. If you are the average of the five people you associate with the most, then stop associating with people who will encourage you to abandon your resolutions! Phil points out that "good relationships inspire and motivate you, while bad relationships suck the energy out of you. In 2013, surround yourself with people who believe in your vision." For me, the most dangerous derailers to avoid are those who hold good intentions for you. They say "that’s all right, you did your best," trying to make you feel good but in fact making it easier for you to give up on yourself.
5. Remove distractions: In Phil’s experience, "most people fail to reach their potential simply because they get distracted." And by distractions he includes "dwelling on the past." He says, "Stop re-living your last failure and start focusing on the future. The divorce, firing, bankruptcy, or other disaster in your past does not determine your destiny." Miyamoto Musashi, the Japanese swordmaster and author of the Book of Five Rings calls this "coming new to the fight"—enter this fight as if you just got here, with no past.
Kick of the new year tomorrow. Yes, you’re a couple of weeks late, but being late is better than starting off on the wrong foot. Choose a new set of priorities for 2013 that really matter, that leverage what makes you unique. Then remove the option of failure, the unsupportive relationships, the distractions—and let's see what happens. I can’t wait.
[Image: Flickr user Suvodeb Banerjee]