Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Work Ethic/Motivation

Some people dream of success while others wake up and work hard at it.

~Winston Churchill

The harder I work, the luckier I get.

~Samuel Goldwyn

It’s supposed to go like this: We convince the employer we’re the best person for the job. The employer agrees and offers it to us, complete with a compensation package. We accept the offer and celebrate, recognizing they could have easily offered the position to someone else. In return for the paycheck, we work our tails off, do our best, and… WAIT, STOP THE TAPE! Not so fast!

In my conversations with employers of young people, I hear more complaints about work ethic and dependability than any other traits. Among the issues they cite: absenteeism, late arrivals, distractions, failure to meet deadlines, deficient work, whining (especially toward more “menial” tasks), and entitlement attitudes. Some employers have given up and are now recruiting retirees to avoid the “baggage.” (Their word.)

And, they’ll tell you it wasn’t always this way.

To be honest, I think the responsibility for this generational shift lies primarily with parents. We do our children’s chores, either to keep them happy or because we can do them better or quicker. We overcommit them with one activity after another and feel guilty if we also ask them to sweep the garage. We allow play to come before work. We permit hours and hours of time with their endless technology, media, and entertainment options. It all adds up and manifests itself in a big way during the teen and young adult years.

Oh, and, educators will tell you the lack of motivation is apparent in their classrooms, too.

There are many, many reasons why a strong work ethic and motivation (both inextricably linked) are so important in the workplace and in life:

  • It is an admired character trait and a MUST for a productive life
  • We owe it to our employers who are paying us for excellent work
  • It directly affects our job performance, pay potential, reputation, job security, and promotability; also, several careers pay directly by output and sales, which are heavily influenced by our work ethic and productivity
  • Our team members are depending on us
  • It is a necessity for building grit and resilience
  • We make ourselves easier to manage in the eyes of our supervisor
  • Businesses are much more “bottom line” focused than in the past and less tolerant of mediocre performers; we have to compete to keep our jobs!
  • A strong work ethic can overcome an average skillset
  • We receive the “psychic benefits” from a job well done
  • And, we accomplish so much more

Individuals with a strong work ethic and motivation:

  • are self starters and needn’t require reminders
  • don’t require rewards each time for hard work; it’s intrinsic
  • are proactive and take initiative
  • are productive and efficient with their time; they focus just as much on working smart as working hard and accomplish more than others during their work time
  • are conscientious, take directions, and follow policies and guidelines
  • are lifelong learners
  • avoid complaining about the less interesting aspects of their job
  • meet or exceed the requirements of the job
  • give their employer a high return on investment

Parents, here are some tips to help build these essential qualities:

  • Instill the values of a strong work ethic and motivation by modeling it yourselves and teaching your children why it’s so important
  • Have your children do age-appropriate chores and message that doing them is not optional (this is where your tough love really pays off!). Introduce them to a wide range of chores, but be somewhat flexible when choosing which ones they are routinely responsible for. Use chores as a learning experience. They’ll be on their own soon!
  • Limit the amount of time they spend on technology and media and adopt a “work before play” strategy
  • When it comes to career selection, encourage them to choose options they will enjoy and be interested in. We are naturally more motivated when we do the things we like.
  • Encourage them to choose friends who take these qualities seriously. Peer influences are huge. If our kids surround themselves with positive and productive people, it will rub off. And if they don’t, that will rub off, too!

Let’s do everything we can to build an intrinsic work ethic in our younger generation and reverse these trends. Today’s tough love will pay dividends in the long run, and, one day, they might just thank you for it.

Next up: Resourcefulness. Have a great week!

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Dependability

I learned that, “Mike, you get your first job on your ability and every job after that
on your dependability.”

~Mike Royer

If your actions don’t live up to your words, you have nothing to say.

~Da Shanne Stokes

“You can count on me.” Hearing these words is every supervisor’s dream! Just as every parent loathes having to give reminders to their kids to do their chores or homework, bosses are in the same boat with their employees when they fail to deliver. And, in my conversations with employers who hire young people, unreliability is easily one of their most common complaints. To wit…

A teen working as a server for an area restaurant was to show up for her 5:00 p.m. shift. Rightfully, the owner could count on that. However, imagine his surprise when he received a call at 4:55 that she was sick and unable to come to work. Apparently unaware of the inconvenience this would cause, she obviously felt that five minutes notice would suffice. As if that wasn’t enough, at 5:10 she would be posting pictures on Facebook of the beach party she was attending a mere ten miles away. To add insult to injury, she was surprised when she showed up the next day and was promptly fired. Sadly, variations of this story are more common than you’d think.

She made the mistake of thinking that the employer existed to serve her rather than the other way around. For her sake, I hope it was a lesson learned.

In the workplace, and in life, dependability is one of our most valued character qualities. It means that we do what we say. That we can be trusted. That we are confidently willing to be held accountable for our actions and actions. And, that we will be easy to manage!

Here’s what dependability looks like in the workplace:

  • You deliver excellent work on time, every time. No reminders necessary. A good practice is to complete your work one to two days ahead of the deadline. That way, if something comes up, you have some cushion.
  • You comply with company policies, ethics, laws, and regulations without failing.
  • You represent the company and its values both internally and externally with customers, prospects, suppliers, and the community.
  • You not only do your work well, but you also seek opportunities to advance the overall organization.
  • You don’t make promises you can’t keep. If anything, you “underpromise and overdeliver!”
  • You are punctual and bring a positive attitude to work every day.
  • If something comes up that threatens your ability to meet a deadline, you inform your supervisor as soon as possible. No last minute warnings and excuses! Remember, bosses hate negative surprises!

Dependability serves us well beyond the workplace, too. Whether it’s in marriages, friendships, community service, etc., we all admire this quality in people.

Parents: sometimes it seems like dependability is a quality you’re either born with or need to learn! Our more compliant children do their chores or homework without our reminders, while it’s a struggle with others. Why not make dependability a family value and help our children understand why it’s so important. In this day and age, many young people seem to view it as optional, only to experience a rude awakening when they enter the workforce. One day they’ll thank you for it.

 

Next week’s topic: work ethic/motivation. Stay tuned for more in this series, and please share with your friends–especially if they have teens are students who will soon be entering the workforce!

In case you missed last week’s post in this series, you can find it here.

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Commitment to Excellence

Every job is a self portrait of the person who does it. Autograph your work with excellence.

~Ted Key

I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty
to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.

~Helen Keller

“A job well done.” Few words are more gratifying to hear from our supervisors or clients than these. We should all feel proud when we deliver excellence, even when it isn’t always recognized!

But, let’s face it. Doing great work isn’t always easy. We might have the skills, but are lacking in attitude, energy, or health. We might have the right attitude, but are still on the learning curve. Or, quite commonly, we’re distracted by some issues in our personal lives that we struggle to “compartmentalize.” We bring our problems from home to work. And, sometimes we procrastinate and run out of time.

Perhaps after integrity, high standards and a commitment to excellence might be our second most valuable workplace quality. Here’s why:

  1. The surest way to build customer loyalty is to consistently deliver top quality products and services that meet or exceed expectations. This results in consistently higher revenues than otherwise. It can onlyhappen when employees are motivated to do their best.
  2. One of the most important aspects of successful companies is their brand and reputation. Tremendous damage can result when companies lower their standards or deliver inconsistent quality. We’re all familiar with companies and industries that skimped on quality and suffered.
  3. We live in an extremely competitive world. Businesses are constantly challenged by others entering their market or by existing competitors who offer new products. A consistent commitment to excellence helps companies preserve, if not expand, their market share. Otherwise, it will shrink.
  4. Depending on the career, it can even be a matter of life and death! Think neurosurgeons, EMTs, and aircraft repair personnel!
  5. It builds our dependability and reputation where we work. This is huge. Reputation means a lot.
  6. Employers are paying us to do our best. It’s up to us to give them a return on their investment. Our commitment to excellence will affect our performance, and ultimately our pay, promotability, and job security.

It’s important to note that a commitment to excellence extends beyond the quality of our work. Other affected areas include our attitude, professionalism, relationships, and teamwork. Having high standards is especially important when we work in teams, because others are depending on us to do our part. We’ve all worked in group projects where one member slacks. It’s no fun. Don’t be “that guy.”
Our Best Tip
Every job has different specifications, and every supervisor varies in management approach. Also, some positions have detailed performance metrics (sales) while others are more vague (management). Therefore, it pays to “get inside your manager’s head” in order to set yourself up for success. It sounds crazy, but it’s so true! And, it’s really quite simple.
On your first day on the job, ask your supervisor to show you the performance review form. (Most have subjective rankings, say, from one to five, on a number of factors, as well as goals.) Then, (and this is key!) ask him/her how they “define excellence” in this position. The more you can understand their preferences, the better positioned you are to deliver the goods. Next, ask what would be the top two or three most important accomplishments you can deliver in the next six months. Finally, ask about the ways you can help them, the team/department, or the company achieve its goals. (Obviously, achieving your goals is primary, but your value will increase if you can also support your supervisor and the broader organization). You’re looking for impact.

Now you know what they’re looking for and you’re positioned to deliver a home run! I did this all the time in my career and it never failed! In addition, be sure to finish your work on time, every time. That’ll make you easy to manage… a supervisor’s dream!

Finally, a special message to parents. When your children are little, they simply will not have the skills to do chores with the same quality as you. So, it pays to praise on effort. However, as they improve, praise that. It will build a growth mindset. Then, when they become teenagers, it’ll be a habit, and you might even consider giving “incentive pay” depending on the quality of their chores. If they underperform, give them tips on how to get a bonus the next time around. This will actually help prepare them for their coming reality in the workplace!

If you want to be an MVP in the eyes of your employer, a commitment to excellence is a must!

Next week: the all important quality of dependability.
In cased you missed it, here’s last week’s post on our first quality of workplace superstars, integrity.

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Integrity

Integrity is choosing your thoughts and actions based on values
rather than personal gain.

~Chris Karcher

Character is much easier kept than recovered.

~Thomas Paine

Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot
to the town gossip.

~Will Rogers

In any list of most desirable workplace qualities, you’d be hard pressed not to find the word “integrity.” In fact, I would argue it’s probably number one. During my three-decade career at Russell Investments, our CEO, George Russell, would often say, “We operate on non-negotiable integrity. And, if you’re wondering whether to say or do something, imagine it being the headline in tomorrow’s newspaper.” Simple as that. Zero tolerance.

So, what is integrity and why is it so important? Dictionary.com defines “integrity” as “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” While integrity is essential to strong personal character, it is even more important in a workplace context. That’s because employers must adhere to policies, laws, regulations, and governing authorities. A simple misrepresentation can literally lead to a company going out of business. Or, more commonly, for an employee to be fired. It’s always important to remember that in a workplace context, you’re representing yourself and your employer.

Here are some descriptors of integrity in action: trustworthiness, honesty, authenticity, respectfulness, compliance (to policies, procedures, regulations, etc.), courage (to do what’s right), taking responsibility for mistakes or shortfalls, and accurate representations. In the workplace, values can be challenged, career shortcuts tempting, and ethical standards gray. In these and all situations, integrity should be our guiding force.

Just as important is knowing what integrity does not look like. Here are some common examples in a workplace context: falsifying records, misrepresenting product qualities/performance, abusing power or position, cheating, stealing, spreading falsehoods/rumors/gossip, and blaming others for one’s underperformance. More often than not, self interest is the catalyst.

Of course, integrity is just as relevant in our personal lives too, as the above descriptors clearly show. Healthy relationships demand it. At LifeSmart, we encourage people, organizations, and schools to take the “integrity challenge:” not communicating anything negative about someone else who is not present. Imagine how this could change our culture! And, reduce bullying and social drama!

Whether we’re parents, educators, or mentors, here are some tips to help the young people in our lives practice integrity as a way of life:

  • Model it ourselves every time, every day.
  • Commend them when they model it. (Especially when they own up to mistakes or poor choices.)
  • Apply a zero tolerance approach when they don’t. Children need to know the importance of trust and that repercussions of violating a trust will be stronger as a result. It is very difficult to recover a broken reputation.
  • Review the above evidences of integrity and the opposite. Which areas are easier to model than others? Where is there room for growth?
  • Look for examples in society (including movies and television) where integrity is either modeled or not and have conversations about them. How might they have handled situations differently? There are great opportunities for real life cases to reinforce lessons.

Integrity. It’s one of the most important character qualities of all.

Next week we’ll cover commitment to excellence.

 

 

 

10 Qualities of Workplace (and Life) Superstars

Character is higher than intellect.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

In my experience, one of the greatest myths that young people believe is that success is all about smarts. While intelligence certainly helps, it is by no means a lock. In fact, many smart people will argue that character and relational skills are just as important. To that end, I’d like to share a fitting personal story with you.

A few years ago during my book launch tour through Indonesia, I gave a talk, “Developing the Great Leaders of Tomorrow,” at a high school in Bali. Afterwards, the audience exited for lunch in the courtyard while I remained up on stage to sign certificates. Some ten minutes later, I was finished and prepared to join the group. As I stood up, however, I saw a student approaching me from the center aisle. Once he reached me, I looked down with a smile and said, “Hi. What’s on your mind?” He looked up with a shy countenance and confided, “Mr. Dennis. I’m not that smart in academics. But, can I still become a great leader?” It was straight from the heart.

We chatted about academics for a bit, and I encouraged him that a certain chapter in What I Wish I Knew at 18might help him greatly. We talked about other things, too, and he listened intently. Then, when it was time to leave, I closed our conversation with this: “Ten minutes ago, you asked me a question, and now I’m going to answer it. With the courage, humility, and desire to learn that you just displayed, yes you can become a great leader.” He looked up at me, brimming with pride, and said, “Thanks Mr. Dennis!” And then with a spring in his step, he walked away.

This was one of the most touching moments I’ve ever experienced, and although I’ll probably never see him again, I’m confident he’s on his way.

This story illustrates why it’s so important to instill belief in our young people and to bust this myth every opportunity we can. You don’t need to be an Einstein to be successful in your career or in life. No way.

So, what is important, besides intellect, to succeed in one’s career? What are some of the qualities most highly prized by employers? Qualities that we parents, educators, and mentors can and should be instilling now?

Simply stated, employers are looking for three basic things… someone who: 1) does good (preferably great!) work, 2) works well with others, and 3) advances the mission and success of the organization.

But, let’s get more specific. Here are our top ten qualities of workplace superstars, excluding the intellectual and technical skills needed for specific jobs and careers:

  1. Integrity
  2. Commitment to Excellence
  3. Dependability
  4. Work ethic/motivation
  5. Resourcefulness
  6. Positive Attitude
  7. eam minded
  8. Friendliness
  9. Resilience
  10. Professionalism

Over the next few months, we’ll be taking a deeper dive into each of these essential qualities for career and life success. If your children, students, and mentees learn to model these well, they will be well positioned to fulfill their dreams and positively impact the world.

We hope you’ll enjoy this series and share it with your friends.

Next week, we’ll tackle integrity, which, arguably, is most important quality on the list.

The Road to Resilience: Part Two

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road… Unless you fail to make the turn.”

~Helen Keller

Last week, we talked about the importance of resilience. Adversity is unavoidable and comes in many forms, so we so we shared five tips for developing resilience, (If you don’t want to read the entire blog from last week, here’s a summary of our five pointers: Keep a healthy perspective, know your worth, tap into your support system, take care of your health, and forgive.)

While we hope these five tips will help you build resilience and avoid self-pity or defeat, we thought it might be helpful to talk about what resilience doesn’t look like. This way, we can evaluate our tendencies when dealing with adversity. So, without further ado’, here are five examples of non-resilience when facing trials:

  1. Making excuses and blaming. This is a common response when adversity stems from our own mistakes or underperformance. And, why not? Isn’t it easier to try to justify ourselves than to admit we’ve blown it? However, making excuses will never propel us forward, and it’s a colossal turnoff to others. If you want to better yourself and your relationships, remember to choose to accept responsibility and learn from your mistakes. It’s one of the surest signs of maturity.
  2. Using drugs or alcohol to cope. These are false comforts that mask the negative emotions (anxiety, despair, sadness, loneliness, etc.) we often experience when living through adversity. In fact, drugs and alcohol actually make things worse. Not only do they prevent us from dealing with the situation at hand, they can cause us to make poor decisions that only make matters worse. So, if you’re going through tough times, please reconsider reaching for that bottle of wine (or drug of choice). You will not come out on the other side with clarity, joy, or a solution. Rather, try those tips we shared last week.
  3. Withdrawing. It can be tempting to lean on ourselves or deny the problem when the going gets rough. Social withdrawal can be especially damaging because our friends, family, and other relationships are incredibly useful (and willing!) resources to help us deal with adversity. Isolating ourselves from the world and refusing to accept our current reality will only make matters worse—it can lead to self-pity, bitterness, and depression. Resilience manifests itself as the opposite of withdrawal. It means facing your challenges head on and relying on the support and wisdom of others to help get you through. #dontgoitalone!
  4. Whining. Nope—just don’t do it. If you feel that you need to be vocal about the adversity you’re facing, try using humor. (Humor, can, in fact, cause you to think more creatively. It’s great for problem solving and definitely more constructive than whining!) Whining will only damage your credibility—it won’t do anything to fix your problem. And, it’s BORING!
  5. Withering. In the last few years, we’ve witnessed a popular trend on campuses of seeking protection from anything that we either disagree with or might bother us. Such students are demonstrating an unprecedented level of fragility and hypersensitivity that is worrisome. Further, it reinforces the entitlement mentality that is permeating the younger generation. It’s time for administrators to step up. This is not preparing them for life after college.

 

Although it would be nice if there were a magic antidote to our adversity, we all know it doesn’t exist. It’s why developing resilience is paramount.

So, how do you approach adversity when it strikes? Do you have other examples of what resilience doesn’t look like to share with us? We’d love to hear!

The Road to Resilience

As much as we all wish that life was an easy, straight shot road to success and happiness, we know that isn’t the case. Even when we practice diligence, discipline, commitment, respect, honesty, and integrity as we work toward our goals, there’s simply no way to avoid pitfalls and obstacles in life.  We’ve talked about handling adversity before, but this week we’d like to specifically address developing the character quality of resilience.

Resilience is defined by Merriam Webster as: “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Take a moment to reflect on how you usually respond to difficult situations in life. Do you bounce back quickly, or do you let life’s trials negatively affect your mood, outlook, relationships, motivation, and work/school performance?

Resilience is not a character trait we are born with. Sure, maybe some are naturally “tougher” than others, but it’s important to remember that resilience is a value we must develop within ourselves. Being resilient means making a conscious choice to not let adversity drag you into defeat or despair. It means choosing to look for a deeper meaning and potential life lesson in each bump in the road and forging ahead to the other side of the valley.

It is difficult to generalize on resilience because adversity comes in many forms, such as:

  • Personal underperformance—bombing the exam, being cut by the team, throwing a costly interception, forgetting lines in the play, getting laid off from the job, losing an election, etc.
  • Group underperformance—losing a winnable game, bombing a group project, losing a major contract to a competitor, etc.
  • Consequences of unhealthy/unwise/damaging decisions
  • Social/relationship struggles—challenges with making friends in new environments, maintaining friendships, break ups, family battles, etc.
  • Family dysfunction
  • Physical or emotional abuse
  • Death or illness of a loved one
  • Financial crises
  • Bad luck—life’s lemons that just happen…to us all.

As you can see, some adversity is from our own doing, but much of it is not. We don’t always have control of our situations, but we DO have control over how we approach our battles and challenges. And, that’s where resilience comes in.

With all that in mind, here are five tips to help you develop resilience in your own life:

  1. Keep a healthy perspective. Remember that everyone faces challenges and adversity, and some of the richest aspects of our life journey come from battling through our toughest times. We grow as a person and, in time, can use these experiences to come alongside others who are facing similar challenges. So keep the faith and work through the problem to the best of your ability, realizing that (in many cases), good can come from it. Today’s valley is NOT your new normal.
  2. Know yourself and your worth. When you have a strong sense of self, you are less likely to let insecurity and uncertainty drag you down. When you are self-assured, you can confidently handle life’s curve balls and know that mistakes or other negative circumstances are not a direct reflection of who you are as a person. And, you will be less likely to blame yourself for situations outside of your control. #Icandothis!
  3. Tap your support system. Whether you rely on your siblings, parents, friends, neighbors, mentors, or faith community (if applicable), it’s important to have a safe network of people who you can talk to and lean on during hard times. Make sure you have people in your life whom you trust to give you helpful, truthful, and constructive advice. It’s nearly impossible to be resilient when you’re going through life on your own. Surround yourself with positive influences through thick and thin. And, don’t hesitate to seek professional help if needed.
  4. Take care of your health. We’ve all realized at some point in our lives that our mental and physiological health are very closely connected. High levels of stress and other damaging emotions can lead to a greater increase of sickness, pain, and exhaustion. In order to handle adversity with resilience, make sure you are sleeping well, eating healthy, and getting in some physical activity. It matters much more than you may think!
  5. Forgive. Depending on the source of your adversity, it may involve forgiving yourself or others. It’s not always easy, but it’s difficult to truly recover without it.

 

When life hands you a lemon, your resilience, courage, determination, and positive support system will help you through. Being able to look beyond your current circumstances and knowing that your life is not going to crumble because of them is key. More often than not, our best life lessons and personal growth come from the hard times.  So, when you build resilience, every sphere of your life will benefit. You are a special and unique person—have confidence that you can always find a way to persevere, overcome, and make a comeback. #Yesidid!

The Most Important Lesson For This School Year?

In a world consumed with constant distractions and multitasking, it seems like we’re becoming more like bumblebees—paying short visits to one flower after another. We’ve never faced “incoming” like this before, and it’s affecting our attention spans, stress levels, and ultimately, our productivity.

So, how can we help our children navigate this noisy world where they’re being pulled in so many directions?

In my years of evaluating leaders, I’ve come to appreciate what virtually all of them have in common:

  1. Vision: an overarching idea of where they want to go. The person they want to become. The impact they would like to have in this world. The life they want to live.
  2. Intentionality: a commitment to setting goals and plans to turn their vision into a reality. Goals that are challenging but realistic, specific, and measurable.
  3. Relentless Effort: they are self motivated and focused like laser beams to achieve their goals and implement their plans. They don’t just work hard—they work smart. They have high standards and manage their time effectively and efficiently. And, they regularly review whether they’re on track and make midcourse corrections along the way.
  4. Resilience: an ability to overcome and learn from their mistakes, shortcomings, and failures. They don’t let disappointments defeat them; rather, they face their challenges head on and persevere.

With a new school year upon us, this is a great opportunity to teach your children and students how to apply these concepts in their lives. Arguably, this could be their most important learning lesson of the year!

So, whether you’re a parent, teacher, mentor, or coach, have the children under your influence set new goals and strategies for the coming year. Encourage them to develop at least one goal in each of the following categories, and to create action steps (with deadlines!) for achieving them:

  • Career: surveying career matches, attending job fairs, creating a resume, sharpening interview skills, meeting people in careers of interest, etc.
  • Education: improving a GPA, taking valuable courses, reading specific books, watching/listening to media-based programs/trainings, etc.
  • Character: developing strengths, addressing weaknesses, modeling qualities/soft skills of admired people, etc.
  • Relationships: improving existing relationships, building new ones (peer, network), etc.
  • Skill: learning a new skill for personal growth, fun, creativity, etc.
  • Service: volunteering time and talent to support your community
  • Experience: checking off a “bucket list” item or two

The more we can instill the value of setting goals, plans, and strategies for life in our children at an early age, the better positioned they will be to achieve success, fulfillment, joy, and impact. Otherwise, especially in this day and age, they’ll be destined for distraction and random (at best) outcomes. It may be a mindshift for them, but they and their dreams are worth it! And, trust me, one day they’ll thank you for it!

The 3 P’s for Success

Doesn’t it feel like summer just started? Well, as much as we all hate to admit it, school will be starting before we know it. And for many young people, that means their first year of college is on the horizon. It’s why this week, we want to focus on studying—specifically, studying for optimum success in college/university!

It’s crucial to keep in mind that college academics are harder—much harder—than in high school. Papers are longer, expectations are higher, competition is greater, professors aren’t as accommodating, classes are bigger, and distractions are like never before. Without committed and disciplined study habits, success in college will be hard to come by. Even if straight A’s came easily to you in high school, it’s likely that university will be more challenging—even for the most accomplished honor student.

People who excel at what they do—whether it’s academics, sports, art, music, business, a trade—generally have these things in common: they’re intensely focused and overcome challenges with PLANNING, PRACTICE, and PERSERVERANCE.  For college students, this might look like reserving weekends for studying, rather than partying, or making sure certain priorities are taken care of before agreeing to social outings. First things first!

I can’t think of a better illustration of “the three P’s” than the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. The team of collegiate athletes was gathered randomly from around the nation under the leadership of Coach Herb Brooks, who developed a brutal training regimen and a strategy to win.

The prospects didn’t look good. They were dominated by the Soviet team in an exhibition game by a score of 10-3. But, that didn’t deter them. They tied Sweden, upset perennially strong Czechoslovakia, and proceeded to defeat Norway, Romania, and West Germany. There was just one problem. The next stop was another crack at the Soviet team, and the players were haunted by their previous humiliation. Nonetheless, Coach Brooks was relentless, challenging the team to do their best when it counted.

Amazingly, the U.S. scored what is considered the greatest sporting upset in history,, defeating the Soviets 4-3 in a win dramatically captured in the 2004 film Miracle. They went on to win the gold medal game over Finland, and rallied our country like no other sporting team in history.

When it comes to achieving your goals and succeeding in college/university and your career, remember that you, too, can overcome great odds by applying the same 3 P’s the 1980 U.S. hockey team did. What good would it have done for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team to skate out onto the ice without the practice and grit to compete?

So, how do we apply the 3 P’s to our studying? By:

  • Planning: organizing our schedules to allocate the needed time to complete our studies. And, making a habit of setting weekly and daily goals and schedules.
  • Practicing: implementing our daily schedules by focusing first on our academic priorities and then studying in environments conducive to concentration and distraction avoidance.
  • Persevering: facing our disappointments head on by analyzing why we underperformed and taking corrective steps to improve. Successful people fight through and grow from their challenges with determination.

Unfortunately, many people struggle with at least one of the “3 P’s”—and never reach their full potential. (Practically, this can look like receiving poor grades, dropping out of school, getting fired for mediocre performance, never moving up, etc.) Many people mistakenly believe they “deserve” success. They show up to university expecting to rest on their laurels from high school. Or, they arrive to their first day of a new job expecting the corner office. They face a brutal awakening.

Don’t let this attitude mark you. When you set your mind to something—whether it’s academic studies, a job (or something else), I encourage you to do it with intentionality and excellence. When school begins again in the coming months, remember this adage: “Plan, practice, and persevere to succeed.” Doing this will give you the best chance to succeed and will build great character along the way.

What are your tried and true recipes for success? If you were talking to your teen or students about success after high school, what tips would you give? Feel free to share what you would add to our list!

Cultivating Productivity in Our Teens

career fairLast week we talked about senioritis, and how giving in to the temptation to slack off near the end of the school year can come back to bite us. That’s why it’s so important that we as parents and teachers do our best to cultivate productivity in our teens.

Over the years, I’ve noticed an interesting trend in my chance encounters with people. It goes something like this:
Me: “It’s great to see you! How’ve you been?”

Them: “Busy!” Or,

Them: “Crazy busy!” Or,

Them: “Out of control!” Or,

Them: “Overwhelmed!”

Is this good?

No, it’s not. We’re experiencing a crisis of over-commitment and information overload like never before. It’s not supposed to be this way. After all, technology is supposed to make us more efficient, isn’t it?  Not more stressed! At the risk of sounding like Fred Flintstone, faster isn’t always better—especially if it reduces our quality of life and productivity.

These days, everyone is consumed with “busyness.” You see it everywhere. Our attention spans are shorter, our responsiveness has markedly deteriorated, our cell phones have become appendages (where almost nonstop beeps and vibrations are creating a false sense of urgency), we’re having a harder time focusing, and relational depth is increasingly being replaced by superficial breadth. Our children are bombarded with information and opportunities like never before and it’s showing up in anxiety levels.

It is crucial that we arm them with a strong productivity foundation to handle this brave new world.

Let’s start with time management. Whether they go on to college or the workplace, they will be in charge of how they spend their time. Successful people are extremely disciplined with their time, viewing it as a priceless asset they cannot get back. That’s the attitude we want to cultivate in our teens. They will need to develop prioritized daily “to-do lists” arranged by importance and urgency, and plan their time accordingly. Top priorities come first and before the fun.

Another key productivity driver is their ability to set goals and plan for their achievement. Encourage your children to set goals regarding their career, family, education, personal growth, finances, service, experiences, recreation/leisure, and daily responsibilities. The more specific, realistic, and measurable they are, the better. Consider setting some time aside with your student and making a list together of their measurable goals— immediate, short term, and long term. Then, train them to develop strategies and plans to achieve them. Without a planning mindset, success is, at best, a random proposition.

Finally, our kids need to become great decision makers. In What I Wish I Knew at 18, I describe an effective six-step decision-making process. The steps are: 1) determine your key decision criteria, 2) get the facts, 3) identify all the alternatives, 4) conduct an objective pro/con analysis for each option, 5) engage wise counsel, and 6) listen to your “gut instinct” or intuition. By working the process, their best option will usually reveal itself. It’s a GREAT discipline for selecting among several college alternatives!

Here are some questions to consider as you prepare for launch time and “train for productivity:”:

  • Are they effective goal setters, planners, time managers, and decision-makers?
  • Do they control technology, rather than allow technology to control them?
  • In their daily planning, do they focus first on what matters most?
  • Do they consider their time as a precious asset?

Let’s do our best to cultivate a foundation of productivity in our teens, as it will the foundation of success for the rest of their lives. Also, don’t forget to lead by example. Ask the above questions about your own life, too. There’s room to improve for all of us!