While everyone is looking backward at the dumpster-fire-of-a-year we just finished, I want to offer a prescription for looking forward with perspective. (This post is an upgraded version of one originally posted in August last year.)
“The difference between leaders and followers is perspective. The difference between leaders and better leaders is better perspective.”
(J. Robert Clinton. Making of a Leader)
New Year’s Eve was odd this year. There was no million person celebration in Times Square, no midnight crystal ball drop, and today no Rose Parade. However, traditional trappings or not, at the mystical moment of midnight we stepped into a new reality called 2021.
Think of it like a giant global do over. The question is, what matters most as you step into the promised land of this new year?
Identifying what matters requires perspective. Perspective starts by asking questions that will help you reflect on the past. For example: What lessons did you learn last year that will serve you well going forward? What habits did you develop that need to be changed? Which habits got started that are healthy and helpful? What new rhythms in life and work got started? etc. etc. etc.
Altitude: the ability to see above the fray of the past and navigate the present in light of the future.
At ground level our field of vision is cluttered with rocks and trees and critters and obstacles. Knee deep in alligators, perspective is nearly impossible. Get to 10,000 feet and the vista opens up. At 10,000 feet, perspective reveals itself.
The thing is, perspective is fragile. Elusive. Quite fickle. Finding altitude takes hard work and leaves us prey to thinking that the perspective we held last year will carry us into the future.
Q: What have I learned about how to win the fight for perspective?
A: We have to fight for it every day!
By fighting for it, I mean building consistent disciplines and rhythms. I mean ruthlessly interrupting half-baked notions that perspective shows up out of the blue. Believe that fairy tale and you might as well sit on the porch waiting for the winning lottery ticket—you never purchased—to flutter into your lap on the next breeze.
Four Practices to Give You Altitude
#1. AN ANNUAL RETREAT FOR PRAYER AND PLANNING
In fact, tomorrow, my wife and I will disconnect our digital tethers for a five-day solitude retreat. We will review the past year, pray through what we see ahead, and identify the priorities and goals that matter most for this next year.
This annual retreat helps us recalibrate our priorities every year. Its like a tune-up for our souls and our personal leadership. I am not exaggerating when I say it is the most important week of my year.
The point is not that you do what I do, it is that you find what works for you. Find a way to block a couple days for unhurried thought to look back over the last year and then identify what you need to focus on for the year ahead. Set your priorities and plans so that you might align your time and energy to act on them every month, every week, and every day.
#2. A MONTHLY DAY ON THE SUMMIT
Build it as a personal planning day, a personal retreat, a day of solitude… whatever format serves your soul best. But, one way or another, find a way to get out of the office and away from that digital tether for one day every month. Get some altitude and look out over the horizon for perspective.
Where are you headed? Where do you need to be headed? Evaluate the past 30 days. There are things to celebrate and things to correct. This is a moment for self-reflection and real-time course correction.
#3. A WEEKLY “ALTITUDE ADJUSTMENT”
The fulcrum between a week that’s gone and a week that’s coming is the perfect moment to stop for a little perspective. What progress did you just make? What ate your lunch? How would you like a do-over? What is the one thing that’s most important for you to get done this next week? How does your time need to be reallocated this coming week to get that one thing done?
Rebuild your workflow every week in order to do what is most important for the week.
#4. A DAILY SABBATICAL
Yeah, I know, a sabbatical is something big, bold, and deliberate. Call me crazy, but I am saying we should fight for a little sabbatical window every day. Carve a slice of time devoted to one of the 3-R’s: non-urgent Reading, Reflection, or other Re-creational activities. See more thoughts on this in my recent post on the secrets of elasticity.
I know, you might be tempted to say, Gary, that’s impossible. To which I would simply answer, the world of über successful people have all found a way. Warren Buffett, for instance, reads 500 pages a day! He estimates that he spends 80% of his time reading and thinking.
A Free Offer: Subscribe to aboutLEADING and I’ll send you a free copy of my “Game Plan for an Intentional Life.”
Over the years, I've experimented with ways to integrate these four disciplines into ongoing practice. People have asked so I assembled my best practices into this “GamePlan.” This coming Spring, I plan to create a training video and support package to help people implement the “GamePlan.” However, during January and February 2021 I am offering a free copy of the current version to everyone who subscribes to aboutLEADING.
Your thoughts? Your best practices?