Say No

4 Tips for evaluating alignment with our goals

Say No

“No is a complete sentence” – Anne Lamott

If we are going to achieve our goals, at times we will be saying no to things that might be fun, interesting or rewarding. The reality is that we simply do not have the capacity to do everything. Furthermore, we would not want to take on everything that comes our way since it may not align with our goals. There comes a time when we just have to say no. So how do we decide what to pursue and what to eliminate or postpone?

No is one of the shortest words in the English language yet it seems to be one of the hardest words to say. Ironically, it’s one of the first words we learned to say. So many things come at us at an ever-increasing pace with so many people demanding our attention it is hard to focus on what we should do. Consequently, we try to do it all. Even when attempting to apply a mental matrix of urgent vs. important, everything seems to fall into urgent and important. We find ourselves trying to please everyone and subordinating our priorities to our spare time, which disappears into exhaustion.

The net result is that our energy goes down and our stress goes up. We expend energy on things that in the end may not drive our personal satisfaction and that alone causes stress. We stress about taking on things that we know are not in alignment with our talents and what we want to accomplish. We see work being done and gain satisfaction from its completion, but not the deep-down gratification satisfaction that comes from achieving something that helps to move us forward. This is why we have goals.

Our goals serve as a filter and a compass to sort out the opportunities that align our action with the direction we planned. As we have the opportunity to start a new activity, our goals provide the guidelines that help us make a good decision for the use of our time. If the opportunity is in alignment with the planned work we had identified in our current goals, then we know that it is an opportunity that will make the best use of our time. If we cannot find alignment between the activity and our goal, then it becomes clear that we should take a pass on the proposed opportunity.

In my book “EXCELLENCE: You CAN Get There From Here!”, I lay out a complete process for developing and managing to goals. It contains both a long-term planning process to determine our direction as well as a short-term planning process to set goals and manage our progress.

This brings us full circle on this topic. If the opportunity is not in alignment with our goals, then we use the shortest sentence in the English language and just say no. This may be a hard thing to do and refusing the opportunity will certainly have an impact on the person providing the opportunity. As smart leaders we know to accomplish our goals, we will have to say no to some of the opportunities, activities and demands from our friends, family and colleagues.

Here are 4 tips for evaluating alignment with our goals:

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Skip Gilbert

Beat the System

4 Tips to Beat the System

Beat the System

“A bad system will beat a good person every time” – W. Edwards Deming

Have you ever observed an organization that recruits sharp, highly energetic and motivated talent and grinds them into submission to produce mediocre results without improving the bottom line of the organization? Have you seen high potential talent join an organization with the expectation of turning the business around only to go from a reputation of success to failure? I know I have.

When we join an organization, we become a part of the overall system that produces results. The system has a structure and a culture that defines how things gets done. The culture either enables or constrains the organization’s ability to evolve and meet the needs of the business. The success of the individual is measured by the individual’s ability to operate within the culture and adapt to the norms and expectations of the organization. The organization sets the rules and evaluates the outcomes. Anyone who does not conform to the norms is considered sub-par and is expected to either improve (conform) or leave the organization. The organization sets the standard. What happens if that standard is mediocrity?

An organization is driven by the many systems or components that all interact with each other. In this systems model, components such as strategy, structure, processes, rewards and people all interact with each other to produce an organizational result. In total an organization is a big system that is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.

Dr. Deming is often cited as being the father of the quality revolution and systems-thinking in organizational design. At a time when the U.S. auto industry was suffering huge losses due to a changing economy and consumer demands, it became clear there was a need to increase quality and profitability to survive. As a result, there was a movement to adopt the principles that Dr. Deming applied in Japan, where quality and systems-thinking became the focal point of management philosophy and practices.

Dr. Deming observed that most of the troubles and possibilities for improvement add up to something like this: 94% belongs to the system and 6% to other causes. In other words, change the system to change the results; the individual has little impact.

Organizations have sophisticated defense mechanisms and the bigger the organization, the greater the ability to resist change. Overall the organization will work very hard to constrain, minimize or discredit the results of the change. Whether through lack of management support or indirectly through minimization of the impact or results, the organization will try to move back to the comfort of the status quo. Most anyone involved with driving organization change will tell us that it is rare that a new idea achieves its full potential.

So, as leaders trapped in a system, what are we to do? First and foremost, understand our situation and then focus our efforts on changing the system. Understanding our situation is critical to being able to achieve the type of success we desire. As part of the system we will be expected to operate within the norms and guidelines of the current culture. So while we have a greater vision of the possible, we will have to operate within the current system to affect change.

The good news is that changing the system has a lot of levers, not the least being the culture. Culture can be defined at a very high level as being the unwritten rules of how we do things here. Since culture is part of the system, a change to the culture will yield changes to the outcomes. Of course, change to any of the other aspects of the system including strategy, structure, processes, rewards and people will yield a net change as well. However, culture is the center of the people system that makes the organization function. Change to any portion of the system without consideration of culture will yield limited results.

To affect change in our portion of the organization our strongest play is to change the culture in our environment and then protect that culture change. The culture as we have defined it consists of the unwritten norms on how we do things here. When we start by changing the norm of expected behavior we open the door to doing things differently. For example, if we decide that building stronger teamwork will improve performance, then we would want to start by articulating and reinforcing behaviors that elevate the team above the individual.

Once the door is open for change, we can adjust the other elements of the system to support the change we are pursuing. A well-executed change supported by an enabling culture can produce significant results. A big change without the supporting culture change will inevitably invoke a reflex reaction with the system working hard to return to the status quo.

The next step is to protect the culture and elevate the results. Once we have established a new culture in our portion of the organization the challenge will be to protect it against the instinctive tendency of the larger organization to return it to its prior state. Again, being a smart leader we know that we are most effective and gain the greatest latitude when our results exceed expectations. The key is to elevate the results of our organization and continue to deliver exceptional performance as defined and recognized by the larger organization.

In the end, the performance of our organization and our performance as a leader are within our control, even in a less than optimal environment. Recognizing that we operate inside an organization that is defined by systems and cultures will help us better plan and adjust to the frustrations of organizational change.

As a final thought, consider this from Dr. Deming:

“…anytime the majority of the people behave a particular way the majority of the time, the people are not the problem. The problem is inherent in the system.”

Here are 4 tips for beating the system:

One Day at a Time

4 Tips for achieving success one day at a time

One Day at a Time

“Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better” — Émile Coué

Overnight success is a myth. Almost every overnight success story is really a story of persistence, overcoming doubt, and hard work. It took over two decades for Steve Jobs to be the overnight success that produced the iPhone. J.K. Rowling worked on her first novel, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” for six years and was rejected twelve times by various publishing houses before being published.

In reality, overnight success is a long story of goals and incremental execution. Success is driven by planning and then moving in the direction of the goal with small, persistent, determined activity. Each day we move forward and try to do better than the day before. We move forward in small amounts, making adjustments and keep going, building our accomplishment by combining the progress of the past with the incremental progress of today.

Our goals are important and provide a direction for our efforts; however, we execute our goals one day at a time. When we plan on achieving our goals in small amounts over a long period of time it yields an amazing result. We not only move in the direction of achieving our goal, but we get better at what we are doing with each iteration of the activity. Steve Jobs improved his ability bring consumer electronics products to market with each new idea. J.K. Rowling was a much better writer at the end of her six year journey to publication than she was at the start.

Sometimes our goals are so lofty that they feel unachievable. As an example, looking at a goal to lose 40 pounds in a year seems like an impossible task, though we know it is achievable (or we would not have set it as a SMART goal). When we consider that in order to achieve the goal we only need to lose less than one pound per week, it does not seem as impossible. In addition, as a byproduct we will also learn how to better control our diet and build our self-control.

Writing a book in a year is a reasonable goal, but also a huge undertaking. Looking at the goal in total makes it seem so impossible; it can be hard to even get started. However, when we view the activity through a smaller lens of writing just five pages per week, it becomes a less daunting task. Through repetition, we will also become a more efficient and better writer.

Consider if we focused on achieving just two percent of our total goal every week. In less than a year we would have achieved our goal and through persistent repetition improved our ability to perform that activity as well. By setting smaller repetitive activities around our larger goal we are able to accomplish a much larger goal without being overwhelmed with the immensity of the challenge. By breaking the goal down into a series of repetitive activities with a measured outcome at the end of each task, we incrementally work our way to achieving our goal and improve our efficiency along the way.

As I point out in my book EXCELLENCE: You CAN Get There From Here!”, our journey to Excellence requires a persistence and drive to keep moving forward to achieve our goals. Our goals are important because they move us toward greater success and satisfaction. Taking an incremental approach to achieving our goals helps the impossible become possible. As the age old expression goes: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Here are 4 tips for achieving success one day at a time:

Have you ever been in the middle of a response to a crisis that turned out to not be a crisis after all? Have you ever had to go to extraordinary efforts to pull together information or provide a defense for a situation that did not really happen? Did it feel like a full emotion response to a false alarm?

In this video I will do a 2 minute summary of the blog post “Full Emotion False Alarm” on Join me as we take time to review a few pointers on becoming a more effective leader.

Full Emotion False Alarm

4 Tips for managing full emotion false alarms

Full Emotion False Alarm

Have you ever been in the middle of a response to a crisis that turned out to not be a crisis after all? Have you ever had to go to extraordinary efforts to pull together information or provide a defense for a situation that did not really happen? Did it feel like a full emotion response to a false alarm?

The news is full of stories of people overreacting to events that prove to be false alarms. Recently it was reported that about 50 people scrambled from a terminal at LAX airport when someone yelled at the top of their lungs to run, and they did. Certainly in our current atmosphere of heightened sensitivity to threats and terrible actions from around the world, it is understandable that people, fearing the worst, ran for their lives. It is part of our DNA to instinctively flee from danger. But the kicker? It was a false alarm. It turns out someone screamed “Run!” when they saw that authorities had stopped a person in a Zorro outfit with a plastic sword. There was no real threat, just an emotional reaction to a perceived danger.

Running from danger is a good and reasonable response to a real threat. There is no question of that. When in danger, flee. No questions asked. However, in this case there was no real danger, just an emotional reaction to an unusual situation. Without all of the facts, someone assumed the worst, overreacted and triggered an emotional panic response from all of those around them.

We face these false alarm challenges on a regular basis. We encounter situations that from the first report seem to have dire consequences for our role, department, business, profession or some aspect of our professional lives. The initial reports may be fragmented, inaccurate or even exaggerated. Military commanders in the field often refer to this phenomenon as the “fog of war,” a period of time where the information is incomplete and unreliable.

First and foremost, we need to keep our perspective and realize the improbable is improbable. Things are not likely to be as bad as initially reported. Certainly they will be different than initially reported. We will need to seek additional information from several sources to piece together a more complete view of the situation. In most cases, once we have the complete picture, or at least enough of the picture to gain an informed perspective, the situation will not be as dire as initially reported.

Many times I have received dire reports from the field that if true as reported are seriously troubling. In many of these situations, once the full perspective is understood, the situation is far less troubling than initially reported. It usually stems from a misunderstanding or miscommunication that leads to an impulsive reaction. I was certainly glad I did not overreact in those times and add weight to a single perspective of the situation to only make matters worse.

As leaders people will look to us to react to the situation and will respond according to our actions and instructions. We can either keep our perspective and fully examine the issue and organize a response or react emotionally without sufficient assessment of the situation and cause a panic response. As hard as it may be to keep our emotions in-check, it is essential that we do so. We can very easily end up adding to the confusion or doing additional damage to critical relationships by acting before we have a well-rounded perspective on the issue. Keeping our cool and gathering the facts will always play to our advantage. Once we have the facts, by all means react.

As smart leaders we know that people look to us for our first reaction to see if they are in danger. Our initial reaction and our next steps will determine if everyone keeps their heads and gathers the facts or runs for the doors. Keep the emotions in-check, gather the facts and react accordingly will work for us every time.

Here are 4 tips for managing full emotion false alarms:

Making a Difference

Do you ever wonder if the fruit of your efforts make a difference? Have you ever felt that you were shouting something of great importance, but nobody was listening? Have you ever been discouraged because you know the solution, but nobody seems to recognize you as an authority? I know I have and I still encounter that feeling on a regular basis.

Many years ago, I was exposed to a simple story that to this day helps me put my expectations in perspective and reminds me why I need to keep going. It helps me keep my perspective even when it seems nobody is listening or I question if what I am doing makes a difference.

In this video I will do a 2 minute summary of the blog post “Making a Difference” on Join me as we take time to review a few pointers on becoming a more effective leader.

Make a Difference

4 Tips for making a difference

Make A Difference

“If you aren’t making a difference in other people’s lives, you shouldn’t be in business. It’s that simple.” – Richard Branson

Do you ever wonder if the fruit of your efforts make a difference? Have you ever felt that you were shouting something of great importance, but nobody was listening? Have you ever been discouraged because you know the solution, but nobody seems to recognize you as an authority? I know I have and I still encounter that feeling on a regular basis.

Many years ago, I was exposed to a simple story that to this day helps me put my expectations in perspective and reminds me why I need to keep going. It helps me keep my perspective even when it seems nobody is listening or I question if what I am doing makes a difference.

The Starfish Story

A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.

“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” he asks.

“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”

“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”

The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.” 

Adapted from the story “The Star Thrower” by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

There is a great lesson available to us from this story. We may not be able to save the world. We may not even have the opportunity to convey our message to a large audience, though we know that others would greatly benefit from the knowledge and experience we could share. Our best opportunity to make a difference is to focus on those that are open to receiving our message and willing to accept our help. These are the people who are ready to listen and internalize our message.

There are many who would benefit from what we have learned through our successes and failures. Whether in our professional or personal lives we have a lot to offer others around us. In many ways as a leader we have a responsibility to develop those around us to allow them to better utilize their skills and ultimately help our team deliver success.

We are most effective when we concentrate on serving each person individually. If we concentrate on serving those who are receptive to our message, we may find that it leads to an opportunity to serve more people in the long run. Just as in the story, while we may not be able to reach the larger population, it may really make a difference to those we are able to reach. Taken one individual at a time over a long period of time, we will find we have made a difference to a large number of people.

I think about this story often. There is an enormous effort that goes into writing books, providing meaningful content in the blog, making videos, maintaining the website and corresponding with our community. There are times when it feels like I am shouting into the wind. Book sales come in one or two books at a time and the number of subscribers increases at a slow steady pace. Large audiences are not formed overnight or even sometimes at all. All of the hard work and long hours that go into writing the books does not automatically put the book in a wide circulation or place it on the Amazon or New York Times best seller list. I am reminded that overnight successes are years in the making.

It is the same when we consider the opportunities to mentor people and change the world around us. There are times when we will feel undervalued and it will be tempting to lose our enthusiasm. As leaders that is just the point where we need to apply our character and drive forward. One person at a time, one project at a time, one obstacle at a time. Over time our success will be measured by the individual successes we have along the way. In the end, we will know we have made a difference.

Here are 4 Tips for making a difference:

Keep Thinking: Thoughts for Success

Available at in Paperback and Kindle!

As leaders we are faced with many challenges, not the least of which are staying motivated and moving forward. The steady drumbeat of everyday activity tends to rob us of our optimism and causes us to question our capability. Occasionally, we need to regain our perspective by taking a step back to refresh and reexamine our thoughts and approaches.

As smart leaders we know it is essential that we continue to learn. We know we benefit when we take the opportunity to evaluate our surroundings and incorporate the new learnings into our knowledgebase. We have come to understand the value of taking time to review the key principles and experiences that have led to our current success.

Keep Thinking: Thoughts for Success

New Book Release!

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Keep Thinking: Thoughts for Success


Thoughts on Change, Leadership and Personal Development for Smart Leaders


Keep Thinking: Thoughts for Success provides meaningful reminders and new insight into the core topics of interest for all smart leaders. The topics are short enough for convenient consumption in our busy days, but deep enough to stimulate real learning and reflection. The topics span areas of interest and importance in leveraging change, building our teams, pursuing our goals and achieving success through Excellence.

Change: A simple but effective formula for planning and managing change and reminding ourselves to be an agent of change.

Excellence: Reminder of the key ingredients of pursuing Excellence.

Leadership: Topics include Being Transparent, Focusing on Solutions, Providing Positive Reinforcement and Being a Servant-Leader

Personal Development: Reminds us to Create a Bigger Vision, Embrace Who we Are, Manage our Self-talk, Rise above the Issues and to Stay Positive and other engaging topics

These along with many other important facets to achieving stronger more capable leadership qualities are included in the compendium of thoughts in Keep Thinking: Thoughts for Success.