April 21, 2010

A friend sent me a "manifesto" for personal success written by a woman I've never met.  But once I read her thoughts, I knew I'd like Susan Bixler.  Some day I hope to meet the CEO of Bixler Consulting Group, which is celebrating its 30th year of being in business.  Here are Susan's wise words that come from a woman who has clearly "been there and done that." 

A Work in Progress: Lessons Learned

l. Don't self-limit. In 1980 I started with the idea that I could turn my passion for coaching and consulting into a business. What I didn't have was experience, funding, or a well-thought-out business plan. Still the business evolved as I called on clients, increased my network, and joined business groups. It was never in a straight line, never without adversity or setbacks. Yet surprisingly I discovered my biggest obstacle was not the marketplace or the competition. It was me. I have always limited myself more than anyone else has. As I expanded my view of myself and what my company could offer, it helped me upgrade how I thought about the unfolding opportunities that laid ahead of me. That's when I wrote my first book, The Professional Image, which stayed in print for 15 years and launched the company.

2. Sustain your focus on what is most important. Creating clarity in one's life is very difficult, whether you are graduating from high school or college, are employed or unemployed, or are starting a business. Getting clear on what to do next is not easy whether we are 18 or 80. Dedicating two to three hours every quarter and writing down 90-day goals is a powerful process. The key is not to file them away, but pull them out every day and act on at least one key item within 24 hours. The habit and discipline of thinking, writing, and reviewing goals can create a more exciting and abundant career/life. Good habits empower us. Just remember it's about progress, not perfection. I have written down a certain goal over and over the past 20 years, and have not accomplished it. But this is the year I will make it happen!

3. Passion is the secret sauce in leadership. Leadership combines the science of fact and emotion, but not always in equal parts. Facts alone have never won a single game in any sport. Facts alone have never built a company, sold an idea, or motivated people to reach beyond themselves. Leadership is tapping into the passion and emotions of your team and combining them with the facts. The simplicity of creating passion and connection is to listen well. Listen as if that person is the only one in your universe. Don't interrupt and don't relate anything back to your own experience for at least 5 minutes. Pay attention to what your team member or colleague is passionate about. Here are some questions to ask: "What is important to you in your work here?" "What is important to you in your life outside work?" "What do you want to achieve in life, more than anything else?" "What single thing in business is worth the struggle?"

Facilitate honest discussions with your key team members so they know you care, you understand and support their values, and they feel known by you because you are interested. When you know what triggers motivation and passion in your team members, you have the secret sauce of leadership.

4. Over-prepare, over-practice.

Recently, I attended an event where a celebrity speaker had an incredible opportunity to influence about 2,000 people. This audience was already on her side and could write checks, volunteer, and make a difference to her cause. The celebrity came unprepared without much thought to the tremendous platform she had, and as a consequence, her speech fell flat. It was a missed opportunity to impact her audience and benefit the charity in which she had been involved for over 10 years. How many times has that happened to us? I cringe when I think about a commencement speech I delivered poorly because I didn't take the time to prepare. I just tried to wing it. Over-preparation and over-practicing is never a mistake. We fool ourselves when we think it is. World class performers know better than that and make sure they hit the mark every time.

5. Do everything you can to preserve, maintain, and grow your energy.

Get clear on what and who gives you energy and put those people and activities into your life. Know your strengths and keep maximizing them. You will become incredibly competent and consistently energized. Stay away from truly toxic people because they will deplete your energy and make it impossible to grow. Stay away even if they tempt you with a boatload of promises. But allow for the possibility that sometimes a seemingly toxic person may be struggling with issues and fear of which you are not aware. An edge, a temper, or a crummy attitude may melt with an unexpected act of generosity. Repairing a broken relationship can heal and reenergize you.6.

There is no Silver Bullet. If only there were. If only there was one single accomplishment, or academic degree, or amazing talent that created a tremendous, sustainable career. But there isn't. It takes a lot of hard work, credentialing, fits and starts, hundreds of failed experiments, dodging of bullets, lucky breaks, courage, and adversity for it to all come together. And yet it never comes together perfectly because it's an ongoing process of constant growth and lessons learned. So have a purpose for your career, your money, your time, and your life beyond yourself. It's a lot more satisfying, and you can answer the burning question "Is it all worth it?" with a resounding "YES."

Stay in touch with Anne

Sign up here to receive special messages from Anne about current topics.