Good habits lead to success

If a person wants a successful future he or she needs to plan for it. We don’t often drift into success. Success comes when we take intentional steps to achieve it. One of the critical steps we can take to enjoy a successful future is to develop good habits. Our habits determine our future.

I’ve read the average baby boomer has less than $25,000 in retirement savings. Hopefully, that isn’t correct because if it is it means a lot of baby boomers are not going to retire. But, if it is true, how did they get to that place? They had a habit of spending everything they made, and in many cases spending more than they made which put them in debt. If they had developed the habit of investing even ten percent of their income in a ROTH IRA every paycheck they would be approaching retirement with a nice nest egg that would allow them to retire with dignity and able to do just about anything they wanted to do in retirement.

Successful people make a habit of doing things unsuccessful people don’t want to do. Does anyone enjoy making cold calls? Not many, but successful people make them anyway knowing they lead to sales. In fact, highly successful sales people know how many cold calls they need to make to get a certain number of sales, and they have developed a habit of making that many calls every day.

The fact that good habits lead to business success also apply to every other area of our lives. We need to develop good habits when it comes to our families, to our own personal self-care, to our personal growth, and to our relationship with God.

While good habits lead to success, we need to remember that bad habits lead to problems. Students who never study usually do not do well in school. Spouses who have made it a habit to ignore the needs of their loved ones usually have problems in their relationships. People who have developed bad eating habits usually have health problems. The list goes on….

What habits do you need to develop? You can answer that by deciding what it is that you want to achieve in each area of your life and then identifying the steps you will need to take to get there. From those steps you can develop the habits you will practice every day to take those steps which will then take you to the success you seek.

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Stretch people to help them reach their potential

To accomplish great things you need a great team. Working alone limits what we can accomplish. Working with a great team increases our accomplishments. Of course, the challenge here is to have a great team. Great teams seldom occur by accident. They are developed by great leaders who see the value in developing those individuals who will come together as a team. Many things go into team development, but perhaps one of the most important is to stretch the team members to help them reach their potential. How does one do that?

Mark Sanborn has said, “Great leaders help people have a larger vision of themselves.” Ask most people to identify their weaknesses and faults, and they can usually provide you with a page full. Ask them to identify their strengths and areas of giftedness and many of them will struggle to name more than two or three. So many of us have a small vision of who we are and what we can do. Great leaders will help their team members begin to see a larger vision of who they are and what they can do.

Weak leaders will not do that. I’ve seen leaders who constantly criticize their team members, destroying morale and whatever motivation those team members may have had. I’ve had team members tell me they saw no sense in trying to do anything because whatever they did would be criticized and have to be redone. There was no need for them to try to be creative or do anything new or different. When this happens a team no longer exists. People are merely putting in their hours for a paycheck.

But, when a leader begins to paint a larger vision for the team great things can happen! When I became pastor of a small country church it had a succession of pastors for many years. In fact, the average pastoral tenure for many years was 12 months, and that was the average! Needless to say, not much had happened in that church with such pastoral turnover. One of the things I did was to encourage the church to do new things. Without going into detail it was challenging at first, but the church began to respond and slowly began doing some things they should have done years before.

I frequently complimented them on what they were doing. Often, I would remind them from the pulpit that I had more confidence in them than some of them did in themselves. In time, more of them began to feel that confidence as well, and we were able to accomplish even greater things. I kept trying to stretch them into believing they could do even more. By the time I left, after 20 years of serving that church, we were doing far more than might be expected of a church our size, and it was all due to the people coming together as a team and believing they were capable of doing those things.

If you want to accomplish more you need to gather a team around you and stretch the vision they have of themselves. Invest yourself in developing that team until it becomes a great team. You will be surprised what will be accomplished!

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Teamwork wins championships

I enjoy sports. Basketball, football and baseball are my favorites because they are team sports, and I am a big believer in teams. A well-coached team that has learned to work together is a joy to watch.

Since we are currently in basketball season I’ll focus on that game. Every year the top college teams in the country recruit the best players. In high school these players often carried their teams. They were constantly being told how good they were. Top schools fought for them to attend their schools to play basketball for them. They were the elite of the elite. Sometimes when they got to college they continued to be the premier player on the team. But, a funny thing happened. Their schools seldom won championships. They lost to the schools who had the best teams, not the best players. Individuals can win trophies and accolades, but teams win championships.

One of the biggest challenge a college coach has is to turn his all-star high school players into a team. These coaches know at this level it takes teamwork to win games. One player cannot do it all. This one player may be the energizing spark for the team, but it takes five people working together to win games.

The same is true in business and in other organizations. Leaders of organizations need to bring in the best talent they can find for every position, but that talent must be able to work as a team to accomplish the best results for the organization. People who are not team players will hurt an organization regardless of how talented they might be. As John Maxwell often says, “One is too small a number to achieve greatness.”

I believe that, and because I believe that I am always looking for people who will be good team players. I would rather have a talented person with the ability to be a great team player than to have someone with superior abilities who is not a good team player. You can always train for skills; it’s much more difficult to train for attitude. No matter how talented that superior person may be, he or she will not achieve greater things than a team of good leaders who work very well as a team.


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Can you motivate other people?

One of the great leadership challenges is how to motivate people to do what they need to do. For a long time most people thought motivation was done through sticks and carrots. If people did not perform they were punished, and if they did perform they would be rewarded. Such external motivation may work for a time but it’s usually only temporary. Long-term, such external motivations may actually do more harm than good.

The best motivation comes from within a person. They perform their tasks because they find pleasure in doing so. They believe they are doing something worthwhile and so they keep at it.

This past weekend I led a group of leaders in goal-setting. During our lunch break some of us began talking about reading when I mentioned that I try to read about 50 books a year. Some of the people were stunned. They responded they were lucky to read one or two books a year. When we returned to the goal-setting exercise I discussed the system I used in setting goals. It is a very thorough process that I follow, and I could tell that I was losing some of the people, especially the ones who admitted earlier they didn’t read much.

Why do I read as much as I do and follow such a disciplined process when setting goals? The answer is that I enjoy it and believe that both practices are beneficial to my personal and professional growth. Inwardly, I am motivated to do these things the way I do because of my commitment to lifelong learning and growth, and I know these practices will help me do both.

Frankly, I do not think one can motivate another person. We can create a climate in which the person can motivate himself or herself, but even that doesn’t work all the time. Anyone who has ever had a two-year-old child has learned that!  We can help a person work in areas in which he or she is gifted and cares about and give them work that matters. It’s pretty hard for a person to remain motivated for very long if their only job is removing staples from incoming mail. However, when a passionate person is given a task that truly impacts the lives of other people that person is likely to be internally motivated to do the best job possible.

Another thing leaders can do is to recognize and publicly acknowledge the excellent work a person does. I recently read a story about the great quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, who made a key block in a game that helped his team win the game. When the team gathered together to review the game film the following day the coach praised several of the players on the team but never mentioned Tarkenton, After the team meeting the quarterback asked his coach why he never said anything about the block he made. The coach responded that because Tarkenton always gave everything he had on the field he didn’t feel he needed to praise him for that play. Tarkenton told the coach, “If you ever want me to do it again, you need to.”

We are often told that what gets measured gets done. I would add to that what gets praised gets repeated. When leaders fail to recognize those who are doing great work it is very hard for those people to stay motivated regardless of how much they enjoy what they are doing. We all enjoy being praised for our excellent work.

One more thing leaders can do to help people be internally motivated: Treat people as individuals. I worked on an assembly line for 12 years. It required little internal motivation to put part A on part B as the line continued down the track. Many of the things we assembled were missing parts or had to be set off at the end of the track to be repaired. Most of the workers did an OK job, but there was little incentive or motivation to work at their best. The mindset was that we were there for eight hours to do a job for which we would be paid, and then we could go home and do whatever we enjoyed doing. That mindset does not bring out the best in people.

Today, robots do a great deal of the tedious assembly work in many plants. That frees up people to do more challenging and interesting work. but too many companies still want to enforce blanket policies on everyone without taking into account the different personalities among their employees. Those companies that are successful in bringing out the best in their people are those who give their employees great leeway in how they do their jobs. In turn, their employees are often highly motivated to do their best work. It’s a win for both.

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Success is an inside job

You might succeed if no one else believes you can, but you will never succeed if you don’t believe you can. One of the most important things anyone can do to succeed in life is to believe that they can. Another important thing is that you must believe you deserve to succeed. Without these two elements it is unlikely that a person will enjoy much success in life.

The story is told of a man visiting an Asian country when he passed a tattoo shop. In the display window there were a number of sample tattoos a person might get. The one that intrigued the visitor said “Born to Lose.” He entered the shop and asked the owner why anyone would want that tattooed on their body. The owner tapped his head and responded “Before tattoo on body, tattoo in mind.”

I’ve known several people who believed that about themselves. They believed they were born to lose, that they never had a chance to succeed in life, and that everything was stacked against them. I’ve often wondered who put such thoughts in a person’s mind. Was it parents who told them as children that they would never amount to much? Was it the people they associated with? Maybe it came from the music they listened to or the movies they watched. Regardless of the source, as long as they allow that belief to keep playing in their minds they will struggle to ever enjoy success.

What can one do if they struggle with such self-doubts? There are several things you can do.

  • Avoid the negative people in your life and spend more time with positive people who believe in you. The more time I spend with successful people the more success I enjoy in my own life. Their self-confidence can’t help but rub off on you.
  • Speak positive thoughts to yourself. Zig Ziglar used to challenge his audiences to look at themselves in a mirror and speak positive things about themselves. He often said the most important conversation you can have is the one you have with yourself. Hey…if you’re going to talk to yourself anyway, you might as well make it positive.
  • Listen to positive podcasts while you’re driving. When I had a job that kept me on the road a lot I downloaded a number of podcasts to listen to while driving. All of them were positive that promoted healthy views on a number of topics.
  • Read books that promote healthy ways to approach success in family life, business, finances, health and spiritual well-being. I am constantly reading positive books on these topics to keep feeding my mind with the right kinds of thoughts.
  • Talk to successful people. When John Maxwell was just starting out he contacted a number of successful people and offered to pay them for one hour of their time to talk to him about their success and answer some questions. Several agreed to meet with him, and many of them refused to accept his money. You might be surprised at how agreeable successful people are to share what they’ve learned over the years.

The key is to feed yourself with as much positive input as you can any way you can. The better you feel about yourself, the more success you are apt to enjoy in life. That success can lead to better marriages, better relationships with friends and family, improved finances, better health, a deeper spirituality, and a better all-around life. The choice is yours because success is an inside job.

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Embrace failure

No one enjoys failing at anything, and yet each of us have failed many times. As someone once said, the person who best understood the human race is the person who invented the eraser on pencils. Despite our aversion to failure, the truth is that failure is a part of the process of advancing to the top of our fields. It’s the lessons we learn through our failures that prepare us for the challenges we will face as we advance through life. Dr. Joyce Brothers once said that “The person interested in success has to learn to view failure as a healthy, inevitable part of the process of getting to the top.”

In previous posts I’ve mentioned a business our family owned which I managed. That business failed. The primary cause of that failure was me. I made too many mistakes as I led that company. After selling the business and having time to reflect on what happened, I wrote an eBook, Mistakes: Avoiding the Wrong Decisions That Will Close Your Small Business that described some of the mistakes I made and what I learned from them. I wrote the book to help me better understand what had happened and to help readers learn from my mistakes and avoid them.

There was nothing about that failure that I enjoyed. Selling all our inventory and equipment at auction for pennies on the dollar was painful to endure. What would have been even more painful would have been if, after that experience, I gave up. You see… failure is only final if you quit after you fail. As long as you are willing to get back up after falling you haven’t failed. The important thing is to take what was learned from the failure and apply it to the next phase of your life.

The story is told of a middle-manager who made a mistake that cost the company $10 million. He was summoned to the president’s office where he was certain he would be fired. As he entered the office he told the president that he understood why he was being let go, and he would pack his personal items and leave his office as quickly as possible. The president looked at him and said, “Why would I fire you? I just spent $10 million training you.”

Management expert Peter Drucker has said, “The better a man is, the more mistakes he will make, for the more new things he will try. I would never promote to a top-level job a man who was not making mistakes…otherwise he is sure to be mediocre.”

While we do not want to fail on purpose, let’s see failure for what it is. It is inevitable for anyone who is not afraid to try new things. Some of those things simply will not work out, but that’s all right. Teddy Roosevelt said, “Far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take ranks with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

Failure is also an educational process that each person must go through. We grow through our failures, assuming we learn from them. In fact, I would dare say we grow more through our failures than through our successes. As we grow we become better prepared for future challenges and will enjoy even greater successes in the future.

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Avoid weasel words

Weasel words give a person an out. They are a way of saying something without making a commitment. When we are saying that we will get back to a person as soon as we can, we are not making a commitment to that person. In fact, what we are saying is that their question or issue isn’t that important and we’ll address it when we feel like it. When I was pastor of a church I reminded a young man of an event that was coming up and he should plan on being there. He responded he would be there if nothing came up. Several of us were standing there at the time, including his father-in-law, and we all began to laugh. What he was, perhaps unconsciously, saying was that this event wasn’t a priority to him and if he couldn’t find a good reason not to go he might attend. BTW – He did attend, and we have often teased him about his response.

When we tell someone we are going to do something we need to make a positive commitment to do it. If we cannot make that positive commitment we need to be upfront and tell the person that.

For many of us, one of the hardest things to tell someone is no. We believe that if we tell them no we will hurt their feelings. Maybe so, but we won’t hurt their feelings if we’ve responded to their request with weasel words and they’ve heard a commitment on our part.

In my auction business I sometimes have to tell people the things they want me to sell are not worth anything. One lady asked me to sell several items for her so they could afford to pay for their rising medicine costs. When I looked at what she wanted to sell I knew there was no market for it. I could see the hurt in her eyes when I told her that, but I would much rather hurt her then than to hurt her even worse when she received a check that would have been even more disappointing.

I realize that sometimes we make a firm commitment to someone and something does come up that makes it impossible to keep that commitment. We were not guilty of using weasel words; unexpected things just happen sometimes. When that happens, make an immediate call to let them know what’s happened and offer another time when you can do what you said you would do. That’s better than leaving the person hanging and questioning your credibility.

If you want to be successful in your chosen field, avoid weasel words. Make commitments and keep them.

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