What I’ve Learned This Year

By Nathan Mersereau

As much as I love to look ahead, I always make a concerted effort to look back around this time of year. Here are some things I’ve learned in 2018 that are guiding my planning for 2019. Hopefully, you’ll find some useful nuggets that you can incorporate into your management toolbox in the year ahead:

Stay rooted in the now

I’m a highly goal-oriented person and, as mentioned, I’m in my comfort zone when looking forward. But I’ve realized I can get too focused on long-range objectives. I fell into the habit of talking about big plans for five years out when my employees needed help with something happening in the next five weeks. The disconnect left some people feeling unheard. No matter what goals and endeavors Planning Alternatives pursues in 2019, I’ll be making a concerted effort to be more present-minded.

Embrace servant leadership

I’ve had the great fortune to have conversations with the wise Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks. Howard is a huge advocate of business leaders serving the needs and interests of their employees first. He speaks passionately about leading from behind and giving employees both the space and support they need in order to shine. As Howard says, “Servant leadership is not words, it’s actions.” I’ve taken his advice to heart.

We’ve gone through a bit of an organizational restructure at Planning Alternatives which is enabling me to meet one-on-one with my employees on a more frequent basis. I’m more plugged into people’s concerns because I’ve moved from seeking to be understood to trying to understand.

Moreover, with servant leadership in mind, I’ve been sweating the smaller stuff. By being more engaged, inquisitive and attentive, I learned there was a desire on the part of some staff members to get stand-up desks. We got the desks. Some administrative staff thought it would be helpful to have extra laptops available. We bought the computers. These purchases have boosted both spirits and productivity.

The servant leadership model is helping us craft a shared company vision and have healthier dialogue. (For more on servant leadership, check out my podcast interview with Howard Behar.)

Be aware that blind spots can blindside you

I try to look back at decisions I made in the year and assess their impact. I’m breaking down some decisions that didn’t work out into all the decisions that lead up to it. While I recognize that it sounds like a theoretically impossible task, I’m attempting to identify and examine my blind spots. The goal is to see what I can learn about myself and how I can improve.

While hindsight is 20/20, here are some blind spots that cost me in 2018:

  • I made a couple of seemingly in-the-moment smart decisions without considering the second and third-level consequences.
  • I was overly optimistic about how much time I’d have.
  • I overthought. There’s healthy self-reflection (writing this blog post), and then there’s mentally exhausting levels of over-analysis.

So, what blind spots blindsided you this year? What were the implications? Who did you impact? How can you do better?

Understand that all businesses have the same problems

There are always problems to deal with when running a business. Always. This, perhaps, has been the biggest realization for me.

No matter the organization, everyone seems to think their company is so unique and that their firm’s problems are so uniquely complex that nobody else could ever really understand. It’s just not the case. And it’s the kind of flawed thinking that causes leaders to feel isolated.

In addition, many experienced leaders (myself included) have deluded themselves into believing that once this “unique problem” is addressed or “when we just get through the next two weeks” that then, finally, the coast will somehow be clear. But “then” never comes. It’s a fallacy rooted in wishful thinking. Problems are simply a permanent part of running an organization. And that’s OK. Finally accepting that reality has been incredibly freeing for me.

If this resonates with you, make a change in 2019. Find people to confide in about the problems you’re trying to solve and also talk about them openly with your team. Don’t allow them to fester or make them more significant than they are. Invest in getting the right professionals in the right seats to address them if need be. Embrace reality and keep your head up. You’re not alone, and you can guide your team to bust through each barrier in your way.

What did you learn in 2018? As always, I welcome your thoughts. Email me at nathan.mersereau@planningalt.com

Thank you for listening to the Day in a Canoe – Creating a Life of Wealth and Wisdom podcast this year. I hope you found the conversations valuable. To learn from successful business leaders sharing the lessons they learned along the way, please subscribe below.

Wishing you a prosperous 2019!

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