Last week, I was in Memphis speaking at the Tennessee Municipal League annual conference. While there, I took the time to visit the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was assassinated. I stood in the parking lot beneath the second-floor balcony where King was shot and was stunned by the smallness and intense normalcy of the setting. The place where one of the darkest chapters of our American history was written was overwhelmingly mundane.
There is absolutely nothing exceptional about the motel — nothing that would make it stand out — nothing that would make you take even a second look at it as you drove by. As I pondered the intense routineness of the place, it struck me that the same thing could be said of the very reason for King’s visit to Memphis. He was there to support striking sanitation workers in their desire to be treated like everyone else — an intensely normal desire and expectation.
I suspect the typical American thinks the strike was over money, but the strike was ignited over the deaths of two sanitation workers (Echol Cole and Robert Walker) who were crushed to death in the compactor of their garbage truck. In 1968, city rules prohibited black sanitation workers from seeking shelter from the rain anywhere except in the back of their compressor truck, along with all of the garbage. Read that again. The city rules at that time prohibited black sanitation workers from seeking shelter from the rain anywhere except in the back of their compressor truck along with all of the garbage.
King was in Memphis to draw attention and give voice to sanitation workers who wanted to have options other than crawling into the compactor of a garbage truck and huddling amongst the refuse to get out of the rain. What could be more intensely normal than the need to be given such a basic level of human respect?
Great leadership rarely occurs with flashes of lightening and the blowing of trumpets or in the midst of pandering to the popular opinion of the moment. Instead, great leadership is most often found in those leaders who are in tune with and understand how to hear and connect with and give voice to the intensely normal every day needs of their followers — and the courage to lead.
If you want to be a great leader, listen to the hearts of your followers; give voice to their aspirations; and be courageous enough to lead even when the temptation to pander to the status quo is overwhelming. Rise to the challenge and start changing the world today.
It really is not a secret. There really are steps we can all follow to get all our stuff done. You can become more productive.
Rule #1: The 96-Minute Rule.
First, remember the 80/20 rule — people get 80% of their work done in 20% of their time. Now, consider the theoretical 8-hour work day: 480 minutes. Now, how many minutes do you need for 20% of your work day? 96 minutes.
So, this rule says to get in your best “place” to work, turn off all distractions, and immerse yourself into your most important task for 96 uninterrupted minutes. 96 minutes a day of focused, uninterrupted, intentional “work” gets a whole lot done.
Here’s advice from Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson:
If you’re constantly staying late and working weekends, it’s not because there’s too much work to be done. It’s because you’re not getting enough done at work. And the reason is interruptions… you can’t get meaningful things done when you’re constantly going start, stop, start, stop.
Instead, you should get in the alone zone. Long stretches of alone time are when you’re most productive. When you don’t have to mind-shift between various tasks…
Rule #2: The Next Action Rule.
David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity, is filled with wisdom and practical advice. But I think the real center of the book is this: do one thing at a time, and when you finish that one thing, always have a place to check the “what’s next” task awaiting you.
From Allen’s book:
When a culture adopts “What’s the next action?” as a standard operating query, there’s an automatic increase in energy, productivity, clarity, and focus.
Rule #3: The Replenish your Energy Rule
Work is good, but productive work is draining. You’ve got to rest up. You’ve got to “empty out” and then “fill back up.”
Rule #4: The Learn to Say Yes, and No, to the Right Time Demands Rule
There is so much you could do. What do you need to say “no” to, so that you can say “yes” to what is far more important? We’ve simply got to learn to say yes and no to the right time demands.
Rule #5: The Schedule a Little Time Each Day for the “Unexpected” Rule
Since distractions, last-minute requests, and those few other items we forgot to put into our “next action system” reach up to bite us, we’ve got to just accept their inevitability. So, schedule some “I should have known this was coming” time. The key is to put the “surprise” tasks into your system, and then make these your next actions during this scheduled chunk of your time.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
I consider myself a “Student of Leadership”. I believe in the importance of life-long learning, and I am constantly on the prowl to learn something new about leadership. You never know when you’re going to see or hear something that catches your attention and resonates within you as being absolutely crucial to being a successful leader. When it happens in the classroom, I find myself looking around the room thinking, “Does anyone realize how important what he/she just said is?”
Last week was one of those weeks where I was in five different “instructional” venues, so as I look back on what people said, there were more than a few “teachable moments” for me. Say what you want, but I’ve found that I can learn something from just about anyone, and that goes for the topic of leadership, too!
Last week, the most powerful leadership insight I heard came from a City Manager who was talking about the importance of creating an environment of cooperation between various staff members. He made a profound statement: “The worst thing you can do is get mad and go back to your office and shut the door because we won’t let you stay around if you do that. We can’t have a culture of anger. We have to have a culture of cooperation.”
Remember the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”? Turns out it was more than just a cute idea. In the world of give and take, it’s the way you get things accomplished. As a leader, you have to model the way for how you work with others.
How does your team see you working with your Council or your Board? Do you pout when you don’t get your way? Do you lose your temper? Or do you set the example of what it means to keep working patiently toward your goals? Do you demonstrate what it means to seek win-win for everyone? If your team sees you posturing so that there are always winners and losers, don’t be surprised if a spirit of competition undermines the even more important spirit of cooperation.
Of course, creating a spirit of cooperation doesn’t preclude a culture of healthy debate. I often repeat what one of my friends used to say, “Any good idea can become a better idea if it is subjected to robust dialogue.” You need open discussion and you need to hear each person’s perspective; but even if there are different opinions, and even if people on your team are, in a sense, competing for resources, something trumps competition. It’s cooperation. It’s an understanding that a “culture of anger” is not a recipe for success.