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Sam Davidson's blog

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#028: Getting Behind

It is the job of every leader to get behind.

Check out this short (3-minute) video. Six photographers are each told a different backstory about the same subject. As you may expect, each comes up with a different result.

Our expectations determine the outcome more than we think.

A leader's job is to get bigger and bolder, but also to get behind. Behind the person, the customer, or the investor. To dig deeper and see who they are, what they want from life, this transaction, this meeting, or this opportunity.

There's more than meets the eye. The leader's job is to find all of it.

(h/t: kottke.org)

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#027: Know Your Race

It's one thing to say you want to move fast as a leader, but before you commit to that, it's imperative that you know your race.

Are you running a 100-meter dash or a marathon? You can be fast at each, but fast looks different based upon where the finish line is.

Fast may be a seasonal strategy for you and your team, or it may be the defining characteristic of your company. Regardless, your team needs to know how far they'll be running so they can have the stamina and proper training to last until they win. 

No one runs fast and runs aimlessly. Fast only works if you know how far you're going, too.

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#026: Staying Sane

Leadership is hard. It's stressful, taxing, exhausting, and trying. And if anyone is going to survive leading, they've got to figure out how to stay sane.

This happened yesterday. A friend wrote and said I was impressive for maintaining a consistent writing schedule. I thanked him, but then said it was how I stayed sane. Writing often helps me release energy and stay focused on the tasks of leading.

Leaders can take a break, earn a rest, and relax, of course. But, the art of action can also help you release energy, regain focus, and actually create energy that you need to lead. 

Stay sane. No one follows crazy.

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Knowing When

Time is a critical ingredient of leadership. How we spend it, where we find it, what we think it's worth. And while resources abound on the topic of time and its relationship to leadership, I think no element is as crucial as this one:

When are you at your best?

Studies show that students don't learn best (surprise, surprise!) first thing in the morning. The fact that school still begins, then, at 7AM most places is a failure of leadership.

But what about you? Do you know when you're at your best?

I'm no good (work-wise) after about 7PM most days. Whether it's old age, darkness, or some other factor (Jupiter in retrograde?), once the evening comes, I can't make any critical decisions. (It seems that I'm not the only one who feels this.)

I'm at my absolute best first thing in the morning. I wake most days around 5AM and then either get a workout in or get to work (usually depending upon if I'm traveling or my daughter is with me that week). After years of living and leading, I'm finally aware of when I can get optimal performance out of myself.

However, I'm not scheduling any important team meetings at 5:45AM. As a leader, I have to be aware not only of when I'm at my best, but when my team is at theirs (being mindful also of parenting schedules, sleep patterns, etc.). 

That said, it's worth it at your next team meeting to go around the room and determine when everyone is at their best - both when they have availability (time) and bandwidth (energy) to do their best work. 

Success is a function of time and energy, and realizing when we'll have each in plentiful supply means we can get more done in a great way that sets everyone up for their best work.

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#025: Those Who Came First

Who came before you? Who started your organization, held the top spot last year, or tried this once already?

Find them. Ask them questions. Listen to the answers. 

Ignoring those who have been in your shoes before (even those who failed trying to put them on) is foolish.

Leaders cannot repeat the mistakes others have made. Luckily, it's easy to find out what went wrong. 

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#024: Look Outside

Leaders can get so insulated from learning by only focusing on their own team, their own company, or their own industry. One of the smartest thing a leader with heart, mind, and soul can so is to look outside

Outside the walls of their company's conference room, outside the realms of their target market, and outside the boundaries of their industry, territory, competitive set, or customer base. 

What can you learn about customer service from a local coffee shop? What can you learn about data from an airline? What can you learn about product development from something you saw at a big box retailer? There's no telling what you can find if you're willing to look beyond the small world you've created for yourself.

Increase your horizon and increase your learning.

(h/t: Hunter Walk's piece about A+ people)

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#023: Broken is Okay

Leaders don't aim for perfect. They simply try, experiment, fix, recalibrate, try again, strategize, find what's missing, dream bigger, work at it (maybe a bit harder this time), break some things, fix those things, do it all over again, try better, and then finally they get where they'd like to go.

Take the very old discipline of kintsugi as an example. When a piece of pottery is broken, it isn't discarded, but rather rejoined with gold. The break is noticeable, but there is beauty in it. The breaking is now a reminder to try better or different or harder or more carefully next time.

James Altucher experiments often, trying new things as a method of learning (even if many of them don't work out).

In order to grow quickly, Facebook developers were told it was okay to "move fast and break things."

If, as a leader, you're not trying something that could be important because you're afraid of breaking something (or failing, even), then you're not cut out for this.

Breaking can feel bad, like we're failing. But the act of repairing is an act of leadership.

Leaders move fast and break things. But then they stand still and fix them.

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#022: The Importance of Momentum

One of my investors told me after a great year of sales, "Now the trick is to maintain momentum."

Jim Collins devotes an entire crucial chapter to the Flywheel concept (slow, steady momentum) in Good to Great.

A leader's job is to create and maintain momentum. Nothing else is as important as this. 

Get people, sales, marketing, product development, conversations, and customers all pointed in the same direction.

Then get them moving toward that direction.

Then keep moving them until they reach a goal. 

That is your job. 

Leaders must create and maintain momentum. Otherwise, they're just managers.

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Routine Examination #003: Antonio Neves

Antonio Neves is a nationally recognized speaker, award-winning journalist, and author. At least that is what he'll tell you when you ask for a bio or a quick intro. But he's a bit more than this, as I've had the chance to learn over the course of our friendship.

Antonio is a great speaker, a terrific friend, a coach, a husband, and very, very soon, a father to twins. He and I always enjoy catching up when we find ourselves in the same zip code, whether it's about work, family, flying, or speaking. To me, Antonio embodies hustle and drive that results in accomplishment, so I was interested in how he shapes his routine to accomplish all that he does. 

What type of routine (frequency-wise) do you look to set (daily, weekly, etc.)?

Daily: Prayer; Meditation; Workout; Blocked out reading time; Blocked out writing time; Walking the dog.

Weekly: Outdoor activities with my wife; Calls with family; Time with friends; Preparing a couple of home cooked meals.

What time do you wake up each morning?

On a standard day when I wake up at home in Los Angeles, 6 am. If I have an early morning flight, which is often (I flew over 175k miles in 2015), a 4:15 am wake-up is standard.

What is the first thing you think about each morning (before you even get out of bed perhaps)?

“Don’t hit snooze! Don’t hit snooze!”

From there I tend to feel, and fight, an urge to check email and social media which 8 times out of 10 I’m successful. When I resist those urges, I give thanks for another day to create, love, and be useful. Then I ask myself, what’s most important about this day? Oh, and while we’re on this topic, sometimes the first thing I experience in the morning is the periodic existential crisis. I find the longer I lay in bed the more my brain is susceptible to fears and limiting beliefs. When this happens, I acknowledge them, put them back where they belong (not in my brain) and get up and take action.

What thing do you have to do in your personal life every day?

Work out. Maybe it’s because I’ve been an athlete my whole life. If I don’t sweat, something just doesn’t feel right and my mind gets a bit too active. A nice run, even if short, does my body, and most importantly mind, some good.

What is the last thing you do before “quitting” or “leaving” work for the day?

Identify what’s most important for the next day. This clears up head space so I can start the next day in a good stride.

What do you read on a regular basis?

I’m still a New York Times print subscriber. My day doesn’t feel right if I don’t get some of that ink on my fingers. Magazine wise, I dig British GQ, Architectural Digest, Esquire and New York Magazine (I binge read these on flights). Blog wise, a daily must read is Seth Godin.

Who do you speak to on a regular basis?

My accountability partner and dear friend, the author Bassam Tarazi. Bassam always keeps it real while providing support, guidance, humor and asking the tough questions (the kind I would ignore on my own).

What do you wish were a part of your routine?

Competing and being part of a sports team. When I regularly compete with a team, I have a blast, love the competition, and it shifts something in my brain. There’s an different type of edge that isn’t there otherwise.

What part of your routine do you hope to stop one day?

Binge watching Netflix shows.

My takeaway: the routine for tomorrow starts today.

View all past Routine Examination interviews here.

Sam DavidsonComment
#021: Just Ask

Leaders ask.

They ask questions. They ask permission. They ask for access. They ask for the sale. They ask for the time. They ask for a meeting. They ask forgiveness. They ask for trust. They ask for the job. They ask for a chance.

(I'm learning this a lot myself. I hope to get better at this.)

The best way to get good at asking is by practice. Sure, people will say no sometimes. But you'll forget the sting of that as soon as someone says yes.

And no one will say yes unless you ask. 

Before you go to sleep tonight, ask yourself: what did I ask for today?

The fastest way to get a "Yes!" is to ask for it.

Sam DavidsonComment
#020: Decisive, Not Divisive

Leaders decide. And when they do, even if their decisions upset, they don't divide

Uncertainly can make people nervous. Thus, a core trait of a leader with heart, mind, and soul isn't just to make a decision, but to then articulate that decision in a way that unites the team or company, rather than drive people away from each other.

I was reminded of this while reading Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker, a brilliant book about flying by a 747 pilot. In one section, he's talking about landing an airplane and how the jet's computer will begin relaying descending altitudes upon approach until a critical moment. At this juncture, the computer will voice the word "DECIDE" to prompt the pilots to either proceed with the landing (if all is well) or pull the gear up and go around for another try. 

Leaders certainly face these critical moments, too, but such decisions may not be as tenuous as landing a jet full of people. However, every decision a leader makes is a chance to unify a group of people for the common good.

Leaders decide; they don't divide. 

Sam DavidsonComment
Too Busy to Lead

Please stop wearing "busy" as a badge of honor. 

You know the conversation as you run into an old friend.

They ask, "How's life?"

And you say, "Busy!"

And you walk away, smugly proud.

Stop it. You run the risk of being too busy to lead. 

If you are a leader, read this piece by Dina Kaplan and then eliminate all the fluff in your life that is making you busy. Here are 5 things you can eliminate or cut back on in your life right now to make you less "busy":

  1. Scrolling through Instagram or Facebook hourly
  2. Keeping up with more than one TV show at a time
  3. Taking five minutes to write an email when a one-minute phone call would get the job done
  4. Lying in bed for any amount of extra time once your mind and body are alert and ready for the day
  5. Keeping up with too much information (instead of letting the right information find you)

It's crucial that leaders aren't busy. Otherwise, leaders begin to say no or not have time for the actual tasks and opportunities that define leadership itself. Here are 10 things leaders cannot be too busy for:

  1. Reading
  2. Motivating team members
  3. Working on long term strategy
  4. Attending to others' needs
  5. Meeting new people that could grow or transform the company
  6. Self care (therapy, meditation, working out)
  7. Critical analysis (of self and the company)
  8. Taking time to determine what is a crisis and what isn't
  9. Mentorship and learning
  10. Deep and vulnerable non-work relationships

Leaders: take the time and effort to set up a schedule and routine that allows you the time to do the work of leadership. Otherwise, you'll be too busy too lead. 

You can't lead busy.

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