I read a lot of advice. I hear even more advice from colleagues, friends, and family. Much of it ends up in the waste bin that I’m sure exists somewhere in the back of my mind. Heaven forbid that anyone go there and start rummaging around! Some of the advice stays in the front of my mind though. Somehow it sticks.
The advice that tends to stick, and work for me, comes from people I admire. And I usually admire people who are pursuing excellence with some success. I think, or at least believe, they have discovered some principles that make their lives, jobs, relationships easier or more effective; so I pay attention.
I have never had the daily responsibility of running a medical practice, but I know a lot of great people who have and still do run excellent practices. Not only do they run financially healthy practices but their staff seems to be happy, the patients enjoy the atmosphere, and the doctors like the outcome. If I were ever charged with managing a practice, I would schedule time to learn from these people before taking the responsibility.
Here’s my challenge to you. Are you feeling like you need to make a step forward in your role at work, home, or in your community? When I start feeling the internal (or external) pressure to improve in some area my mind always runs through a cycle. Mine looks something like the list below. I relate this to you only to give you a place to start. It’s my way of thinking through an idea or impulse before taking action on it. The key is that my list hinges on seeking out people I admire for advice. I just don't want to go it alone when making important decisions.
If you don’t have a list like this for yourself, I recommend you develop one. It will save you a lot of turning in circles, accomplishing little. Often, you’ll find the impulse or pressure you are feeling is an internal trigger that has nothing to do with your actual responsibilities - it may be a shadow from the past, a false expectation, or a fad to be ignored. Having a way to determine the real need for yourself and those you are responsible for will give you a way to work through what you are feeling or thinking.
My list looks like this.
- I ask, ‘Why am I feeling this pressure to improve or change?’ I work very hard to discover the root of my discontent with the way things are. 'Is it legitimate?' is the main question I’m trying to answer.
- I write. After determining what I’m feeling is legitimate, I begin writing stuff down. I take a clean sheet, label it by describing the pressure or direction I’m feeling, and then fill it up. I may write complete paragraphs. I may doodle. I may make diagrams. I may just write a word. But I get it down. I work toward getting every thought on paper. I work with no timeline at first - unless one has been pressed upon me.
- I ask, ‘Am I still feeling the pressure to improve or change?’ Often, after pouring all my thoughts onto the page, the answer becomes obvious - ‘I’m wasting my time!’ Sometimes the exercise increases the pressure and I know I need to do something with it. In that case I move on to the next step.
- I meet with people I admire. For me, this is the crucial step before moving forward. I want to run my thoughts by people who have been in my shoes and have found success. I’m seeking confirmation. What do they think? What would they do if they were me? What steps have been successful for them? How did they overcome the obstacles? These and many more questions are what I’m seeking answers to. I have rarely gone to people I admire about any issue and not come away with a treasure chest of ideas and information. One important point - take notes while having these conversations!! The worst outcome is to have a great idea given you just to lose it because you didn’t write it down!
- I organize. Given the case where something really needs to be done, whether a personal improvement, or process to be changed, I need to get the big picture in my mind. After meeting with those I admire I then take all the ideas I wrote down previously, along with theirs, and start outlining a plan.
- I make a plan. Once the outline is done, I start filling it in with specific steps of action. All the while thinking of the consequences to each action! If I/we do this, what are the effects? If I change this, what else will need to change? And so on. Preparing for the improvement means also preparing for the consequences of that improvement.
- I wait. Once the plan is made, if I have time, I wait to implement it. I want it to settle in. I want to get comfortable with it. I want to interrogate the plan to make sure it tells me everything. What have I missed? What will I gain? What will I lose? What needs to be added? And etc.
- I ask those I admire to review. After developing the plan to this point, I run it back by those I had discussions with earlier. What do they think? What challenges do they see? What improvements can they suggest? This is a very reassuring step. Having people I admire and who have been successful in implementing similar plans put their eyes on my plan gives me the confidence I need to move forward.
There are more steps that come after but they are all about implementation. Everything I’ve listed above is about confirming the need for action, thinking through and getting advice on the action, and then planning for it. I find that when I do these things, the implementation has the best chance of going smoothly. If I neglect any of these steps, I’m asking for more difficulty with the implementation!
Leaning on those you admire is a very efficient way to avoid mistakes and uncover secrets that will lead to success in the change you feel compelled to make. I highly recommend that you reach out to that person or people next time you have a need. Even if they are famous and hard to reach, give it a try. You never know how much you’ll gain by asking!