I can’t remember exactly when I first heard about this book, but I can remember the day I bought it. It was in a quintessential second-hand bookstore in Maine. There were two or three copies on the shelf and I was pretty excited to buy one of them. That small purchase, around the time when I was thirty, has probably been the best investment I’ve ever made; I can only imagine how good of an investment it would have been if I’d bought and read it ten years earlier.
As a leader, this is the one book that I would recommend above all others. You should read it, reflect upon it and read it again. I have sticky notes all through mine, and during many soul-searching occasions it’s this book that has helped me regain direction, and this is why:
The first half of the book focuses on the private victory; working on yourself first, with the inside-out mentality. Quite simply we need to look in the mirror at our own behaviour, actions and character before doing anything else. The first three principles discuss this private victory:
Principle 1 – Be proactive. Between every stimulus that we receive, and response or reaction we give is ‘white space’. This is our freedom to choose and we are 100% responsible for this choice, irrelevant of how little control we may have on the circumstances. There really isn’t anyone or anything else to blame. It will teach you the circle of concern vs. the circle of influence. ‘Concern’ are those things we worry about but have no/little control over. ‘Influence’ are those things we can do something about. Make your circle a circle of influence.
Principle 2 – End in mind. One of my favourite quotes from this chapter sums up why we need to think with the end in mind “It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall. It is possible to be busy – very busy – without being very effective”. This is a powerful sentence. A couple of years ago I looked far enough up to see my ladder was definitely against the wrong wall and it was almost too late to move it. Don’t make the same mistake.
Principle 3 – First things first. This chapter reinforces the importance of spending most of your time on those things that really matter. It breaks everything we do into four quadrants, and explains why the quadrant ‘important but not urgent’ is the one to belong in. There’s a great analogy that I embrace, which discusses the importance of time spent on building relationships over almost anything else. I believe in this so much, yet we’ve created an environment in many places where people believe they are ‘too busy’ to attend team building events or have a social coffee with a colleague. This is short-sighted.
If you want to be an effective leader then you must read this book. Our kids must read this book. It teaches us all invaluable lessons that we may not get with high school curriculums (‘Are we still teaching Shakespeare?’).
See my second blog where I discuss the remaining principles.