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How to make meaningful progress when taking your game to the next level

If you want to be successful at taking your game to the next level, you have to be conscious of how you think and what comes out of your mouth.

I was leading a meeting recently with a telecom management team that had taken on a bold commitment to take their team’s leadership and performance to a higher level.  This was a good team that had been performing well. However, the changes in their markets, customers, and technologies were requiring them to think, innovate, and perform at a different level.

They were about three months into their transformation process and, in this meeting, we were reviewing their progress.

One by one, the leaders shared their views. One of the leaders summarized: “We are making progress, but not enough!” Everyone nodded their heads in agreement. People added: “We need to bring more energy, courage, innovation, collaboration, and change to the game.”

I asked them “Why are you not making enough progress?” “Why are you not bringing the level of energy, courage, innovation, collaboration, and change that you know you need?

Their responses were things to the tune of: “It’s because of the holidays,” “It’s because of the year end,” “It’s because of the wider changes that are taking place in our company,” “We are doing quite well, so there’s not a lot of opportunities for big improvements,” and “It just takes time to make progress.”

So many teams and people, when taking on new levels of game, fall into the same traps of blaming their circumstances for their lack of progress and talking about their transformation in ways that undermine what they are trying to achieve.

If you want to avoid these pitfalls and make significant progress in taking your game to the next level, follow these principles:

  1. Take 100% ownership for your progress or lack thereof. Give up blaming your circumstances for not making enough progress or for not bringing enough energy, courage, innovation and/or collaboration to the game. Always relate to what you have or don’t have as your own doing.
  2. Promise clear results that require you to rise to the occasion. People bring high energy, courage and innovation to the game when they have promised specific results that are important to them, that require high energy, courage, and innovation. For example: one of the leaders stated that the people are not yet seeing any change in this leadership team. So, the team took on a promise that by our next meeting, three months later, their employees would notice a new level of energy, courage, innovation, and collaboration coming from the team. By promising this new state, the leaders now had an obligation to step up their leadership and performance in order to deliver.
  3. Focus on the areas of gap and opportunity, not how great you are. One of the biggest impediments to transformation is when people feel threatened or invalidated by acknowledging deficits and gaps. When discussing progress, I often hear people say things like: “We were already good at this.” If you are already good at something you will not be compelled to improve it. Even the greatest teams and people can find “next level” gaps, deficits and opportunities for improvement. Focusing on these does not invalidate your greatness.
  4. Avoid using phrases like: “We should do X” or “We have to do more of Y.” People simply don’t do what they “should” or “have to.” Either promise that you “Will do X” or don’t expect to see progress in the area you are talking about.
  5. Go out of your way to prove the validity of your commitment. When teams are driving significant change, team members often remain skeptical throughout the process. They adopt the “let’s see if this works” point of view. This mindset is understandable, but not powerful. If you want to be most effective, be clear about the future state you want, be all-in and trust your journey, no matter what ups-and-downs you encounter along the way. Don’t check if it works. Prove that it works.
  6. Collect as much evidence for progress as you can. Transforming a team to the next level is never about perfection. The focus should be driving as much progress as possible. In the realm of progress, everything counts – big, medium and small wins. And, being public about them is key. So identify, acknowledge and celebrate all of them. The more you identify areas of progress, the more it gives you appetite to find more. So, make it your priority to collect as many areas of progress as possible.

At the end of the meeting, the leaders took on a new perspective. They stopped accepting the reality: “We are making progress BUT not enough” and took on a commitment to cause a new genuine state: “We are excited about the progress we are making.”

This seems a simple shift, but it is very powerful. It is also a future worthy of proving right!

Photo by: Richard Potts