William Deresiewicz wrote a great article on leadership. Solitude and Leadership discusses a common challenge leaders face. All leaders face many challenges, and one of them is balancing time with other people and time alone.
An important aspect of leadership is interacting with other people. In order to lead people, you have to connect with them and communicate often. You have to make time for them and listen to their thoughts and suggestions. But, in order to do this well, a great leader schedules time for solitude. They take the time to be alone.
Great leaders improve their abilities through times of quiet reflection and study. The work that is done in the quiet, when no one is around, is what matters. It is during these times of solitude that leaders develop and improve their ability to lead. Neglecting times of solitude will limit your ability to lead well.
The commitment to develop as a leader is more important than the act of leading. It is easy to underestimate the commitment necessary to become a great leader. That is why great leaders are rare. If you want to be a great leader, schedule time to think and to prepare for the responsibility.
The Navy seals are known as a tough, disciplined group of people. They are the best of the best. They have been credited with many famous sayings and operating principles through the years, and one of my favorite quotes comes from them. That quote is:
“Under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. That’s why we train so hard.” – Navy Seals
Although I love this quote, one addition makes it better. You do sink to the level of your training under pressure, but you also sink (or rise) to the level of your leadership. The leader is responsible for directing the training and making sure the group is prepared to handle the pressure. Good performance under pressure does not happen by accident. To handle pressure well, you have to prepare well. That preparation is the responsibility of the leader.
The leader responsible to prepare a person or group for pressure can take many forms. They can be a boss, a parent, or a coach. The specific role does not matter. What matters is that the person in charge understands their duty and operates accordingly. They view their role as a leader as an honor, and they treat it that way every day. They do not take for granted what so many only get to dream of.
Anyone fortunate enough to lead people understands it is a great honor, but they also know leadership comes with great responsibility. The task does not come lightly, and nor should it. Your job is to prepare people for pressure and to perform well in the heat of battle. That pressure and battle can be the game on Saturday night, the important Monday morning meeting at the office, or raising your children. You either prepare to handle pressure well, or you choose to show up unprepared. When you show up unprepared, you are guaranteed to fail.
In order for a leader to prepare others for the pressure, they must first prepare themself. If you have not spent time studying and preparing, you have no right to attempt to prepare others. You cannot be a leader without doing the work that leadership requires. This includes researching, observing, asking questions, and learning from your mistakes over many years. Leaders work at their craft every day, and true leaders understand they have to be well-educated and experienced if they hope to lead others well. Without this preparation, you have no right to lead.
The challenging responsibility of leadership comes with a great reward. To be known as a good leader is highly respected, and it is something to take pride in. But that’s not why you lead. You don’t lead for recognition or validation. You do it because that’s what you are supposed to do. It’s what you have to do. You have to do it if you care about people, and if you care about a better tomorrow. Because that’s what leaders do. They lead and prepare in the moment for a better tomorrow, and they inspire others to think and prepare the same way.
Decisions are not only decisions. There is more to them than a simple yes or no. If only they were that simple.
Like all of us, you have many decisions to make. This can be overwhelming. We all feel we have more decisions to make than we can handle at times.
The worst thing you can do when you have decisions to make is nothing. By failing to act, you choose to do nothing. And there it is. You just made a decision, and it was a bad one.
Most people are indecisive. They can’t convince themself to do anything. They worry and never act. Failing to act guarantees you’ll stay right where you are. Worried, overwhelmed, and frustrated.
Right behind indecision is quick action. It is almost equal to doing nothing. Acting too quickly can be as bad as doing nothing. When you are quick to act you fail to think. Quick action means you bypass your thought process. You guess, and you guess fast.
It is always better to do something than nothing. Something is a good start. But you don’t want to eek by with “good.” A good start is just that. It’s not horrible, but it’s far from great. You should strive to do what is best. What is optimal. We all should.
Between quick action and indecision is thinking. It’s a wonderful place where thought takes place. A place to pause, to think, and to reflect. To give yourself the chance to make a worthwhile decision. Those decisions are made through the thought process, and that requires you to ask questions. It requires quiet time to think and listen to yourself. To wonder and evaluate options.
A question worth asking is, Is it worth it? Is what I am asked to do worth the price I must pay? The good and bad news is that you are the only person that can answer that question.
Don’t be like the majority. Don’t act without thinking. Choose to act and to do something. There is nothing worse than doing nothing at all. There is no path destined for failure like the one you never get on. It guarantees failure.
Be quick to think before you act, and not just quick to act. Take pride in your ability to think and choose the best option. Not the quickest or most convenient one. The quick choice is the easy choice. And what is easy will not last. It never does.
There are many things that we do not know or have trouble understanding. Oftentimes we do not know where to start looking for information. But, the internet provides us with a great opportunity to learn any subject through videos, writing, and websites. TED talks are a great resource for learning a variety of topics in a short time. I have listed eight of my favorite TED talks on a wide variety of subjects that are worth your time. I hope you learn a few things you can take away and apply to your life.
Ric Elias was a passenger on Flight 1549, the plane that landed on the Hudson river in 2009. In this video, Ric discusses what went through his mind as he believed the plane was going to go down. He offers a great perspective from what he learned during this frightening experience. Ric is CEO and co-founder of Red Ventures, a portfolio of digital companies that creates customized online experiences.
David Blaine is a magician and stuntman who is best known for his feats of extreme endurance. This video details how he trained to stay underwater for this world-record breaking attempt, and how he thinks through his work. He is the author of Mysterious Stranger. You can learn more about David by visiting his website.
Susan Cain is a best-selling author, lecturer, and a co-founder of Quiet Revolution. Her talk discusses the current state of society, where being social and outgoing are valued. She argues that introverts bring extraordinary talent and abilities to the world. She is the author of Quiet, and Quiet Power.
Julian is a sound and communication expert. His mission is to help organizations and people listen better and create more effective sound. This talk discusses powerful speaking, and provides vocal exercises and tips on how to speak with empathy. He is the author of How To Be Heardand Sound Business. You can learn more at his website.
Dr. Attia is the founder of Attia Medical and focuses on the applied science of longevity. In this video, Dr. Attia questions the current understanding of diabetes. He analyzes how assumptions within the medical community may be leading us to the wrong wars. You can learn more about Dr. Attia by visiting his website and listening to his podcast, The Drive.
Adam Grant is a professor at Wharton. He is a leading expert on motivation and meaning, as well as living generous and creative lives. In this video, Adam discusses how creative people come up with ideas. He shows us that “the greatest originals are the ones who fail the most.” Adam is the author of Give and Take, Originals, Option B, and Power Moves. Visit Adam’s website to learn more about him.
Time is a variable we all share, and one we never get back. We never seem to have enough time. Work and other commitments seem to consume our time. We all get the same amount each day; the difference is the choices made on how it is spent. For example, we choose what to do with our time, who to spend it with, and if we want to respect both ours and other people’s time. However, these are influenced by one of the simplest decisions involving time: to be early or to be late.
The people we are close to and our responsibilities expect us to be on time. Being on time to work, school, family functions, and other activities is important. It is important for you to be on time for yourself and those involved. Imagine your work, the dreaded Monday morning meetings. When everyone is on time (meaning early), the meeting is able to begin and end as scheduled. If anyone involved is late, the meeting starts off on a bad foot. This happens instantly, before anyone knows (or cares) why you are late. At this point, it does not matter. All that matters is that you are not on time.
We have many things trying to take our time every day, to steal it in a sense. Responsibilities, other people, and surprises are parts of life that will consume your time, if you let them. It is our responsibility to decide what is worth our time, to prioritize it, and to eliminate what is not. We decide how we spend, and respect, time. The decisions we make impact the people around us. We impact other people’s time. Your family, friends, teammates, and co-workers are impacted by your ability (or inability) to be on time.
What Does It Mean To Be On Time?
There are two things that need to happen to be on time. You must be mentally prepared for where you are going. This means that you have thought about what will happen and what you need to do. You must also be physically present. You are (physically) where you are supposed to be, when you are supposed to be there.
To be on time means that you are mentally prepared at the scheduled time. Preparation allows you to feel confident and ready for the task. It is blatantly obvious to others in the room, and it means you have done your homework and spent time thinking. This helps you think, and act, effectively in the world. It is possible to be physically present but not part of the meeting or event. If you have not prepared, you cannot contribute. If you cannot contribute and think effectively, you are not on time and you are expendable.
Physical presence is an important aspect of being on time. Some might argue that this is all that matters. This means that you are physically where you need to be, when you need to be there. You are not on time if you are not present. A meeting that starts at 8am means that it starts at 8am. Being in the parking lot, walking in the door, or stuck on the bus is not being present. It is impossible to be on time if you are not physically present. This is a simple concept, but surprisingly common.
To be on time is simple, but difficult to do consistently. Think of the meetings, sport practices, school functions, and dinner reservations that fail to start on time. Consistently being on time is difficult, especially when it is not prioritized. It is more common to be late than we hope or believe to be true. Unfortunately, it is not okay to not be on time.
Why You Shouldn’t Be Late
People are impacted when you choose to be late. Two groups of people in particular: you, and those involved in wherever you were supposed to be or whatever you were supposed to do. Being on time is about more than just you.
That 8am meeting you were late to? Everyone involved is now impacted by your failure to be on time. That virtual team meeting at 3 p.m. you did not remember? Everyone on the team now wastes time wondering where you are and why it is not important for you to be on time. Think about it; by being late to one thing, you are saying it’s not as important as something else. You are deliberately choosing one over the other. You might have things that take priority. Fine. Just don’t agree to be on time somewhere if it might not happen.
We all have surprises, either good or bad, that come up and make us late. Things do pop-up. This happens on rare occasions. We are more concerned with overall patterns of behavior, our reliability over long periods of time. To have something unexpected come up is expected, occasionally. To be late each week is not expected, and it is not accepted.
This Includes You
Our ability to be on time impacts those around us. It also influences us personally. It is a small action that carries large consequences. The concepts of gradualness and habits are compounded, positively or negatively, on a daily basis. Paul Graham refers to the concept gradualness in The Age of the Essay. In it, he discusses the power of gradualness and how concepts start with small actions and evolve over time. What we do each day matters. How we treat people and different situations has long-term effects on us. Being on time directly impacts the people involved. It also impacts you, someone more important.
We are shaped by the decisions we make, the things we think about, and the actions we take. Choosing to be on time is a small step in the right direction. Many small steps lead to a large leap over time. But you rarely make large leaps. Progress is made slowly, in small, incremental steps. Some people appear to make large leaps to success, but they do not. Success is made one good decision at a time. Start with one simple decision, to be on time.
The eye of the elite takes on different meanings. Some of us recognize it when we see it, many do not. The rare eye of the elite that few understand or possess. It is a gift. A gift that is developed and practiced over months and years. It is a quality that is in some of us, a part of who we are. One that we cannot get rid of, even to the best of our abilities. The question is, why should we even try?
The elite eye can carry a negative or positive connotation, depending on a person’s perspective. It is mostly viewed in a negative fashion today. We should not fall into the same belief pattern. The eye of the elite is a gift and only a rare few truly possess it. It is a unique quality and should be valued as such. We need to nurture it, develop it, and to allow it to be utilized and listened to. Thrusting it into the forefront of decision-making and leadership.
What is it?
The elite eye is the lens that a person views their world. This includes their work, interactions with others, how they evaluate different situations, and their response to adversity. It is how they view what they do and how they do it. The eye of the elite is how one evaluates their work and the detail of execution.
Any person can possess the eye of the elite. It can be a well-known leader, the coach of a sports team, a parent, or a friend that we love. It is not limited to a popular leader or the coach of a famous sports team. It does not matter what role they have, but that they view people and situations through a similar lens. They view them with an elite eye.
Along with evaluating themselves, the elite eye is how someone evaluates the work and actions of those around them. The elite eye of a coach is how the coach evaluates their players and assistant coaches. The elite eye of a parent is how one evaluates the actions of their children and guides them forward by correcting their poor decisions and praising their good ones. The eye of a leader is how they assess unique situations, think through them, and act on their decisions.
Why do the elite need it?
We should begin by defining the elite. Elite is not subject to a particular job, sport, or are of the world. The elite eye is a mindset and a way of living, a way of evaluating one’s work and world. Think of the truly elite football coaches, like Nick Saban and Bill Walsh. The leaders like Winston Churchill and George Washington. Think of your parents or adult figures in your life that have impacted you. Think of your friends in school who, even though you might not talk to anymore, impacted your life at the time and probably still do. Elite is a mindset and a trait, not a job or a title.
Need is a strong word. You will not find one truly elite person that does not possess the elite eye. You are sure to find many influential people who are great at what they do and do not possess the eye of the elite. They are not truly elite. The trait is reserved for the select few, the truly elite and influential. There are not many football coaches like Nick Saban, few leaders like George Washington, and no parent who can guide and you love you like the one only you know.
The elite eye is a compass for the truly elite. It is how they direct their thoughts and actions under all circumstances. This compass is what they use to guide themselves on a daily basis. It helps them determine what they want and how to get there. These people always seem to have a clear vision of where they want to go and where they want their organization or team to go. They cannot go far without it.
Speaking with those who possess the elite eye is unique. The way they operate is rare. Few possess it, but you know when you are in the presence of someone who does. They function in a way that is almost robotic, automatic in a sense. Every obstacle they face and situation they deal with is handled with thought and consideration. They keep the big picture in mind and consider how different situations impact the goal. They approach decisions with a clear mind. They plan out their days and their work meticulously to make sure that what they are asking of themselves and of others will drive the mission forward.
The eye of the elite is instantly respected. You know it when you see it and you can feel it when you are around an elite individual. Many claim to be elite, but few truly are. A small number of people operate in such a way that they are constantly thinking about what can be better. Few consider possibilities, think through scenarios, and constantly try to improve their situations and the situations of those around them. They are always searching for ways to improve and for what can benefit them and their people.
What are the benefits of the elite eye?
It can be difficult to evaluate yourself. It is easy to lie and tell yourself that you have the right intentions, that you are acting in a positive way towards others. When someone has an elite eye, they are better able to evaluate themselves. Being able to evaluate yourself makes you a more effective person, and it allows you to be a better leader. The eye of the elite has a vision, and it is used as reference when reflecting on their own actions and routines. This allows the person to constantly evaluate what they are doing, why they are doing it, and where their actions are taking them.
The elite eye allows you to better evaluate and guide others. A strong sense of direction makes it simpler to assess others and keep them on track. While it is necessary to keep others on track, it is also important that the vision is communicated well in the beginning. Evaluating the performance of a team or organization is difficult to do without a clear view of the future. The elite possess the ability to communicate clearly and to encourage others to stay on track.
It will not be possible for a team to accomplish what it needs to if the leader does not evaluate effectively. They must be able to evaluate different situations and people. Without the ability to view things through the elite eye and evaluate effectively, they never have a chance. This can be any team, organization, family, or group of friends. A person or group needs to possess at least one elite eye to keep them progressing and adapting.
Progression, or the process of developing and moving towards a more advanced state, is the key variable that separates people of influence. The elite eye is progressive in nature, constantly searching for ways to grow and improve. Being able to effectively evaluate themselves, other people, and situations allows for improvement and growth. Personal and group improvement is important in progression. If the individual is not improving, the group will not progress. Keeping people focused on the vision helps keep the group progressing towards it. The elite start with themselves. They look in the mirror, and then they look at others.
Are there any drawbacks?
The eye of the elite can come off harsh or critical at times. When someone is focused on growth and minute details, it is likely that they will be portrayed negatively by outsiders. It is easy to judge a coach when you see him or her have a stern conversation with a player. It makes sense to criticize a leader when you see them make a decision and it fails. One truth we know is that the easy way is often the correct way. The easy path leads to worse outcomes than the difficult path. So, our assumptions or distant opinions might mean nothing.
Many of the most loved coaches and leaders are those who come off harsh. Those that are focused on improvement and that will not let anything stand in their way. They are undeniable in their pursuit of excellence. It is beneficial to learn something from this. Many people love the leaders that demanded the best from them. That made them better than they ever believed they could be.
A workaholic is a high-energy person who seeks to dominate and control. They always seem to do more than required (Larranaga, 1970). If you have the eye of the elite, you might be a workaholic. When someone is constantly trying to improve themselves or their people, they stop at nothing. Now this definitely poses a problem, but what are the alternatives? To sit by and let things happen? To let sub-par performance and education simply slide by? We need to consider the alternatives when we make such general statements like “he is a workaholic,” or “she just cannot relax.” Oftentimes, the alternative is not better. Consider the alternative. Think what needs to be done. Decide what it will take to get there and let nothing stand in your way.
As with all things, there is a balance that needs to be met. You cannot work at something all the time and expect to achieve great results. You cannot grip something too tightly or you will never realize it. You also cannot neglect something and expect it to come to life. If you never think about it or work at it, you will not have it. So, it is a balance. A medium grip on what you want. The ability to focus for periods of time with some time where you think about something else. Focus on the goal, and then give your work time to be realized.
Can you do the work without the elite eye?
You can do work without it, but you will never get to where you envision you can. You will always come up short. Even by the smallest margin. You will fail to get there. Either you will stop voluntarily, or someone will be better than you. They will beat you in the end. You might win the battle, but they will win the war. Success is about the long-haul, and the elite eye is what leads to ultimate success.
Becoming truly elite requires special tools. One of them being the elite eye. To acquire dominating success in leadership, coaching, or parenting, one must view situations and people through an elite lens. A lens that few others possess. One that is focused on growth and maximizing potential. One that is looking for the next right thing to do and never stops in pursuit of excellence. You might be thinking that this sounds exhausting. If you are, you are right. It is exhausting. That is precisely why so few have it and fewer can maintain it.
The elite eye is not for everyone, and that is okay. We know that the elite eye is exhausting, so many give up. They do not want a life that will require this degree of focus and persistence. The will to exhaust all options in pursuit of their ultimate goal. Many just do not have it in them. They have not had the chance to experience it, or to be around the mentors that instilled this line of thinking. Oftentimes, the elite eye is taught early on and passed on to a coach or a child.
Think of the coaching world today. When a head football coach either leaves for a new job or is relieved from his duties, what is the first thing the university does? They try to hire a highly successful coach, or they try to hire one of their assistants. Year after year this happens. The more you pay attention, the more you can guess what will happen next. Why do they do this? They are hoping that they hire someone with a similar makeup as the head coach, the one with the elite eye. If they cannot have the leader, they hope to get an identical copy. They are hoping to hire someone with an elite eye that has been passed on from a mentor to an assistant. But nothing is like the original. This often does not work in their favor.
The eye of the elite is a lens that can be found on any person. Many of us know the unique leaders, coaches, parents, and friends that seem to operate differently. We might not know them personally, but these people think differently. We have defined what the eye of the elite is, how they operate, and why it is unique. This is a concept that is not talked about, but one that is necessary if you want to be elite.
Larranaga, R. D. (1970). Calling it a day: daily meditations for workaholics. HarperCollins.