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This has been a heady time for Small Fish. And I appreciate the honor, really.

But if the major incentive to recognize people is merely to make them feel good, there’s not going to be much lasting impact. We’ve seen that with round-robin “employee of the month” programs where folks get a reward for … something?

We need to have recognition that’s more focused than that.

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The other day I was having a conversation with some of my coach friends, and the concept came up about having a “disputable goal.” I confess that I’d never heard the phrase before, so of course I found it fascinating.

The idea is that when you have a goal, it should be possible to disagree with it. But why is this useful?

Imagine that you’re building an organization, and you really care that the people get along with each other well. So your goal is to “handle conflicts professionally.” Sounds good, right? Who could possibly think this is a bad thing?

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All organizations have goals, no matter what the size. Sometimes they’re clear, sometimes not.

But when the organization gets large, the employees rarely find the goals to be motivating. Instead, they often revert to the lowest common denominator: What do I have to do to keep my job?

This drives leaders nuts.

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I started my career as an engineer, so I was ingrained with the concept of “good enough.” Not perfect, but practical and appropriate. Leave the perfectionism to those mathematicians and scientists who didn’t have to worry about being practical.

And yet, perfectionism can be valuable.

When it comes to your principles and values, it’s great to be shooting for the ideal. Yes, you’ll fall short, but each time you do it can inspire you to do better.

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I know a lot of us have been feeling beat up by 2020. It’s been just brutal.

We might be relieved that this year will soon be in the rear view mirror.

But really, is that what it’s all about? Just surviving? Our passions and energy should be much more about impact in the world.

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You might think that today’s message is about reflecting on the year’s goals, and progress made. With what this year has thrown at us, I doubt that ANY of us are on progress with what we were thinking at the beginning of the year.

Either way ahead or way behind, perhaps out of business entirely.

In my case, I experienced a massive “pivot” this year, delivering a lot of services producing amazing Zoom events for clients. It’s been fun, but certainly not my business plan.

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What can my company contribute to society?

That’s a remarkably powerful question, and so much different than the typical way of thinking about business. The usual attitude is “extractive” – in other words, how can I get more than an equal share. More customers, more money, more market.

That’s a zero-sum mindset. And there’s a different way of thinking.

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Goals are great, and can inspire you to wonderful things. But I find that people often neglect to answer a critical question: Where are you starting from?

With all my clients, we uncover their goals and visions and possibilities, but then we spend a good amount on their current situation. It’s not about me understanding their challenges.

No, it’s about uncovering resources and limitations, before designing the best next steps to take.

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Returning from my holiday break, I experienced a palpable difficulty re-engaging with my work. In one sense, it felt like I had to put on a completely different brain that I hadn’t used for a couple of weeks.

It was a welcome break, and gave me the opportunity to reflect on the bigger picture.

That’s something I love doing with my clients as well – to give them space to get away from the day-to-day issues. To think bigger.

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Maybe you’ve been discouraged because the better future you’ve been hoping for still doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.

At some point, though, you’re going to have to make it happen. It’s going to take focused, intentional effort. That’s what it means to be a leader.

I was thinking about this because of my recent health scare. Thankfully, I survived this time due to the talent of some great doctors. But it got me pondering the larger questions in my life.

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