Begin with the NEXT end in mind

images-16Habit 2 of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin with the end in mind.” This habit gives me more trouble, but has saved my ass more times, than any of the others. With a clear understanding of what this does & does not mean, it is absolutely critical in business.

Every leader I’ve worked with has a vision of what they want to accomplish. When I dig down into it, this vision is painted with a big brush. By that, I mean it is a grand, broad vision that lacks detail. This vision is not only important to have, but it is important to regularly keep at the forefront of the team’s mind. It is not, however, an “end” in and of itself. It is a (hoped for) consequence of, but not a direct result of, action the business or team plans to take.  American football, as always, provides a great analogy for this.

Every time a team steps on the field, the goal is to score a touchdown.  All week, every team practices so they can win on Sunday.  Winning on Sunday is accomplished by scoring more points than the opponent, which usually means scoring more touchdowns.  Yet how often during the week do teams practice scoring touchdowns?  The answer is never.  They practice tackling, blocking, running routes, and all kinds of other things, but they never practice scoring touchdowns.  That’s because scoring a touchdown is a hoped-for consequence of their actions, but not a direct result of those actions.  The “goals” that they practice are much, MUCH more specific than “score a touchdown”.  Offensive linemen, for example, practice blocking.  But even that is too general, so they practice specific instances of blocking, such as handling a defensive tackle versus an end, versus a blitzing linebacker, etc.  But even within these specific slices, they make even finer distinctions (if you hear Tony Robbins in my words, you are not wrong) and break it down to standing someone up, moving someone, or taking them down by blocking low.  And they practice these tiny, tiny, super well-defined instances all week.  Each of the positions practice this type of specificity, and the end result, if they do it well, will be to score touchdowns and win games, even though they actually practice neither of those.

This level of clarity is the “end” that Stephen Covey is talking about.  This is the detail you need to have in mind to know what actions to take.  You don’t need to have the exact business goal defined with no remaining uncertainty (which of course is not possible), you don’t need to have every step along the way precisely predetermined (it won’t go this way anyway, even if you did have it all perfectly planned out), and to be honest, you don’t even need to know the specifics of the second step right at the outset.  But what you *do* need to know, and to know with excruciating clarity, is the direct result you need to achieve from the actions you want the team to take now.  I will write a lot more about this in upcoming posts.

If you have thoughts on this, especially other analogies that you think might be useful to people who couldn’t care less about American football (oh the shame!), please put the in the comments to help everyone out.  As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.

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