4 Guiding Principles (and an Easy Tip to Live Into Them) for 2021

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That Ted Lasso is a genius.

OK, I know what all of you Apple TV+ subscribers are thinking: you mean that hayseed D2 football coach from Kansas who just led the Richmond Greyhounds to an embarrassingly public relegation from the Premier League … how can you possibly look to him as a role model?

Actually, there are several things about Ted’s leadership and coaching style that warrant some great takeaways, but we’ll save that for another post. 

Instead, I want to focus on a piece of paper he taped above his office in the Richmond locker room with a simple word on it: BELIEVE. This is Ted’s mantra, and as we learn in later episodes, he actually has these signs pasted all over his house.

Note: if you haven’t pieced it together yet, Ted is a Movember-inspired fictional character played by Jason Sudeikis. Now, if you’re interested in a real heroic leader who hails from Kansas, look no further than this guy.

Anyway, taking a page out of Ted’s leadership playbook, one of the best things I did going into this year was to print out my four personal guiding principles and paste them above the door inside my office. And sure enough, I now end up seeing one (or all) of them every time I glance up from my desk in my home office, which – in this world of eight-hours-of-home-office-based-Zoom-calls-a-day – is usually several times an hour. 

Although the specific words of my four principles have evolved over time, the core ideas have been pretty constant over the last several years, as I really honed in on (1) what drives me and (2) what gives me a sense of purpose in both the short- and long-term. Here are the four things I will continue to use to guide me in the coming year: 

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1.    Use Your Superpowers: If I’m not actively doing the things I love and that I’m good at – which in my case is marketing, strategy, and writing – I’m not spending my time wisely. Whenever I’m evaluating new opportunities, this is the first hurdle that must be cleared.

2.    Learn Something Every Day: Professionally, this really came home for me when I was running digital media for Ford. In digital, the rate of innovation and change is not only continuous, it’s often accelerating. As such, if you don’t stay abreast of the changing trends in consumer behavior when a critical mass of people embraces a new platform or innovation, you can miss a potentially more effective way to communicate with your customers. Now, many of these hot new platforms don’t amount to much real change – but if you aren’t paying attention, you’ll miss the ones that do.

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But becoming a lifetime learner goes well beyond staying abreast of new technologies – whether it’s rediscovering timeless wisdom from the classics (which Scott Monty does a nice job of bringing to life), reading a book, watching a documentary about a subject you don’t know much about, or even just trying to understand a colleague’s perspective on an issue that is wildly different from yours (because it is based on their unique background and experiences) – there is always, always something to be learned. Every. Single. Day. 

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3.    Love Your Tribe, Grow Your Tribe: I love meeting new people and helping individuals where I can, whether it’s networking with someone in transition or finding new clients that I can help to grow their businesses. Now some of those conversations evolve into friendships that enrich my professional and personal life, but I am also truly blessed to already have an amazing family and group of friends and colleagues around me. This is critical, because I know I am at my best when I am surrounded by people I love to spend time with. However, I need to always remember to never take them for granted either, which can too easily happen when one spends a lot of time networking. That’s why I put these two ideas in the same principle since one cannot come at the other’s expense. Think of this idea as the Yin-Yang of networking. And taking this analogy further, I love the dot in the middle of the other theme, because just as every friendship has the ability to drive new business, every networking meeting has the potential to blossom into a friendship.

4.    Change the World: I need to know that the work I’m doing is making a difference. Now this doesn’t mean everything I do should be working to end world hunger or preserve the rainforests, but is the product or service I’m working on making a tangible difference for the customer and truly making their lives better? If I can’t affirm this without hesitation, I’m not working in the right business. This is also why I help my clients articulate their mission or vision statements if they don’t already have them, so everyone in their company understands “the why” behind their efforts.

So those are the four statements I see over my door whenever I glance upward, which are constant, subtle reminders to help me stay on track and focus on my priorities.

Now dear reader, do you have your own guiding principles? If so, awesome! If you don’t (or at least have never articulated them) and want to use these four as a starting point – feel free! I arrived at these through a lot of soul-searching and self-reflection on what drives me, but when I explained these concepts to my friend Erich, he shared with me that some of the leaders in the EOS community had actually developed something eerily similar called the EOS Life (which add tenets on compensation and time allocation). So clearly the core concepts here ring true for a lot of people. But as we enter a new year that will offer a ton of hope and possibility, take the time in the next few weeks to reflect and define what’s going to keep you going in 2021 and beyond.        

Then the final step: I’d encourage you to write them down and post them somewhere incredibly visible – particularly as we find ourselves in another season that will over-index on time in the home office. And then maybe, like Ted, you’ll find that declaring and living into these principles can transform not only yourself but those around you; again, let’s save that for a future post.

P.S. Beyond your personal drivers, if you want to go a bit deeper on understanding the importance of having a mission, vision, and core principles in your business, check out How Do You Communicate Your Corporate Culture … Over Zoom?.

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P.P.S. I’m still trying to crack the recipe for Ted’s mouthwatering shortbread biscuits (a.k.a. cookies) by scouring the internet. I am finding many posts from well-intentioned fans offering their best guesses, but any guidance from any of you in this area would be appreciated.

Alex Hultgren is the CEO | Founder of Customers 1st Marketing and member of the Chameleon Collective, where he serves as interim leader and fractional CMO for clients nationwide. Need help delighting your customers and finding new ones as we weather the winter and prepare for explosive growth this spring? Drop him a line at alex@chameleon.co.

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