One of my favorite books is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel El Ruiz. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, the Four Agreements are:
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Take nothing personally.
- Assume nothing.
- Always do your best.
I can’t think of a better formula for success for a leader, manager, or employee. Let’s review each in turn:
- Be impeccable with your word. Do you speak the truth even when it might not be in your best interest? Are you honest with yourself and willing to acknowledge your own fears and judging nature? We recently had a webinar with Cornell University professor Tony Simons, entitled “Integrity in the Workplace.” Whether you call it being impeccable, having integrity, or being trustworthy, you’re really talking about the same thing. As a leader, are you willing to tell your employees the truth about the organization? As a manager, do you focus your interest on yourself or the team? As an employee, are you being honest about the effort you give every day and your willingness to improve yourself?
- Don’t take things personally. This is one I have to keep reminding myself about. It’s all too easy to feel disrespected when you work so hard and try to be a good person. It feels unfair when we assume that others are doing bad things to us instead of simply being unaware. For example, if an employee makes a mistake, it’s generally not because they don’t care about you. Yes, there are folks whose hearts have grown so cold that they don’t care who they damage, including themselves. If you give yourself a moment just to be with the situation, you’ll quickly be able to discern whether the activities are invidious and warrant you taking them personally. The challenge is not to take things personally when the intention to harm is purposeful.
- Assume nothing. This gets managers (including me) in more trouble than anything else does. We assume people have certain talents and desires. We assume we’re managing in the best way. We assume that we have our risk management act together or that because we care we don’t have to worry about those exposures. Quite simply, we assume too much. If you study surveys about companies that have won the Baldridge Award, you’ll find that managers make certain assumptions about employees which are distant from reality. For example, we might assume that money, career growth, or camaraderie are the most important motivating factors to our workforce without surveying them to find out if these assumptions are in fact true. That’s a quick way to waste money and cause unnecessary turnover. Because we’re all running so hard, we don’t take the time to ask the right questions. One solution: View surveying, dialoguing, interviewing, and so forth as a process — not as an event you’ll get around to someday.
- Do your best every day. When I was facilitating leadership training for a billion-dollar corporation, I asked the leaders if they intended on being a world-class organization. All of them swore up and down that they wanted to be just that. I then asked them what they had done differently during the past month to drive this level of excellence. To my amazement, not one of them could define some purposeful effort they’ve made to get better. This is not trying your best. Trying your best means that you’re moving forward purposefully. You’re willing to bring out the best in yourself and the people around you. You don’t settle for some type of “comfort zone.” You embrace change, internally and externally. This holds true for both individuals and organizations as a whole. Lexus, the best-made car in the world, is famous for its slogan: “The relentless pursuit of perfection” (derived from Dr. Edwards Deming)
There you have it — a clear formula for incredible success. Be impeccable with your word, take nothing personally, assume nothing, and always try your best. Will you mess this up? Every day. The point is to do what you can to learn the lesson and move on. That’s also what it means to do your best.