How to Find the One Thing Everything Else Needs
The success of every project or initiative boils down to one essential behavior.
The one thing is – the thing – everything else hangs on.
If someone took responsibility for the project you currently lead, and you could tell them only one thing, what would you say?
The one thing cannot be:
- Something to think.
- An attitude.
- Technical knowledge. It’s a given that they have technical knowledge and skill.
Every time you saw them doing the one thing, you’d say, “Yes! That’s essential.”
Yesterday I had breakfast with a U.S. executive who develops leaders for his organization in cultures as diverse as Guatemala, Vietnam, and Brazil. I asked him the “one thing” question.
“If you could say one thing to your successor, what would you say?”
Many skills and behaviors go into success, especially in a cross-cultural context. But, the first thing he said was, “Eat the food.”
After he said, “Eat the food,” he hesitated and felt the need to explore and add more. I don’t blame him. I hadn’t prepared him.
You feel a need to talk about knowledge, attitudes, or skills. Don’t.
The need to expand the one thing is natural. But, after you settle on it, don’t expand it. Just keep doing it.
Eat the food:
- We connect around food.
- Food helps us drop our guard.
- Eating their food says, “I accept you.”
- Eating the food says, “I respect your culture.”
- Sitting at the table says, “I want to be one of you.”
There’s more to developing leaders in a cross-cultural context than eating food. But, eating the food is the one thing everything else needs.
Identify one observable behavior that’s essential for success and challenge your team to do it, over and over.
The one thing may change as your context changes. But, what’s the “one thing” you would tell your successor, if you could tell them only one thing?
What’s the one specific, observable, public, behavior that is essential for your success?
“Take pride in your work”, always do your best!
Thanks Tim. Absolutely. Now, if you were a coaching client of mine, I’d ask, “What behavior, when you see it, tells you they are taking pride in their work?”
Engagement is the process to know what everyone need. Democratization of process and system could another way. It can emerge through continuous debate, discussion and interaction without any subjectivity. I strongly feel that “RESPECT” is one thing that everyone needs. Besides, organizational goal, strategy and action plan, people always need recognition and appreciation for their efforts. I do agree that context plays major to find out what one needs,but it is also true the need for respect is universal.
It is even more important to know what drives people most. That drive could be their first need. One behavior that could be essential to success could be appearing right. People look for convincing and understanding behavior. It means, you should be able to understand others perspective before imposing yours on other.
Thanks Ajay. If you were to challenge a leader to show respect, what would you challenge them to do?
When I’m training my co-workers to create an experience with our clients, the one thing is – look them in the eye. Maybe that’s like eating the food, it’s essential; everyone needs to be seen and this way my team is meeting the clients where they are and letting the “experience” happen naturally. Love this thought of “one thing.” Thanks!
KaPOW!! Thanks Courtney.
The one thing must be simple. So simple that it’s easy to look down on it. But, your comment makes me feel you totally get it. “Look them in the eye”
Sure, there are other things… But, the other things get done while you do the ONE thing.
Create value for every person you touch and deliver with enthusiasm.
Thanks Michelle. Love the create value idea. So, if you saw someone creating value, what would you see them doing? What one behavior says you’re creating value?
This is a tough one Dan…too easy to go to knowledge, skills, attitude. Old habits are hard to break. I like Courtney’s “Look them in the eye”. I’ll add “show up”… Be there, be present physically and emotionally so that the journey is about “us” and not just “them”. Thanks for challenging me.
Thanks Jim. The idea of being present has huge value. So, if someone was being present, what one observable behavior would they be doing? I know that doing one thing doesn’t solve everything. However, the one thing is often a scaffold for all the other things to stand on.
OK, here’s mine….”STEP TOWARD…” Don’t hang in the back of the room like a pontificate observer. Don’t wait for someone to engage with you. Step toward people. It makes the eye contact, smile, handshake, and supportive conversations that follow much easier to initiate.
Thanks Jim. I love this exploration. I appreciate your participation.
Ask questions. Oftentimes, this is a good way for me to get out of thinking about “my stuff” and start thinking about “their stuff”. Focusing on who I’m in conversation with, whether it’s a client, my husband or the clerk at my grocery store, is always valuable.
Thanks kbshearer. Love the clarity and simplicity. What a great “one thing”
The one thing I do and have done for years with almost 100% success in connecting is to allow the person or group to speak a little about their family and the past, recognize the similarities of my own past, share that story(stories) and mingle with everyone (if in a group setting) during a meal, which I usually fight to pay for. I know that makes 5 steps BUT that is the one thing I do that has served the purpose. Here is a gem I found by trail and error, “Allowing someone to project themselves helps them to connect with you”.
Thanks Ron. Powerful and practical. The whole thing starts with talk about family and the past. Or, you might say, ask them to tell you a story from their childhood. Lots of potential. Cheers.
Stay true to yourself.
This is the one! Honest listening encompasses all of the others, just as described. Dan keeps asking how do we tell if someone is “(fill in the blank)” and I believe it will be easy to determine if the one opposite you is actively listening and investing themselves in whatever the encounter is about.
Thanks Dan….I think the one habit that has always served me well in my career has been to always “listen”, it demonstrates you are interested in what the other person has to say, what they say has value, and you respect their point of view.
Oops, see my reply above!
Thanks KM. So, when you see someone listening, what do you see them doing?
What would tell your successor to do when it comes to listening?
Options might include:
Pause for 2 seconds after someone is done talking.
Ask a question and listen to the answer before making a statement.
Restating what the other person said.
The idea of the one thing is to choose the most essential behavior and be sure it’s being done.. all the time. When we choose “the one” lots of other things get done too.
Close your door, dim the lights, and spend 10-20 minutes in quiet contemplation. Daily.
Thanks Dunk! Now that’s specific, actionable, and observable!
Make it better..
Thanks J. What one key behavior lets you know someone is making it better?
I am no longer in clinical practice, but as a physician, my “customer” was my patient; in my opinion, compassion is critical to providing high quality care. In my current role, I am a liaison between clinical staff and information systems. My customers now include physicians and other clinicians who suffer from being over-extended in their clinical work and who are over-burdened with a multitude of government regulations & requirements and increasing anxiety & pressure in the form of such things as public profiling. From my vantage point, compassion combined with collaboration leads to better working relationships. Better relations lead to better solutions which hopefully lead to better, safer and higher quality patient care. To add to J. Forsythe’s comment: Compassion makes things better.
Thanks Gabriel. If you saw someone showing compassion, what would they be doing?
Listening actively, observing & making notes, providing feedback, speaking respectfully, collaborating…
Fantastic… I see a couple of very observable behaviors, making notes and providing feedback. The first one is simple and clear. Would you say that’s the one thing that other behaviors could hang on?
If you were to say one thing to your successor, would that be it? Or, is there something else.
Trust others until proven otherwise.
Thanks Albert. When you see someone trusting others, what are they doing?
If a subordinate goes to them for concessions the very first time, e.g. leave application, they will show concern and grant him / her the concession with no questions asked, even there is something major happening in the company on that day.
Don’t assume you know what others you work with are doing or experiencing. Always ask if you have a question and give others the benefit of the doubt before forming an opinion or making a decision.
Thanks Jan. The negative and positive seem to work well together. (Don’t assume and always ask)….. Always ask what people are doing. “What are you doing?” or… What are you working on? Or… “What are you trying to accomplish?
It’s harder for me to associate a behavior with give others the benefit of the doubt or assume the best. Perhaps giving them a chance to talk about what they are doing helps with this one too?
Good point, Dan. I think practicing direct communication with the person would be an observable behavior. Versus going to others and sharing your frustration or concerns. It seems so simple but we can often make it more complex because we get wrapped up in our own stuff (for lack of a better word) and can forget the importance/value of communication.
“If you could say one thing to your successor, what would you say?”
I would say, ‘Teach people (staff, students, family, etc.) how to take ownership…then lead by example.
Thanks Melanie. Powerful.
Now, could you take it to a practical expression. When you teach someone to take ownership, what would you be doing or saying?
Like a recipe: Take it and then Make it your own. All you need to do is pretend it is yours! Your own Company/Association/Medical Practice. Own It. Someone said to ‘be present’ and that is so true. We all multitask to the ninth degree these days. Allow your staff to be present.
Teach your staff it is o.k. to crawl, walk, then run to the Goal Line. …as you have said Sir Dan, allow them to fail forward. The steps to strides take a little time, mostly it takes a good leader to see strengths and passion in their staff. Show your staff that your passion… is them.
Thanks for taking the time and, enjoy your weekend.
“Look after my/your/our customer”
We want him back 😀
Walk Fast. In my company the owners are very focused and most of them walk though the halls very quickly to get to the next step. Walking fast shows them you are fully engaged, focused and take things seriously.
Thanks Veronica. Your comment made me smile. I can see your response demonstrates sensitivity to organizational culture. People who stroll don’t succeed in your organization. 🙂
Someone reading your comment might laugh it off. But, you definitely have the idea of what I am talking about.
I like the “walk fast” comment too, but I have to agree with Melanie; Ownership. Every employee needs to take ownership. Some employees need to be developed into taking ownership, but if you hire, work, manage and communicate like it’s yours, then it WILL be yours. This builds better teams and instills a sense of accomplishment into each individual… which builds better teams. 🙂