You may have had the perfect meal recently, accompanied by a perfect bottle of wine. Maybe you had a perfect tee shot, driving it dead center in the middle of the fairway. Or maybe you had the perfect start of your day with time spent reading, exercising, and a healthy breakfast. But have you ever met a perfect person?

I don’t mean the perfect person for you; many have met their soulmate in life. And I don’t mean the perfect person to help you out when you needed it, like the perfect friend.

What I am asking is, have you ever met a perfect person?

A person who is perfect in every way. There is not a blemish to be found on them or in them. They are never wrong. They have never made a mistake. They have never had a bad day or created a bad experience for anyone. They practically walk on water. Oh, well there was that one perfect guy who walked on water. But since then, who?

Like me, who is far from perfect, I am sure you have met a few folks along the way who believe that they are perfect in every way. When they are wrong, it’s usually someone else’s fault. When they are right, they are really right. And they usually prefer to keep company with friends who they believe are less than perfect, just to maintain an air of superiority. Believe it or not, some of those perfect people who are without fault even judge the rest of us at times.

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Here we are, four weeks out from ringing in another New Year. Many of us can’t wait to put 2020 in the rearview mirror. These last 11 months are difficult to describe in one word, it’s even hard to describe them in just a few words without finding something negative, sad, or troubling to say, so yes, the rearview mirror analogy could be an excellent way to try and put it all behind us.

However, it’s only a good strategy if we make sure that we can shift our focus on what is in front of us, not only on what’s behind us.

“See, when you drive home today, you’ve got a big windshield on the front of your car. And you’ve got a little bitty rearview mirror. And the reason the windshield is so large and the rearview mirror is so small is because what’s happened in your past is not near as important as what’s in your future.” – Joel Osteen

Success is a funny thing as we can see others succeeding where we feel like we have not.

Whatever they touch turns to gold. They simply have a knack for being successful at whatever they endeavor to do. Even in a difficult COVID year, they were still able to meet with success. What’s the difference? The difference is in the way we see ourselves…

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Before we completely turn the page and allow last week’s Thanksgiving holiday to pass us by, I wanted to take a moment to thank every one of you who have done your very best to truly focus on what you have been most grateful for this past year.

You may not think it matters, but I can assure you that your sense of gratitude and appreciation never goes unnoticed.

And as we roll into the new year, I firmly believe that it is our gratitude and appreciation for the three C’s that may still be ahead of us —

Challenges, Chaos, and Confusion —

That will make the difference. I know that these don’t sound like “Winning Words,” but they are, and let me explain and why I see them as game-changers.

If we had to list all the challenges or difficulties that we have witnessed or that we are experiencing personally, we would have a very lengthy list. Collectively the list would seem insurmountable. So why would I intimate that a challenge is something we should be grateful for? It’s because in every challenge we see someone who emerges and goes out of their way to help someone else. We see people sharing God’s love, pursuing God’s will, doing God’s work, and doing it for all of God’s people…

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Sometimes it is the current or the wave that gets all the attention, but maybe we can first begin by talking about the pebble and the ripple, and even our own role as either one in the creation of those rippling waters, currents, and waves.

As we do, there are a few things about being the pebble or the ripple that we should keep in mind.

The first is that there are times where we can be both, making our initial splash or point, and then doing our best to perpetuate a shared feeling or message.

The second thing to consider is that both the pebble and the ripple can either be positively charged or negatively driven.

And lastly, most times the pebbles that generate the biggest ripples are the same ones that carry the message the farthest and have the greatest impact.

Some throw pebbles of negativity, trying to do as much damage to the calm of the water as possible without a care for the lingering effect those ripples may have on anything or anyone in their path. Others cast pebbles with a clear sense of purpose and desired outcome…

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In the words of Forrest Gump:

My mom always said that life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

The one thing that separates a good movie or mystery from a great movie or mystery is the element of suspense and surprise. As each story plays out, what will happen next will keep us on the edge of our seats, perhaps shock or scare us, make us laugh, and hopefully astonish us in a good way.

It’s when what happens next is completely expected that leaves us feeling a bit disappointed.

I find that most of us who really enjoy mysteries and thrillers look forward to the unexpected outcome, and the twists and turns of a book, television series, movie, game, or competition of any kind. It’s when we already can predict or even see what happens next that we lose interest.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected. And although there are many of us who really enjoy a great mystery, there are many more of us who need to know the plot, the players, the situation, and an ending that they had already figured out, or probably at least anticipated. Previously, we might have known the camp that we fell into; those who love a good mystery or those who really need to know what’s happening next.

However, this year has given us all a reason to try and get ahead of what happens next, wanting to know what we should expect and when we should expect it…

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… where hope begins.

Over the last 12 years, I have now written 600 published columns. Additionally, I have posted thousands of messages through social media and have been on podcasts, radio interviews, and have appeared as a keynote speaker numerous times here in the states as well as around the globe.

I continue to be humbled by these opportunities to connect with you.

So first, let me say thank you to all of you who send me emails and messages, I sincerely appreciate you all and love our exchanges. Happily, most of our exchanges are extremely positive, after all the column is called “Winning Words.” There is a percentage of our readers who love to challenge me on a thought or an idea that I had shared, and in most cases, it is a very healthy and engaging dialogue. And then there are a few people who try and provoke an argument, all I can say is that sometimes we just have a difference of opinion.

So here in column number 600, I wanted to answer a couple of questions, and sometimes concerns, that I have received from our community. I am often asked why I have not taken a stance or a position on a sensitive topic. Some even suggesting that my silence must clearly define how I really feel or intimating that I have always stayed right down the middle, not choosing sides so that I do not offend anyone. And a part of this is very true as my goal is never to offend anyone but to encourage everyone.

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Proactive or reactive. I did or did not. I can or cannot. I will or will not. When we look at those statements quickly, which words resonate with us personally? What I typically see is that people who connect with the words proactive, I did, I can, and I will tend to be more action-oriented and results-focused.

There is no right or wrong answer here.

Those of us who may have felt more comfortable with the words reactive, I did not, I cannot, and I will not, are sometimes less action-oriented and not as worried about the results. Some of us in this group are comfortable letting others take the actions necessary to achieve the results we are seeking.

One of the best lessons that I have learned that has impacted my personal life and my career has been to understand the difference between “will” and “skill.” In most cases, a skill can be something we acquire over time. Yet no matter how proficient we become at a certain skill, if we do not have the will to actually use the skill, we will always come up short when it comes to the achievement of our goals and dreams. Action orientation begins with the will…

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There is a guiding principle that I am sure many of you are familiar with and may have put into practice in your daily communications. It’s the principle that Stephen Covey shared in his bestselling book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.”

This is a terrific concept that sounds awesome, and one that could easily add value to the conversations we are having and to the relationships we are building. If this is true, why isn’t this something that we practice more often?

Is it because we want to be the one doing most of the talking?

Is it because we are so convicted in our belief or position on a particular subject that we don’t want to give voice to a different way of thinking?

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Are you currently working with someone who you admire and respect as a leader? Have they been able to provide guidance to you and your organization as they navigate change and work hard to keep up with the rush and crush of challenges and opportunities? What traits stand out to you?

Over the course of my career, I have been blessed to work with great leadership. Some of the leaders were managers, chief executive officers, or business owners, all of who provided terrific insights and contributed wisdom that furthered my own leadership journey. Other leaders were part of business groups, mentoring, and coaching relationships and some were, and are, close friends.

Through my experiences and through these relationships, here’s one of the lessons that I learned and have shared with people who have been a part of the teams I have personally led. It’s something that was demonstrated to me by some of the most influential managers and leaders I had the privilege of working with. It’s the idea of providing people with information that they can put to use immediately to help solve a problem, increase performance, and improve productivity. Not information overload, or simply theory, but actionable guidance that slowly builds the strengths and capabilities of individuals over a sustained period of time as they practice and apply the guidance given.

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Having always been a proponent of the leadership concept, slowing down to speed up, I wanted to share some thoughts with you.  I learned this concept early in my career as a young manager and professional trainer and facilitator of the Ken Blanchard “Situational Leadership” curriculum.  Having spent four amazing years traveling the globe facilitating leadership training for my organization, I had the privilege of meeting some inspiring leaders.

Regardless of the country or the culture of the location, we had meaningful discussions about the positive impact of taking time to develop our people and the tug of middle managers and C-Level leaders to spend time on coaching and training versus doing their day job; everyone left with the best of intentions to take more time to slow down.  Some being really very successful at the implementation of this concept and something I set out to master myself.

Working in a remote office for almost 10 years taught me a lot, so this ‘new normal’ is actually not so new for me.  Back then, I was challenged by the very leaders that sent me into our company to teach others about leadership. Their belief was that leadership could not be successful remotely.  So, I had to prove them wrong. A great leader is a great leader whether they work on-site or remotely. It’s not their physical presence that makes them great, it is simply their presence. And that presence can be achieved remotely.

Here’s a tip to be effective remotely as a leader, if you haven’t done so already, get in a routine and stick to it.  It helps a lot.  I was laser-focused on implementing innovative ways to stay connected to my team to coach, mentor, and train them.  For three years, my team and I were two time zones apart.  I was new as their leader, so I needed to find and use effective ways to stay connected and communicate consistently.  All calls were virtual so I could see their body language and the activity in the office when we talked through their challenges.  They didn’t love it at first, but it was so critical, and it really helped me to connect with them have a clear picture on what they were personally experiencing.  We also used shared technologies so I could have access to information when they were already at home spending time with their family while I wrapped up my workday.  The key here is having a routine and a cadence and sticking to it.

Over time, maybe like the rest of you, time to coach and develop others seemed to slip away and the crush of the 24/7 workweek got the best of me as the world progressed on virtual offices and virtual interactions at all times of day and night.  Looking back, we were literally working at all times of day and night.  In hindsight, when was I slowing down to speed up?  I wasn’t.  What that really meant was that my team wasn’t getting all of me as their leader.  Yes, we still got the job done (and then some…still so proud of the team) and we had 100% client retention, but at what expense?  Theirs.  Mine.

Today, on my journey of success with my current team and as I have discussions with clients on their talent strategies, I have continued along with developing new strategies on how to navigate the pace of the race.

Then, all of a sudden, the world changed.

For some of you, business may be picking up during this time, but for most, it is slowing down and maybe even tough decisions are having to be made on who is on the team and what the new normal will be for your team.  I’m simply astounded at the amount of information being published about ways to manage this and in my opinion, now is an amazing opportunity to get to know your team. With a strong encouragement to really get to know them.

The time is NOW to slow down to speed up. 

The reality is, as leaders, we have no idea what the new normal will look like or even when our respective industries will level out.  Time may now be less of a commodity in your day and the opportunity is ours to be able to reflect on what’s important for our team.  Trust me, that episode on Netflix can wait.  Spend some time one-on-one with each one of your team talking to them about what they would like their new normal to look like at the end of this.  We should also be reflecting on what’s most important for ourselves. What has been on the “list” of things you have always wished you could do, be, or have?  Enrolling in that course… starting that project… getting or giving the helping hand … that exciting next transition.

Times are tough right now.  Normal is not normal, but this normal is going to change again.  Your biggest loss could be not taking the time to slow down to speed up and coming out on the other side unchanged.  How are you going to slow down to speed up?  How are you going to bloom after this storm?  Do you need help with this change? I’d love to hear from you at kim.norton@tramazing.com.