What’s the first step to success? (It’s probably not what you think it is…)

Imagine you’re starting the work to meet a big, compelling goal.

You’re eager to move RIGHT NOW beyond the way things are to the much better circumstance you wish you had.

You strategize, plan and get ready to dive right in.

But have you already skipped the very first step?

That’s the step of understanding your starting point, as it really is.

All too often I see companies and teams who want to get to work, assuming away challenges they don’t want to think about fully.

They jump into action, ready to move forward from a point far beyond where they really are.

Ultimately, they have to go back and lay the foundation they didn’t really have in place yet.

The cautionary advice from their experience is that if you don’t:

– Diagnose your situation correctly

– Make sure you and your team are pointed in the same direction

– Know how you’ll work together as a group to reach your mutual goal

Then, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll:

– Waste precious resources (money, time, attention, energy and goodwill, to name just a few)

– Find that those precious resources, once gone, may be impossible to get again

Try these four key steps to understand your real starting point:

1. Be clear about what you really want.

Sometimes people (and companies and teams) know full well what they don’t want.

They already have some version of that.

But they’re not so sure what they DO want, instead.

Get the picture of your destination as clear as you can.

Describe it in detail, in a way that everyone will recognize it as you work toward it, and will also recognize it when you get there.

Otherwise?

Well, you’d be surprised how different the destination may be that each person…despite everyone’s best intentions…may be driving to reach.

Do you doubt that that’s possible?

Just think, then, how many variations there are of the concept of “The Perfect Vacation,” even in one family or group of friends.

One person could envision a lazy, sunny beach vacation with plenty of umbrella drinks, while another may be thinking that the perfect way to spend time off is to scale Mt. Everest.

Big disagreements can occur on the basis of important assumptions that have not been aired, and then verified or clarified.

Get clear on your shared destination.

2. If it’s a problem you’re solving, be clear about what the problem is.

Describe the situation.

Then gather the facts.

This may confirm your impression about what’s going on. Or, it may adjust it…making the problem bigger, or smaller, than you initially expected.

In some circumstances, it may show you that there’s really no problem to solve, at all, if you’ve been operating under false impressions.

In other words, facts matter. Gather and assess them.

3. Be clear about where you really are, before the work begins.

As mentioned, sometimes a leader assumes that the people on his or her team have more — or less — knowledge, skill, or confidence than it turns out that they really do.

Other circumstances may be far different from what you expect, as well, as work begins.

Know what your starting point really is to understand the gap you have to close between aspirations (yours, and/or your customers’ aspirations) and reality.

Fully understand the resources you have or can get, and the contraints within which you must try to achieve success.

Know, for example, what other high-priority projects are underway, and are competing for the same resources that you hope to steer your team’s way.

4. Make and communicate your action plan to close the gap.

Create an action plan that makes best use of the resources you have, and can get for this team or project.

Plan the most logical, strategic, and realistic series of actions likely to take you from where you are to the situation you desire.

Plan, also, how you will monitor and measure progress.

Follow up regularly to ensure that you’re moving ahead.

Whatever your starting point is, whatever gap you have to fill, know that fully understanding and accepting the current situation is an essential first step to success.

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