I remember walking into Joe’s office pretty frustrated. I’d had one of those days – the bad kind. Actually, I’d had about 10 of those days in a row, placing me exactly halfway to a pretty lousy month. I had recently accepted a new role leading a new team and things were just not happening the way I had envisioned. Already we were missing deadlines, delivering below-standard work, and experiencing infighting and poor moral. As a newer manager I was tired and frustrated. I wondered if I was ever going to be able to pull out of the tailspin I found myself in.
“I just don’t know where to begin,” I said to Joe, “I feel like I’m just getting started but I’m losing control of the team already.”
Joe looked at me and said, “Maybe a good place to start is by describing the perfect day.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” he replied, “describe the perfect day.”
I thought for a moment, “Well, I guess the perfect day would mean that we’d hit all our deadlines with great work and we’d all be happy about it.”
“No,” he said, “I’d like you to think smaller than that. What would be the perfect day for you – one sentence at a time? Say something like ‘I wake up in the morning and I feel refreshed.’
I repeated after him, “I wake up in the morning and I feel refreshed,”
“Good. What’s next?” he replied.
“I come to work and say, ‘good morning’ to everyone and they’re glad to see me.”
I continued, “Then, I run a great morning meeting.”
“Now, you’re getting it!” he exclaimed, “Butch, I’d like you to make a sentence of each and every event that would describe a perfect day for you. Then, when you’re done, I’d like you to answer a single question for each of these events. Here’s the question: In order for this to happen, what must be true?”
He could tell I was confused.
“So,” he replied, “If you say, ‘I wake up feeling refreshed,’ what must be true is that you may have go to bed at an earlier time. If you say, ‘I run a great meeting’ , one of the things that might need to be true is that you carve more time to prepare for the meeting. There aren’t any perfect days, Butch, but maybe by going through this exercise, you can identify a few things you can do to get the day and your team a little bit closer to good.”