Episode: 3 Questions Every Leader Must Answer to Avoid the Drift

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael:  And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. In this episode, we’re talking about the drift and how to avoid it.

Megan: When we talk about the drift, we’re talking about that unseen force in our lives that just pulls us to a place without our intention or any real decision on our part, usually to a place we would not have chosen and that probably is not positive. You don’t usually drift somewhere that you’re like, “Wow! This is amazing!” That’s not normally how it works.

Normally, when you drift, it leads you to a place of regret, and that’s usually caused by busyness and inattention and just the demands of our time, but over time we can end up feeling like time has passed and we’ve wasted it and we’ve missed out on opportunities. So, today, we have three questions to help you avoid the drift and, instead, live with intention.

Michael: And we’re going to bring in Larry Wilson, our writer for the show, to help guide us through this content. Larry?

Larry Wilson: Hey, guys. I’m excited about this topic because I, like probably everybody, have drifted into locations or destinations that you kind of wake up and say, “Wait a minute. How did I get here?” We talk so much about living with intention and focus, but I’m guessing you probably have experienced this too or else we wouldn’t be talking about it.

Michael: I’ve experienced it in a lot of areas of my life. I’ve experienced it in my health when I ended up out of shape or whatever. I’ve also experienced it with debt. I grew up, probably like a lot of people did, with not a lot of formal financial instruction from my parents. I don’t mean that as a bad thing, because, frankly, I didn’t give my kids much financial instruction, and neither do our schools. You’d think simple things, like learning to balance your checkbook, the use of debt, or the non-use of debt, if you’re a Dave Ramsey fan like I am, but I didn’t get any of that.

So, after we got married, we had two incomes and suddenly found ourselves with people throwing credit cards at us. They just would show up in the mail, and you’re like, “Oh! Free money.” I should have known better, but Gail and I didn’t set out and say, “Let’s see if we can get ourselves at a level of debt that is impossible to serve us and really frustrates us and scares us and keeps us awake at night.” We didn’t do that.

What we did was we bought this little thing on a credit card, and we bought that little thing on a credit card, and before long, collectively on our credit cards we owed several thousand dollars. We realized that just servicing that debt was a huge pain, that we were spending more every month than we had to spend. When we woke up to that fact, we had to get really serious about getting out of debt, and it wasn’t easy.

In fact, it led to one of my first meetings with Dave Ramsey back when he was actually seeing individuals. Gail set this up without my knowledge. We had met Dave. We had become friends. So she set up a meeting with Dave, and I didn’t know I was going to a meeting with Dave until I was on the way to the meeting with Dave. I showed up in the meeting with him, and he was incredibly gracious and very generous and made me not feel like such an idiot, because I totally felt like an idiot.

But that was a situation where I had drifted into that, one little decision at a time, and I ended up at a destination I would have never chosen had my eyes been fully open at the very beginning. This can happen in any area of our life, but it can also happen with our entire life, and those are the kinds of situations we want to address today.

Larry: The stakes can be kind of high on this. Debt is nothing to play around with, as you know, and I’m sure the stakes can be high for a business owner or for an executive as well.

Megan: I think it can happen in your business, where you kind of lose track of the things that are important. You get sucked into the day-to-day minutiae of running a business or operating a business and you take your eye off the goals, and all of a sudden, it’s the end of the year and you’re nowhere near where you thought you would have ended up, whether that’s financially or projects you hope to complete. It’s a terrible feeling. It’s really easy to happen, especially the more complex your life gets, I think. It can be a real wake-up call.

Michael: A funny thing, too, is it’s not just negative things. Sometimes it’s opportunities. We get overwhelmed at these opportunities. They pull us off course. We chase that shiny object, and before long we’re completely off course from where we intended to go.

Larry: Well, our theme today is that you can choose your future or the drift is going to choose it for you. We want to show people how to avoid winding up at a destination you never chose. So here are three critical questions. Let’s get to them. The first one is…How do you want to be remembered?

Michael: This is kind of the ultimate test. By the way, the first two questions we’re going to talk about are in my book with Daniel Harkavy called Living Forward. I go into great lengths at this, and it’s in the context of your entire life. This is kind of following the admonition of Dr. Stephen Covey and, actually, before him, Michael Gerber in his book The E-Myth Revisited, who talked about visualizing your funeral and going to the end… You know, “Start with the end in mind.”

Well, your funeral is kind of the ultimate end, at least in this life. So, to go to that and ask yourself the question, “How do I want to be remembered?” The reason that’s important is because it kind of puts everything in context. Every time I’ve been to a funeral… I don’t know. Maybe I’ve been to a couple dozen funerals in my life. Maybe not that many, although I do see the pace of them increasing as I get older.

Every time I’ve been to a funeral, it just dials in a sense of perspective. You go, “At the end of the day, what’s important?” That gives you context…needed context…when you’re going through life and you’re trying to make decisions. “What is it I’m trying to accomplish?” if you’re thinking in a business context. “What does it look like when it’s built? What is the business or organization I’m trying to build?”

In the context of your life, “How do I want to be remembered by the people at my funeral?” Probably none of them are going to care that I was putting in 80-hour weeks. What they’re going to care about is if I made those relationships important. Daniel and I advise in the book Living Forward that you literally write this out like your eulogy.

Imagine your funeral. If various constituencies were to stand up… Like, what would I want my spouse or my significant other to say? What would I want my kids to say? What would I want my coworkers to say? Literally write out a paragraph. “How would I want to be remembered?” That will help combat the drift like nothing else.

I have a quote from Steve Jobs, and then I want to get your response to this, Megan. Steve Jobs said this, and it was very interesting that this quote came from a speech I think he gave a couple of months before he actually died or knew he was going to die from pancreatic cancer. He said, “Almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. […] There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Megan: That’s a great quote. I find this particular question really profound and convicting, because the truth is at your funeral probably no one is going to talk about your business accomplishments at all. The people who are going to speak at your funeral are probably not the people who work for you. They’re probably not your clients. They’re probably your family and your close friends, and hopefully you have those relationships.

This is particularly important if you’re a high-achiever, if you’re a leader, if you’ve been successful, because it’s easy to get this backward. You play to the wrong audience and trick yourself into thinking kind of passively that it’s the other group of people who are going to be talking about you in the end, and they’re not. The people you want up there who really matter (and we’ll get into this in the next question) are your family and friends. Are you appropriately tending to those relationships and nurturing and cultivating those relationships with those people who matter most?

Michael: I would argue even your clients and your coworkers, if they do speak at your funeral, are not going to be talking about your business accomplishments.

Megan: Right. They’re not going to say, “Man, he grew by 50 percent last year. Can you believe it?” Nobody cares.

Michael: Nobody cares about that kind of stuff. I should point out, too, that the opposite of the drift is design. It’s living with intention. It’s designing your life, and in this case, when we’re talking about how we want to be remembered, you can engineer that. In other words, if I want to be remembered by Gail, my wife, to whom I’ve been married for 41 years… If I want to be remembered by her as a loving spouse, then I can design my life so…

Even today, I was just thinking about this. We came home from the gym, and I opened the door for her. I want her to remember that I honored her even in the small things. It’s a little thing, but that’s informed by how I want to be remembered by her. It’s the sequence of all of those little actions like that that add up to her remembering me in a way I would be proud of.

Larry: Megan, I have a question for you. A couple of weeks ago now, maybe a little longer, we had a podcast in which you talked about your fear of public speaking, and you made a statement something like this. You said, “I determined not to let my fear limit my life and my opportunities.” So, it seems like we’re kind of afraid of the wrong things. Is that accurate?

Megan: I think it is accurate. Part of the conversation in my head when I was deciding to finally face that fear and overcome it was “This isn’t how I want to be remembered. I don’t want to be remembered and I don’t want to stand for letting fear drive my life. There are too many important things I have to accomplish, particularly for the sake of other people, to let that be the driver for me.” So that’s a really important point to consider, and that’s a good example of something I did not intentionally choose that had been a very powerful force in my life up to that point.

Larry: Well, we’re talking about how you want to be remembered, and, Michael, I found this line from a tombstone. I would have thought you wrote it except the wrong number is here. It says, “Raised four beautiful daughters with only one bathroom, and still there was love.” As a father of five daughters, can you relate to that?

Michael: I totally can relate to that.

Megan: Thank God we did not only have one bathroom. That would be saintly.

Larry: Let’s move on to the second question that every leader must ask to avoid the drift. That question is…What is important to me?

Michael: The first question is really about legacy. This question is about priorities. It’s easy to see what other people’s priorities should be. It’s obvious when somebody’s priorities are out of whack, like, “She’s working too hard. Why doesn’t she give more attention to her family?” or “Why don’t they make time for God?” or whatever it is, but it takes a lot of self-awareness to ask your own self, “What are my priorities?” and literally rank them.

Inevitably, you’re going to get in a situation where you have to choose. Just a quick story. In the midst of the recession, I needed a vacation. I’d cleared it with my board, and Gail and I were leaving, flying to Colorado to spend some time in the mountains there. We had a stopover in Dallas, and I got a message from my board that said, “Hey, sorry to impose this upon you, but we need you to come to the office next week.” They knew I was headed out on vacation.

I had to make a choice that was a choice about priorities. First of all, it was a choice for self-care, which we’ll come back to in a second, because that’s a very important priority for me. Secondly, it was a choice for my marriage, because Gail needed some tender loving care, because I’d been working far too hard in the middle of the recession just trying to keep the company afloat. So I had to make the decision, “Do I go back to Nashville and scuttle the vacation or do I keep going forward and take the vacation?”

If I had not had my priorities written and had a clear ranking of those priorities, I wouldn’t have been able to choose, but I was able to choose. By the way, there were plenty of times when I didn’t choose so well, but this was a situation where I did choose well, because I could answer the question, “What’s important to me?” What was important to me was my own psychological, physical, and spiritual health. What was important to me was my wife and my family, and that ranked far ahead of my job and my career.

Larry: Were you afraid of getting fired or afraid of some fallout?

Michael: I was scared to death. I realized it was one of those moments in my career history… It doesn’t happen very often, but it was one of those moments where I thought, “You know, I could be betting the farm here. This could be the end of my career,” and at this time I was the CEO of a very prominent company. I was pretty confident that there wasn’t another job. There aren’t a lot of jobs out there, so if I lost this job it would be tough.

Yeah, it was just one of those things that mattered enough I wasn’t going to just drift into what was expected, because, again, to go back to the first question, probably the people who were making that request wouldn’t be at my funeral, but Gail and my family would, so I wanted to make the right choice.

Megan: This comes up a lot for me with my kids and the tension between work and family. I make a decision on most days to shut off work so I can be present for the kids or on the weekends to sit down and play a game with the kids when I’d rather have some time to myself. Certainly, all of those things I’m talking about are important, but both the question of “How do I want to be remembered?” and “What’s important to me?” cause me to prioritize things that are not, in the moment, expedient or even necessarily what feels good.

What ultimately is going to matter to me is my family, my marriage, my health, my faith, all those kinds of things. We’re really making choices in the day-to-day moments of our lives to do something other than what the natural current that’s underneath all of us would pull us into doing.

Larry: You really can’t have two number-one priorities.

Megan: Right.

Larry: Would you mind sharing, each of you, how you rank these various areas of your life?

Michael: In the book Living Forward, we talk about these various areas of your life as life accounts. I’ve talked about them in Your Best Year Ever as the various domains of your life. Here’s my ranking, and this is in the order. First of all, for me, God. That’s my number-one allegiance, and everything else is a distant second.

But this is the surprising one: I put myself in second place. The reason I do that is I really can’t be of much use to any other of the priorities of my life if I don’t take care of myself. There has to be an appropriate level of self-care, but it’s not self-care that’s selfish. It’s not just I say, “I want to enjoy my comfort. I want to be okay with myself.” No. It’s in order to serve other people.

Larry: Let me stop you right there, because I have a question about that second priority. I hear you, and as someone who knows you I can see that you’re an unselfish person, but not everybody is going to get that. When they realize you’re making choices to take care of yourself by flexing your “no” muscle and refusing to do other things, that’s going to come across as selfish. Have you encountered that, and how do you deal with it?

Michael: Yeah. I think it depends on how you couch it. For me, for example, working out is very important, so that means I don’t take coffee meetings or breakfast meetings in the morning. I just say no to that stuff, because I want to say yes to staying in good health. I’m not going to be of use to anyone if I’m sick or incapacitated in some way. I feel like I have this stewardship over my body and the importance of keeping it alive and well so that I can serve.

Now, I don’t go through that whole thing when I refuse to have breakfast with somebody. I simply try to move that into another slot that’s more convenient for me so I can protect that morning ritual, which includes my exercise. Does that make sense?

Larry: Yeah. Sure does. So, God, self…

Michael: Then Gail, and then my kids, and then my work, and then ministry. I’m very active in my church, and I have a ministry there, but I see that coming last because I’m only going to have ministry to the extent that I’m successful in these other domains. If my family is falling apart or my health is falling apart, that’s going to restrict my ability to have an effective impact on other people.

Megan: That’s really good. Mine are the same. I don’t have a ministry focus right now. My four children are my ministry at this very moment of my life.

Michael: It’s a good one.

Megan: Yeah, it is a good one. But for the same reason. What the ranking of those priorities causes me to do is, for example, I don’t with any regularity…I mean, it’s probably, at the most, once a month, if not once every quarter…take a dinner meeting for work. It’s usually only if I’m interviewing a potential direct report, which very infrequently happens. That’s because it’s really important for me to be home to put my kids to bed. Also, Joel and I have a date night on Thursdays. That’s really important, and, therefore, we don’t do other things on that night.

Similarly, my kids don’t get my attention after 7:30 at night unless they’re sick. It’s kind of like, “That’s your bedtime. Good night,” because that’s part of my self-care. That’s when I’m doing my evening ritual and getting to bed on time. That’s really important for me to be able to serve them well, so I’m not going to let them encroach on that time. You’re using this ranking of these things that are important to you in this question to make very daily practical decisions about how you’re going to spend your time and invest it well.

Michael: This goes back again to design versus drifting. When you have a set of priorities in line, now you can design your life, you can make decisions in the moment, and you can avoid that deadly drift. If you let the kids, for example, take control of that time after 7:30, then you’re going to drift into some things you probably don’t want to have happen.

Megan: Right. Or if I prioritize bedtime with them over my marriage, then Joel and I wouldn’t be going on a date night every week. That ranking is important. It helps you make those decisions in real life.

Michael: Somebody said to me one time about my marriage, “The best gift you could ever give your kids is to love your spouse.” I think that’s true. So, because I love my kids, they come after my wife.

Larry: Well, to avoid drift, three critical questions. The first: How do I want to be remembered? The second: What’s important to me? And the third: What single brave decision do I need to make today? Is Brené Brown going to be a guest on this show today and I didn’t know?

Michael: We’re going to channel her.

Megan: Brené, come on. We’d love to have you. I love this question so much, partly because I’ve used it personally over and over again. I have a really low tolerance for allowing fear to be the boss of my life, as my kids would say. It turns out to be a really bad and tyrannical boss, and you don’t usually go somewhere you want to end up when it’s driving the bus, to kind of mix the metaphor.

Once you have clarity on these first two questions, “How do I want to be remembered?” and “What’s important to me?” you need to have courage and commitment to execute on the knowledge of those two things. Most people have to make some kind of brave decision every day to stay in alignment with their priorities and to live a life that is not happening by default or drift but is really being designed.

That looks like difficult conversations, whether you’re having to say no, whether you’re having to confront someone. You’re probably going to have to have a difficult conversation. I would say, at least once a week… If you count my family, it’s definitely every day. I’m having a difficult conversation with one of my kids on a daily basis, but usually in the context of our business it’s happening on a weekly basis with someone, and not always negative. It’s just I’m having to be brave and step out of my comfort zone.

I think that’s the big idea here. If you’re going to live a life of intention, you’re going to have to live largely out of your comfort zone. You’re not going to be able to just do what comes naturally or what feels comfortable. You’re going to have to do the things that are important, and that means you’re going to take some risks.

It could be a big risk, like I’ve talked extensively about deciding to face my fear of public speaking, or it could be a small risk, just saying no, that you’re not going to accept another trip because you’ve already been gone from your family on business trips more than is whatever your threshold and that violates your priorities, or saying no to a friend.

We’re just going to have to constantly fight the current that tries to pull us back in away from the direction we’re trying to steer our lives. You’re always going to be going against the current of the drift, and it’s helpful if you remember that and then ask yourself that question on a daily basis, “What brave decision do I need to make today?” It just brings it into sharp reality.

Michael: It does. I don’t think of myself as a brave or courageous person. I have done things in the past that were brave and courageous, but I don’t think it’s my natural bent.

Megan: Me either.

Michael: But I’m more scared of not taking these brave actions than I am of doing them. For example, one of the things I love that Jim Rohn talks about is the law of diminishing intent. In fact, Daniel and I end the book Living Forward on this note. Whenever you get clarity about something…when you get clarity about your legacy by asking the question, “How do I want to be remembered?” or clarity about your priorities (“What’s important to me?”)…it’s important to take action, to act in light of that clarity, because the law of diminishing intent (again, from Jim Rohn) says if you don’t act immediately when you have that clarity, chances are, as time goes on, you’re less likely to act.

What always scares me in a moment of clarity… Like, I have to have a difficult conversation tomorrow night with a family member, and I kind of have this undercurrent of dread. I know I have to have it. I’m going to have it, but I know if I put that off, if I said, “Well, maybe I’ll do it in another week,” it’s less likely to happen. I have the clarity now. I want to take advantage of that momentum, and I want to make that single brave decision. I’ve already set it up. There’s no way I can back out now.

Megan: That’s a great hack, by the way. Commit yourself in the moment. In your moment of clarity, make an irreversible commitment.

Michael: That helps, and that’s exactly what I did in this situation. So, this stuff is important.

Megan: It’s really important. I think you said something our listeners need to hear in case they kind of skipped past it. That is, you don’t consider yourself a brave person. I don’t consider myself a particularly brave person. I don’t think naturally I have some kind of history of having some giftedness in this area. I don’t think this is an area of giftedness. I think it’s an area that’s developed, and it’s a skill. You learn how to be brave. You just practice it, and you keep doing it.

It begins with knowing and accepting the reality that your life will require bravery if it’s going to count. By bravery I mean doing stuff that’s uncomfortable that you don’t want to do for the sake of something greater. That’s really all courage is, usually. You’re going to just have to do that over and over again. Instead of being like, “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe I have to do this brave thing, and I don’t want to,” if you just sort of know, “Yep. Here we go again. It’s another brave thing I have to do. That’s just part of life,” it’s much easier to get yourself on board.

Michael: Don’t you find also that…? This is really informed by my faith, frankly. Sometimes we kind of project ourselves into the future when something brave is required, but what we don’t count on is the grace of God in that moment. What I’ve often found is that in those moments that require me to do something brave or to say something brave, or whatever, God meets me in the midst of that and gives me the resources I need so I’m not left on my own.

Megan: Yes. I actually had never thought about that until you brought it up to me recently sometime in the last year. It was like a new idea to me, because I’m so futuristic, and I have a lot of anxiety about the future. I love the future, but I have an equal measure of anxiety about it, and I can really get tangled up in thinking about it. The truth is I’m always projecting myself alone in the future, and that’s never how it works out. Not only does God meet you there, but all kinds of people meet you there, presumably through his providence, and resources show up that you could have never anticipated, and it’s fine.

Larry: Well, Michael, I have been a visitor in your office, and as I recall, there is only one framed motivational saying, and it goes like this: “Being brave means doing it scared.” Did you come up with that or was that something you read?

Michael: No, I’m confident I didn’t come up with it. I’ve heard a lot of people use it, and a lot of people try to take credit for it, but it’s true regardless. It’s like most things that are true. They become self-evident. When somebody says it, everybody starts saying it, but it’s really true. Doing it scared.

Larry: Well, today we’ve learned that you can choose your future or the drift is going to choose it for you, and to stay out of that destination you never wanted to be in, there are three questions you need to ask yourself.

  1. “How do I want to be remembered?”
  2. “What’s important to me?”
  3. “What single brave decision do I need to make today?”

Pretty heavy stuff today, guys. Any final thoughts to wrap it up with?

Megan: These are heavy questions. These are big questions, but they’re so worth asking, because the alternative is regret. I think that is the thing most of us are more afraid of than anything else: getting to the end when it’s too late to do anything about it, whether that’s the end of your life or an estranged relationship, and not being able to fix it because you weren’t intentional on the front end. So, whatever it costs emotionally or in terms of your courage to ask these questions and then act on the answers, it’s far less than what it will cost you to live with regret.

Michael: Another way to say that is it’s never easier to change the trajectory of your life than right now. If you wait until things get farther out of alignment or until you hit a health crisis or a relational crisis, then sometimes it’s not only more difficult to fix; it’s irreparable. So it has never been easier than right now. Again, my book with Daniel Harkavy, Living Forward, is a book about this entire topic.

It’s really a book about how to design your life and create (and this is the tool we share in the book) a life plan. A lot of people talk about that, but we spell it out in meticulous detail, and I really think if the people listening to this will get that book and commit to creating a life plan… It doesn’t fix everything, but it’ll set you on the path of figuring out how you want to be remembered, what’s important to you, and what are the actions you need to take to get there.

Larry: Well, along with other resources mentioned on the show today, we’ll have a link to Living Forward in the show notes. Thank you, guys, for sharing a very insightful topic today.

Michael: Thanks, Larry, and thank you guys for joining us on Lead to Win. Join us next time when we’re going to tell you why you must confront seemingly indispensable but disrespectful team members. Until then, lead to win.