What’s Your Yardstick to Measure a Great Day?


I arrived home from work feeling very self-satisfied. I was on a roll.

“How was your day?” asked my wife.

“Great.”

“Why?”

“I got everything done that I wanted to.”

And then she asked me this: “Is that how you measure the quality of your day?”

Oh my, I thought. I certainly do. I mean, I do have this perpetual agenda in my head and these goals I’m trying to achieve.

In his famous commencement speech to Harvard Business School’s 2010 graduating class, Clayton Christensen asked, “How will you measure your life?” He recognized that it’s so gratifying to make a sale, ship a product, fix a problem or finish a presentation. But is that the best measure of progress?

Christensen’s words came back to me last week after two high-stakes work meetings. They were both with key decision-makers for projects I was trying to advance. Into each meeting, I arrived with a strategy to influence and a goal to get agreement. And in each of the meetings, my strategy was derailed and no agreement was made.

So, did I fail? Well, here’s what happened. You tell me.

In the first meeting, the key decision-maker opened by talking about some of his projects that were being cancelled due to funding delays. He made a passing comment about how he owns his company with his brother. To which I asked, “How has the dynamic been between you and your brother over the years?”

In the other meeting that day, the key decision-maker opened by making a passing comment about his kids. This was a tougher call on my part. I had heard something about this guy’s past from a mutual connection. I said, “I heard that you lost one of your children in an accident. I’m so sorry.”

The same result occurred in each of the two meetings. The person sitting across from me started talking in a way where, inside my head, I’m thinking this conversation is getting personal.

After about 15 minutes passed in each of the meetings, I was still listening to the key decision-maker talk vulnerably. I began to consider How can I now transition this topic into the reason we’re meeting? I did, after all, have an important agenda!

Not this day. This day brought another thought that quieted my agenda and objectives:

Relax. Just connect with this person.

I literally took a breath and locked in my best listening.

The conversations transcended the work at hand. I forgot about myself and made a strong personal connection.

In the first meeting, I genuinely laughed and deeply appreciated the way this key decision-maker told stories and discussed the challenges in his family business.

In the second meeting, my eyes welled up with tears as I experienced part of the grief, and then joy in the memories, as this key decision-maker talked about his daughter’s accident.

Both meetings ended in an hour with nothing tangible accomplished. No sale. No decision.

Except…

Each meeting ended with a “thank you” and an almost identical comment from the key-decision maker: “I’d really like to connect more often. Can we reconnect soon?”

On the one hand, I can’t help but think, was that an irresponsible use of an hour for each meeting when I need to move these projects forward and those key decision-makers are incredibly busy?

On the other hand, I know that while I may not have gotten an answer in those meetings, this key decision-maker and I are much more likely to support each other’s work efforts going forward.

No, I didn’t advance my narrow agenda. I did, however, greatly enhance the environment in which my projects will succeed or fail. These key decision-makers and I are much more likely to operate as allies. And it was grounding to really connect with someone rather than rush through the series of “I need tos” rattling around inside my head.

Sounds pretty great to me.

So maybe my days should be measured by the quality of my connections more than the quantity of my accomplishments.

How about you? What’s your yardstick? Where might you need to redefine what “great” really looks like?

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