How to create a 2-page plan for success in 2021

Whether 2020 has been a year to forget or business is booming, now is the time to look forward to 2021. Your competitors are not breathing easy and waiting for the holidays to come around. Here’s how you can get started:

  • Gather your core leaders now for a one- or two-day offsite, in-person or virtual.
  • Pull out the two-page Strategic Direction document you created at the end of 2019. How did you do? Are your actual results performing against your budgeted or predicted results?
  • Revisit your organization’s purpose – what are you trying to achieve?
  • What are your organization’s strategies – in other words, how do you achieve your purpose? This includes products, services, markets, and competitive advantages.

Share your organization’s purpose and strategies with every single team member, and explain how you will celebrate success in 2021.

  • Look at the purpose and the strategies you listed. Do the strategies support the purpose? If so, great! If not, reflect on the disconnects and realign where necessary.
  • Compile what you’ve agreed upon as a team into a two-page Strategic Direction document for 2021.
  • Communicate! We believe the best way to communicate this is through an ALL TEAM meeting.  Engage every single team member in reclarifying purpose, key strategies, and your description of what a successful 2021 will look like.  Explain how progress will be shared throughout the year, and how you will celebrate when plans are achieved. Yes, this is the place that culture intersects with leadership!
  • After the meeting, your managers can develop their 2021 plans and targets based on this new Strategic Direction document. (Side note – having a solid Strategic Direction also makes it easier for managers to say NO to certain ideas or initiatives that don’t fit the plan. Read more on saying NO here.)

Do we know what 2021 holds for us? No, but understanding who you are as a business, and what you are trying to achieve makes it easier to decide what you will invest in.

I can help facilitate the creation of your 2021 Strategic Direction document. Contact me for details.

Sherri Miller, Founder and CEO
Center for Extraordinary Success

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What happens when leaders stay in their comfort zone?

“The ultimate measure of man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When leaders back away from challenging situations, their team loses confidence in them. In other words, when leaders fail to exhibit bravery, their organizations fail to achieve higher levels of success.

Best-selling author Brené Brown studied organizations where courageous leadership was absent and found three common issues:

  • Leaders avoided difficult conversations
  • Leaders managed problems instead of the behaviors that caused the problems
  • In organizations that had “fear of failure” cultures, team members were afraid of being wrong

My goal is not just to make you aware of these three common facts, but to encourage you to take action with what you have learned. So, I challenge to you reflect on the following questions.

On a scale of 1-5, with “1” being the lowest and “5” being the best, how would you rate yourself on these traits of a courageous leader?

  • I am comfortable tackling difficult conversations.
  • I manage behaviors that cause problems.
  • I embrace an environment that fosters open and honest feedback.

If you are feeling especially brave, ask two or three people to assess you or your organization for these courageous leadership traits.

If you score less than a “5” on any of these traits, ask yourself what is preventing you from achieving a “5.” Make a list of ideas for improvement and put them into ACTION!

If you need extra help, Brené Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness offers some tips for becoming a more confident and effective leader.

It’s important to realize that our own behaviors and leadership dictate the degree to which our organization succeeds. Let’s all strive to become the courageous leaders that our organizations, our families, and our communities need.

Sherri Miller, Founder and CEO
Center For Extraordinary Success

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Transparency Builds Trust

These days, thinking about the future of your business is confusing at best. But recognize that as a leader, you know more about where your business is headed than you’re telling your team.

Your team probably is worried, fearful, and stressed. Pretending that it’s “business as usual” – when it obviously is not – doesn’t work. You’ll create distrust among your team.

By being transparent, you can ease stress and build trust among your team.

Transparency is key as you lean into uncomfortable conversations with your team. Be transparent about how you are tackling current challenges. Share your short-term vision of success. Establish and communicate new milestones. Acknowledge that making progress toward these milestones is tougher than in the past.

By being transparent, you can ease stress and build trust among your team. Employ empathy as a tool to understand what your team is experiencing and to share a vision of success for the company family. Lead with confidence, but with a dose of  humility. False bravado just won’t cut it.

As leaders we must challenge ourselves to initiate more meaningful and productive communication than ever before.  Now is the time to become the best leader you can be and give the very best you have.

Sherri Miller, Founder and CEO
Center For Extraordinary Success

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Revisit Your Dreams

When you began your job as a leader, you probably dreamed about the type of leader you’d become and all that you’d accomplish.  Think back to that dream, however grandiose or naïve. Has any of it actually happened?

Your dream probably reflects the very core of who you are. If you feel disconnected from your dream, it’s not too late to revisit it. First, try to describe it. In your mind, capture a clear image of that dream. It helps to look at the big picture – step back from the trees and look at the whole forest!

Do your actions move you closer to your dream, or father away?

Studies show that having a clear picture of your dream allows you to create a roadmap to achieving and living this dream. Your daily actions can be baby steps or giant leaps toward your dream. Do your actions move you closer to your dream, or farther away? Think about who you want to be, rather than what you need to do.

Be intentional about how you use your time. I recommend using the Full Focus Planner to keep you on track.

This exercise in dreaming helps me recognize that I am fortunate to live out my dream – equipping you with the tools to make your dreams come true.

Here’s to the dreamers whose actions are transforming their lives and their communities!

Sherri Miller, Founder and CEO
Center For Extraordinary Success

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Four Big Questions To Help You Racalibrate

As a leader, it’s tempting (but unrealistic) to hope that everything will return to normal. Instead, seize this opportunity to recalibrate your personal, team, and company operating models.

Reflect on these questions to get started:

  • What personal qualities do you bring to the table today that you should carry into the future? Maybe you have become more focused, or communicated with your team more clearly during the disruption. If those skills helped keep your organization afloat, don’t let them fade away.
  • How, practically, should you hold yourself accountable? How will you ensure that others help hold you accountable? Setting measurable goals and tracking progress have always been part of good leadership, but they are even more essential now. Your transparency will create trust among your team.

The luxury of living in our old comfort zone has been taken away

  • Is your “to do” list holding you back? Try creating a “to be” list to lift you past everyday tasks and point you in a new direction.
  • What have you already done to adapt to your new circumstances? List the changes you’ve made in business operations and identify those that you need to retain. This exercise can also help you feel less overwhelmed by the wave of disruption.

Invite your team to reflect on these questions with you. Recalibrate your expectations of your team and communicate honestly with them.

The luxury of living in our old comfort zone has been taken away. The people you are leading have big expectations of you. They want you to be perfect and often forget that you are human. But the more human you are with them, the more trust and empathy they lend to you. And on this foundation of trust, you can build a successful future.

Sherri Miller, Founder and CEO
Center For Extraordinary Success

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Start a “To Be” List, Not a “To Do” List

Like you, many of my clients are at a major inflection point in their organizations. I keep pushing them – and myself – to use this unique opportunity to reimagine our potential, instead of allowing our organizations to return to the comfort of “the way we always did things.”

The CEO should be at the forefront of the push for change, because some work can and should be done only by the CEO.  As a result, CEOs need to be extremely intentional about how they use their time.

Use this time to reimagine your potential, instead of returning to “the way we always did things.”

McKinsey research found that CEOs who focus their scarce time on projects that only the CEO can do, and who manage their energy with the same amount of discipline with which they manage their time, deliver higher performance.

One technique is to create a “to be” list with the same rigor that you develop your “to do” list. A “to be” list can apply to your personal qualities as a leader, or the vision for your entire organization.

As you reflect on the past six months, examine how you’ve already made the impossible happen, including your decision-making processes, resource allocation, communication, and location. By applying this immense effort, you moved your team beyond what you ever imagined could be accomplished.

Decide what you want “to be.” Use you time wisely to create the right future for yourself and your organization.

Sherri Miller, Founder and CEO
Center For Extraordinary Success

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Don’t Avoid This Conversation

Recently a client shared a story that most leaders can relate to, especially in a year where disruption is the norm. The client, “Bob,” described struggling with a 15-year, high-performing direct report, “Michelle.” For several months, Michelle had been experiencing family difficulties.

When I asked how he and other team members handled Michelle’s situation, Bob summed it up in two words: “Avoiding it.”  Bob said Michelle always gives 150% and the team is like one big family. However, when Michelle shares the smallest bit of information about her situation, everyone “runs for cover” and has no idea what to say other than quickly changing the subject.  Sound familiar?

Rather than avoidance, Michelle needs empathy during this challenging time of her life.

Empathy builds connections, fuels trust, and lays the foundation for success in your organization.

Empathy is very different than sympathy. It allows us to take the perspective of the other person and recognize the emotion he or she is experiencing.  When we employ empathy, we do not pass judgment. We simply let the other person know that they are being heard.

What role does empathy play in the workplace, or in any relationship? Empathy builds connections and fuels trust. And trust is the foundation on which you build a shared vision of success for your organization.

Once Bob reached out to Michelle, she felt relieved. She knew that Bob understood what she was going through, and Bob felt that Michelle would return to 150% once her family situation was resolved. They began to trust each other again.

You can dive deeper into empathy in one of my Recommended Books for Leaders, The Empathy Edge by Brené Brown.

Today, more than ever, our world is desperate for empathetic leaders in ALL walks of life.  Will you make the choice to lean in with empathy?  What a great gift you can give to yourself and others.

Sherri Miller, Founder and CEO
Center For Extraordinary Success

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Let Others Shine

Over the last few weeks, we’ve explored how to become a graceful and grateful leader – one who eschews power grabs and brashness and instead puts others first, employs empathy, and creates an environment of forgiveness.

All of these traits, when present in a leader, create an atmosphere of trust among coworkers and colleagues. This trust is the foundation upon which improvements are made and growth occurs. A graceful leader ultimately works to serve others and allow them room to grow and succeed. The resulting successes are shared among all. A graceful leader is happiest when the whole team succeeds.

When you lead in service, you create an environment where others can shine.

Creating trust is more than simply getting buy-in. Buy-in is superficial and implies that each party is “getting” something in return for supporting an idea. True trust goes deeper and brings a team together to work toward a noble goal.

Being a servant leader means it’s not about you. When you lead in service, you create an environment where others – your colleagues, your family, or your community – can shine.

Gratitude, courage, forgiveness, and service to others add up to leading with grace.

Sherri Miller, Founder and CEO
Center For Extraordinary Success

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A Forgiving Heart Helps You Lead With Grace

I’m not perfect, and neither are you. As leaders, we all have flaws, and so does every member of our team. But when we lead with grace, we also lead with a forgiving heart.

When we lead with a forgiving heart, we recognize, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, that “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” A forgiving heart acknowledges and appreciates human frailty, including your own.

A forgiving heart acknowledges and appreciates human frailty, including your own.

An essential component of being a graceful leader is understanding that true leadership is not about you. A forgiving attitude creates opportunities for people to be their best, rather than live in fear of your next outburst or cutting remark.

Those who lead with a forgiving heart know that mistakes are inevitable, and that no one is as bad as his or her worst act. When we embrace forgiveness as a constant attitude, we can believe that redemption and rehabilitation are always possible.

Above all, when you lead with grace, you become aware of the awesome and ultimately self-redeeming power you possess to forgive others.

Sherri Miller, Founder and CEO
Center For Extraordinary Success
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Book Recommendations For Leaders

Like you, I have shelves of books on management and leadership. I love to read and glean nuggets of wisdom from a variety of writers. Here are some of my favorites – Sherri Miller

Adaptive Leadership by Ronald A. Heifetz, Marty Linsky, & Alexander Grashow
As a leader, you sometimes need to adjust your style in order to affect deep changes in your organization. This book is a hands-on guide to implementing change head-on as you lead your team out of their comfort zone.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
We are creatures of habit. Some of those habits are probably inhibiting your success or that of your organization. Duhigg explains how to harness the power of habit to achieve success at work and in life.

Creating Passion-Driven Teams by Dan Bobinski
Rock-star teams don’t happen by accident. Like a garden, they need constant nurturing and the right conditions to thrive. As a leader, you must foster the relationships and motivations that allow passion to emerge.

Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen
We know feedback is essential for growth, but we don’t enjoy receiving it. The authors share how to learn from evaluations, criticism, and unsolicited advice – both in the workplace and in personal relationships.

Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture by Greg Bustin
Accountability is more than keeping track of performance. Bustin explains that true accountability is rooted in a culture of purpose, trust, and fulfillment. The author shares what he learned the hard way: if you are not clear about everything – vision, values, objectives, strategy, rewards, and penalties – the likelihood of achieving your goals is slim.

Communicating Change: Winning Employee Support for New Business Goals by TJ Larkin & Sandar Larkin
Every employee is affected when you make changes in your business. But if you communicate the reason for the change effectively and make it relevant to every employee, you will succeed. The book includes checklists and sample forms so you can start communicating now.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
Rewards like money are not the only way to motivate your team. What people really want is the chance to direct their own lives and have a deeper purpose. When we incorporate these basic human needs into the workplace, we can transform how we live and work.

Start With WHY by Simon Sinek
People don’t buy into ideas or projects unless they understand the WHY behind it.  Sinek explains how great leaders have inspired people to take action by clearly sharing their vision.

Align by Jonathan Trevor
Chances are, your business is operating below its potential. Why? Because your organization’s strategies may not be aligned with your purpose. Trevor’s book gives a blueprint for creating alignment in your organization.

The Truth About Employee Engagement by Patrick Lencioni
Lencioni explores how a fictitious retired CEO takes over a failing restaurant whose miserable employees feel anonymous, irrelevant, and unmeasured. The restaurant’s turnaround offers lessons for improving your own workplace culture.

Boundaries for Leaders by Dr. Henry Cloud
Dr. Cloud explains that leaders need to decide what to accept (say YES to) and what NOT to accept (say NO to) if they want results. He lays out seven leadership boundaries that set the stage, tone, and culture for a results-driven organization. These are great tools for aligning people and strategies to achieve success.

Strategic Doing by Edward Morrison
Morrison sets out ten skills that create agile, resilient organizations. I had the opportunity to learn from Edward on this model and found principles to be sound and adaptable to a variety of businesses. Any one of the ten skills can make an impact on the results your business achieves.

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown
Brown offers a counterintuitive method for becoming a confident, more effective leader.  She advocates becoming more open and vulnerable by getting to know people with whom you disagree, speaking truth to bullsh**, sharing our joy and sadness with others, and combining courage with vulnerability to become your true self.

Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt
If you want to step into focus, this is your guide to deciding what you want, determining the path to achieve, and putting your focus to work. It’s a companion to the Full Focus Planner, the planner I use to keep myself on track.

Full Focus Planner by Michael Hyatt
Achieving your dreams takes planning and focus. I have been using this planner for the past year. After years of research, I finally found a planner that helps me align annual goals, goal details, and quarterly and weekly planning. Try it and let me know what you think.

The Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni
A CEO’s success is often due to self-discipline. The author suggests that CEOs fail when they succumb to one of five temptations, such as choosing status over results; choosing popularity over accountability; choosing certainty over clarity; choosing harmony over conflict; and choosing invulnerability over trust. Presented as a fable, this easy read offers many self-evaluation opportunities.

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
Many of my clients get results from the simplest of tools: the checklist. In this book, we learn how checklists can streamline processes, eliminate errors, and improve operations. This book is a must read if you are looking for ways to make a tremendous difference in a simple way.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Why are teams so dysfunctional? The author highlights common behaviors observed over decades of coaching teams: lack of accountability, low standards, fear of conflict, and more. His book offers methods for creating cohesive and high performing teams.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Are you an intuitive thinker, or more deliberative? The author, a Noble Prize winner in Economics, explains the two systems that drive the way we think. Your daily decisions, from corporate strategy to where to take a vacation, are shaped by these systems.

The Law of Success by Napoleon Hill
I love how “old” books can still be relevant today. Here, the author says that success requires adapting to the ever-changing environment of life. My favorite parts are  Hill’s 15 essential lessons, which can serve as a blueprint to help you reach your dreams.

The Empathy Edge by Maria Ross
Empathetic leaders can imagine what others are going through, even if they haven’t had the same experiences themselves. Author Maria Ross reveals that some of the best business process improvements and product development come from empathetic listening. She shares data that prove how active empathy creates profitability. The book includes tips on how you can become a more empathetic leader.

Dare To Lead by Brené Brown
Vulnerability, shame, and empathy are interconnected, and Brown explores how these powerful qualities balance with leadership. I recommend this book because every leader – no matter how large or small the organization – faces obstacles, and Brown’s writings can help you make the changes necessary to achieve higher levels of success.

Tomorrow Is Now by Eleanor Roosevelt
As First Lady of the United States from 1933-1945, Eleanor Roosevelt was a leader unique for her time. She helped to drive the nation’s agenda at her husband’s side, but did so with grace and courage while allowing others to succeed.


Never Split The Difference by Chris Voss
As an FBI hostage negotiator Voss employed empathy to better understand his adversaries’ needs. This approach helped to build trust, which is essential in all relationships. I met Voss recently and during our discussion,  he explained how this technique can lead to win-win solutions in the workplace.

A Simple Path by Mother Teresa
There are leadership lessons to be gleaned from Mother Teresa’s writings, regardless of your faith or beliefs. Her mission was clear, which made it easier to follow her. She practiced what she preached. Her life is a powerful lesson in loving, serving, and respecting others. When Mother Teresa spoke at Bishop Dwenger High School in 1982, Principal John Gaughan said her message was that “we all have specific talents, and those talents are not for ourselves – they are meant to be shared with others.”

Leadership and Self Deception by the Arbinger Institute
The authors help us see that as leaders, we have a huge impact on the results achieved by our organizations. Whether you are a CEO or committee chair, your personality and motivations can sway outcomes. This book exposes how we ignore our own shortcomings and fail to acknowledge our true motivations. The engaging stories and characters make the book easy to relate to and give readers insights that can lead to personal growth.

The Magic of Thinking BIG by Dr. David Schwartz
This book is a must-read if you are open-minded, believe you can succeed, and look to yourself (rather than others) to improve. The author shines a light on our blind spots, such as making excuses for not taking action and placing our success in the hands of others. One of my favorites!

The Ultimate Question by Fred Reichheld
How do you know if your customers are loyal?  What if you could measure how customers contribute to business growth? This book teaches how to measure this important indicator and how it can lead to business success.