Episode 221 – Start With The Vision – Especially In A Crisis

Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to the Becoming Your Best podcast, wherever you might be today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger, and we extend to you a big welcome! There have been a few instances throughout our lives, where there have been high-watermark historic events that qualify as a true crisis and shock to our national or world system. Examples during my lifetime, just to name a few, would be the assassination of John F. Kennedy, or 9/11, or some of the very severe recessions – certainly one of the most recent that comes to mind is 2008 – and now, hitting us full-force, right in the middle of it, is the Coronavirus. These have all been very significant.  


I was thinking of the quote by Thomas Paine that he made on December 23rd, 1776 – somewhere in that range, but it definitely was in the middle of the American Revolution. He said, “These are times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value, and Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”  


Well, I’ve thought of this quote, especially now, in the time of the Coronavirus – these are the times that try men’s souls and this is all about leadership that makes the difference of how we come through it. It’s our opportunity to really make a difference. These events are upsetting and extremely disruptive. And on a personal level, each one of you can experience personal events in your life that are no less upsetting and disruptive – an illness or an injury, a divorce or a breakup or a loss of a job or losing a business, an accident, and the list goes on. And then, of course, there’s the other side of the coin of realizing your dreams and hopes of life, which are so much on the positive side, developing opportunities. And so, how do you navigate all of this, of living a life with hope and peace and just not going nuts in the process? Well, the purpose of this podcast today is to introduce and review, for those that may be familiar with it, the 6 Steps to effectively plan, create solutions and take action in the face of stiff challenges or developing wonderful dreams, and in this case now, in the face of the Coronavirus, and every other challenge in life. Using the 6 Steps will provide you with hope and peace and laser-like focus to move forward with confidence, commitment, and purpose in the face of challenges and realizing your dreams.  


This is our opportunity to shine, to make a positive difference, to exercise leadership that puts us in the best light, so that when we look back someday we say, “We did good!” This is a big challenge, but we exercise great leadership and are better because of it. And this is the whole spirit of Becoming Your Best.  


For those that are not familiar with the 6 Steps to effectively plan, create solutions and take actions, here is a brief background. As many of you know, I began with an experience early in my career, with my first company at 26 years old – a marketing company – and a year later I bought a publishing and printing firm and very soon, within a few years, we had over 700 employees, and they would come and say, “How can I be among your top sales reps? How can I be a great manager?” And I thought I could offer a few suggestions, but I knew there’s much I didn’t know, and so, I began a research that I thought would take a few years, but ended up taking over 40 years, and it was what sets apart high-performing individuals from all the rest. I interviewed over 150 CEOs, we studied the lives of several hundred historical figures, and here is what we discovered: we discovered that nobody was really perfect; these really great leaders, those that were high performers weren’t perfect, but we saw over and over 12 things that were consistently there that created the high performance. We put these into our book – Becoming Your Best: The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders – and these are principles that you can bank on. They have a predictable consequence, if you will; every time you do them, they have the same type of impact. And so, it’s predictable. It’s just like the law of gravity, but these are things that come together, these 12 Principles, that produce excellence that set you apart from everybody else.  


Well, as we put these in the book form and started teaching it all over the world, we found that individuals had the very same experience that these high performers did – they started moving to a whole other level. So, then, as we taught all over the world, we did research among 50 major companies, organizations, and what we found – this particular study happened to be on problem-solving – was that not a single one of those 50 companies had a common problem-solving process. As a matter of fact, when it came to the leaders and the employees, it was like they were speaking a foreign language. So, what we did is we took my 40 years of experience in running businesses and organizations and my son Rob’s experience of being an Air Force Officer, an F16 pilot, also helped manage Air Force One, had an MBA background – we took that type of precision, married those two worlds and came up with something called, “Start With The Vision” – we called it, originally, “The Transformation Challenge”, and in the spirit of good, better, best, we’re now more precisely naming that book to “Start With The Vision: The 6 Steps to Effectively Plan, Create Solutions and Take Action.”  


We printed this book two years ago – it is now also being used all over the world by top organizations: engineering firms, contractors, law firms, professional service organizations, schools – you name the organization; it applies across the board, not only in our organization but in our own lives. And so, it is a set process that allows you to work through issues, the very toughest issues that are possible. So, that’s really the background.  


So, let’s talk about these 6 Steps and how to apply it to the thorniest issues that may confront you and how to not only survive but thrive and prosper through difficult situations, while, at the same time, having a world-class process to realize your dreams. And what’s wonderful about the 6 Steps is they are simple, they’re understandable, extremely powerful, and they allow – when you use it as a leader – to think clearly. But not only that. It helps your whole organization to have a deep cultural impact because now you have employees that start bringing solutions rather than problems because they’re trained on how to think through issues. And so, it becomes a central tool for communication, collaboration at a world-class level, with world-class type results and thinking.  


So, let’s just talk about this a little bit more. This week was one of those historic shocks to the system. The Coronavirus hit full-force in the United States and has now for the last couple of months around the world, but it really hit here full-force – major cancellations of professional sports, National Emergency declared, the WHO declared this as a worldwide pandemic. And so, it is hitting full-force; many organizations have actually indicated their employees will be working from home. So, there’s a whole variety of impacts that are taking place. The death count grows, it is very infectious, and so, around the world, people are concerned, especially here in the United States where it’s at home right now. But we know we have listeners from all over the world. So, I’ve been getting, just in the last few days, as we’ve been talking with our friends, our clients from around the world – from Spain, from Romania, Saudi Arabia, Malta, Europe, Africa, and the Pacific Islands or in the Pacific Basin in the Middle East – and so, we know it’s all over. And it’s impacting all of us.  


So, what do we do? How can we apply and use these 6 Steps to help us? Well, I might add that about 10 days to 14 days ago, we started using the 6 Steps with our clients and with our own companies, and found that it has been so significant and powerful! Fortunately, this action of applying the 6 Steps has put us way ahead of the curve, and we and our clients were prepared when it hit in full-force. I might add, this is what leadership is all about: it’s clear-thinking, it’s lifting, it’s building, it’s inspiring to get great results and accomplishments, especially in the face of great challenges.  


So, let’s go through the 6 Steps, and we’ll provide a few examples of its application – that’s our purpose today. While I’m going through these 6 Steps and examples, in your planner or device or on a piece of paper, write down the important issues in your life. So, in the spirit of not only giving examples of how we’ve used it, we would like to have you think about ways that you can use it. And then, we start the process. Here are the 6 Steps, let’s just get those out on the table, so you have them and they’re clearly understood.  


Number one, is to start with the vision. So, when people have a problem, that’s typically where they start, and this can just wear you down. It can be overwhelming, it can be emotional, you can be worn out before you started, it can be contentious, divisive. And so, really, what highly successful leadership does is they take the problem and they shift it to the vision and start with the vision first. You get a consensus of what the vision is. Either you help it get going, you write it down and say, “What do you think?” And if it’s just yours, you’ve got the starting point, but if it’s an organization, it helps you all get started on the same page that you agree to. You want to make this visionary, you want to be careful about the words you describe – that they do describe where you want to go, the direction that it’s motivational. You’ll find that as soon as you shift from the problem to the vision, everything seems to change. You have higher energy and focus and excitement. I mean, you’re really heading in the right direction and you feel it in your gut.  


Number two is, what is the current reality? Now, this is important to pause on this because this will teach you so much about the rest of the process and to compare it to the first step. In the Coronavirus, for example, starting with the vision, for us, it was to protect our employees, our clients and customers, and our key partners that we work with, while at the same time keeping our employees fully engaged and fully employed, having full schedules at what they do, minimizing the risks, and maximizing the opportunity. That’s the vision! We all agreed to that, that this is what we’re about. The current reality is that there is enormous fear, the stock markets have had record declines, people aren’t sure what to do, they’re not sure where this is going to end up, and this is where you can think very specifically about your circumstances. But, as we’ve applied it with different organizations, we have some of them say that customers might be hesitant to have service agents go by and work with them; others – partners in the industry – have had employees start working at home. So, you start having all kinds of factors – you want to correctly capture for you what the current reality is. Well, this is what we’ve done with the Coronavirus – we really captured what the current reality was. Oh, by the way, one of the key questions we stop and ask, “Is there a gap between Step #2 – what is the current reality – and Step #1, the vision that you have defined?” And if there is a gap, then you go on through Steps three through six; if there’s not, you keep doing what you’re doing, which is realizing your vision.  


Step #3 is, what is the real issue? What we want to know is, we want to solve the right issues, right? And if you can’t identify the real issue, then you’re going to end up wasting a lot of time and money and end up back at the same point, still having to solve the problem. NASA understood this. They did, actually, a good job on this when there was the Challenger Shuttle disaster. The discipline that you want to do on Step #3 is ask, “Why? Why? Why? Why?” And keep drilling down until you know the real reason. This is the “Toyota way” – is to ask why at least five times. Well, when the Challenger exploded, and they started trying to find the real issues, as many of you know, the O-ring in the cold weather became brittle and allowed a plume of the fuel to escape and fire and this caused the explosion. Well, they needed to ask, “Well, why did we launch if we had brittle O-rings?” And then, they were able to start drilling down; they found that they launched because they didn’t have a full-proof go – no-go system, that if there was a weakness somewhere along the line or a threat to the launch that if somebody saw along the line, they could stop the launch. Well, this didn’t at all happen with the Challenger, and unfortunately, there’s this terrible tragedy. NASA, because they got down to the real issue, and understood this, was able to totally revamp their go – no-go process, which eliminated future launch disasters completely.  


And so, this is the idea. What are the real issues? As we take the Coronavirus, what we find is that there is really not sure where it’s going to end up. That’s one of the real issues. Another is the fear – that is a real issue. Another issue is the threat to our employees or customers. And what do we do about that? That’s a real issue. And another issue is protecting our economic vitality. So, understanding these issues, now we can go to Step #4 – what are the options? I love Step #4 because it’s where everybody can totally engage. This is one of the things we want to do as good leaders, is to create an environment where everybody can contribute. You have the advantage of the eyes and ears of people that are at all different levels. This is where you can find deep engagement within an organization. Talk about participatory involvement, and engagement, and communication, collaboration, trust levels go up.  


So, this is what happens, is you start going, “Well, what are our solutions?” Now, with one of our companies on February 28th, we did go through the 6 Steps and set up a complete plan of action. That’s Step #5 – we’ll get to that in a second – but the plan of action is built on the quality of Step #4: What are the options that you can come up with? This is brainstorming, this is mind-mapping – and we came up with a list of about 10 things; on February 28th, before it really hit full-force, one of the things that we felt was important is we saw the risk of the supply chain disruption, and so, we immediately had the division managers for each of the various offices invest in anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks of inventory. That was something that was very controllable at the time, and so, we were able to deploy the resources to do that. So, we eliminated one more variable that could put us out of business. We also went through other things: anticipating customer responses, how to protect our employees. So, you just have to brainstorm around all of these ideas of things that will help you realize the vision. At the end of Step #4 what you do, is you go through the pros and cons, you rank them in order of importance, and then, you ask yourself, “Now, here’s a possible plan. Is this a go or a no-go?” Well, in the Coronavirus situation is definitely a go all the way, and it’s critical and it’s urgent, which then leaves us Step #5.  


Step #5 is implementation of your best options. So, it’s setting up the plan and implementing the plan. And here are the key words to this, “Who will do what, when?” And these are the words that you want to star and circle because if we don’t do these, we really have our plan, we don’t have the quality of the plan that we should, and it’s really the summum bonum of the whole work. It’s why we do it, right? And so, this is one of the things you say, as the leader, “Who will do what, when?” This just becomes reflex, DNA, it starts becoming part of you as you make this process a habit. It is the default of going to 6 Steps: You have a problem – shift it to the vision – start with the vision – current reality – real issue – options – go through the process, go or no-go – and now we go to the implementation. The end objective is to come out with a document that says, “Here is who is going to do what, when.”  


Now there is a Step #2 on Step #5, and that is to red-team your plan. The red team is where you may invite people that haven’t been involved in the development of the plan come in and look for weaknesses, make recommendations, how can you improve the plan, and then they leave and then the organizers finish it up and put their stamp of certification on it; and now, they implement it, they take action immediately – and you have an organized process to do this. Well, this is exactly what we did on February 28th. We came up with the plan of action, we assigned the date and who would do it.  


Step #6 is to evaluate and debrief your process. How are we doing on the implementation? When we set this up, we knew that there was the risk that the Coronavirus would be fast-developing, so we set up the fact that we would meet every week afterwards, and that is exactly what we’ve done. That’s part of the plan. And now, we’re evaluating how it’s worked. Interestingly enough, today, this morning, we called the second special emergency meeting to review how we’re doing, we got the 6 Steps out, we started over again, looked at the same vision, agreed upon that – the current reality, where were we – now we have it in spades and it is honest big time; what are the real issues? We identified four major issues, and then we spent our time going through the options, and I’ve got to tell you, it was totally inspiring to see this full engagement! Step #5, as we now have the plan, everybody is hitting it early Monday morning. This is Saturday, right now, as I’m talking on this podcast – early Monday morning, every single office will be fully engaged, implementing proactively what we’re going after.  


Just think, imagine what the feeling is like. This is a feeling of focus, peace, less stress – there’s not a lot of stress, we’re focused now on engagement and making it happen – confidence, getting after it, clear direction. And so, what will the impact be on all of our employees? Well, the same thing: real clarity about this and there’s going to be new developments. We’re already going to follow up and meet again at the end of the week – we would do that sooner, but we all have our assignments and ready to go.  


This is how the 6 Steps work. So, if I were to share anything today with our friends, it’s this wonderful process, and we have some resources available to you that we can provide you that may be helpful right from the get-go. So, if you write to, we can provide you with a worksheet for the 6 Steps, a sample of the application for the Coronavirus specifically. These are resources that may be useful for you.  


Before we conclude today, I would like to just share a few other examples, if it’s helpful. Here is another example: We lived in Spain for a few years when our daughter, Anne, was a young girl – seven years old. She got involved in soccer. As you know, soccer is big in many places in the world, and it is in Spain, too. So, when we got back to the United States when she was 10, she got into soccer, and this was her sport. She loved playing it, and she was a striker, and fortunately did very well. Their team actually won the State Championship.  


We were out walking, jogging one day, as a junior, and I said, “Well, Anne, what are your plans for soccer?” She said, “Well, I’d like to go to college and I’d like to play at the university level – Division One.” And so, what was I asking her? Essentially, I was saying, “What’s your vision?” I was just going through the 6 Steps, so, you can do this informally on a very personal level. I said, “So, where are we at right now?” What did I just ask? What’s the current reality. She said, “Well, I really haven’t done anything yet.” And sometimes, by the way, on Step #3, where you’re developing an opportunity, like in this case, you may not need to spend a lot of time on it, but can go directly to Step #4, “What are the options?” and that’s exactly what I said. I said, “So, what’s your plan here? What are you thinking about?” So, what did I just ask her? Well, what are your options? She said, “Oh, man, you’re right! I want to visit 10 or 12 campuses, I’d like to have a full-ride scholarship or at least a partial scholarship, but I’d like to have it help pay for my education. So, I should make up a video clip of what I do, perhaps a resume or a summary sheet of what I’ve been fortunate to be able to accomplish.” And she just started developing this plan coming up with all these ideas.  


And then I said, “That is great! These are wonderful ideas!” And, by the way, as part of her vision, she said, “I want a top-notch education. Hopefully, I could go to a place where I can find a good guy.” And so, Step #5 is you put it into action. I said, “So, who’s going to do these and when will you do them?” What did I just ask? Well, that’s the implementation of your plan, that’s taking action. And so, she said, “Well, I need to have the video clip done in two weeks, I need to have the resume or my summary of accomplishments in two weeks, and then I need to send it out in four weeks and get the invitations and then go for it, make the contacts with the various colleges, talk with the coaches, see if I can get a date to go on campus.” And she set up a plan and then we just said, “Okay, great! Maybe what we can do is let’s get together in a month and evaluate your preparation.” So, that’s Step #6.  


Well, that’s exactly what she did. Now, we just went through the 6 Steps with her in that 30 or 40 minutes we were out exercising, but she came back fully prepared. Now, the end result was that she went to a number of college campuses, she received a number of full-ride scholarships offers and she chose her University, which was about 45 minutes away from us – the archrival of the university we live close to, three minutes away – Division One Pac-12 University, and she had a great experience. And she met one of the football players who is an awesome guy, they ended up getting married, they have two beautiful daughters, she graduated in entrepreneurship with a bachelor’s degree.  


So, this is the impact! Right now, the impact of going through the 6 Steps with the Coronavirus has actually put us in a place where we’re very focused. There’s a lot of fear and angst out there. And so, I would suggest to you, by doing this, that it helps a great deal. We have another resource – The Transformation Challenge: The 6 Step Book – if you want information on that, that is very helpful. It’s a tool, it’s a book, it’s something you actually could use with you and your team, and if you’ll write to us at, we’ll be happy to give you, because you’re on this podcast – just indicate you’re on the podcast – and we’ll give you a special discount for that so that you can take advantage of that if it’s helpful to you.  


So, it’s been a delight being on the podcast today. I hope you’ve gotten some ideas that have been useful. It’s the type of process you can use over, and over, and over again, I’d like to just finish with this quote, once again, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” They’re going to pop up over and over. Sometimes they’re on a global basis or a national or a local basis like this or within our organization that are very significant. Other times, they hit us on a personal level, but now we have a place to go to. And that is the whole purpose of this podcast, to share ideas, and this is a tool that you can use forever: as a parent with your children or grandchildren, with any organization or team, to help you get the best results. It’s been a delight being with you. We sincerely wish each one of you the very best as we go through this Coronavirus together. We need to face it straight on and go after it. This is what we have. We’re made of this great, wonderful human will, it’s a spirit, and we can take this on. We can get through this! So, we hope that you’ll be okay as you’re going through it, and that you can end up in a better place than where you are today. Thank you and have a great day! 

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