When to Quit Pushing

The summer before my junior year in high school, I got a job at an apartment complex.  It was just down the road from the apartments that we lived in.  The complex was very large and had a lot of grass to mow.  The manager of the complex was a retired Air Force colonel and was very specific in what he wanted done.  My job was to clean the pool every morning from 7 to 7:45 and then to mow/edge/trim for the remainder of the day.  He wanted the grounds mowed every 7 days and said it would take me that long to finish one round.

I was given a green Lawnboy push mower and a gas weedeater that first day and went to work.  Near the end of day two I had finished mowing and was starting on the edging and trimming.  The colonel was not sure of my getting everything done and made a trip around the complex in his golf cart to inspect.  When he got back he asked me how I was able to get all that done in two days.  Using the same mower, the same amount of grass to mow, and having no special skills, I just said I am not sure, I just keep pushing.

Now there’s a lot to be said of that comment for all of us.  There’s a trait there that we all need.  We all need to persevere at times and just keep plowing through tough times and obstacles.  However, I have overused this trait at times and made some big mistakes too.  You see, there are times, after we have “pushed” for a while and not seen the results we need or the outcomes we are looking for that we need to stop and ask two very basic questions.

  1. Are we doing the right things (strategy/plan)?
  2. Are we doing the things right (execution)?

Those two questions have the exact same words, but totally different meanings.

When we stop and evaluate if we are doing the right things, we are really challenging whether those things (if done correctly) will lead us to a successful outcome.  I have worked really hard and persevered on things in the past and failed because the strategy/plan was just wrong.  Success had nothing to do with hard work or perseverance.

Think of it this way, a football coach develops a game plan (set of plays) that he thinks will work against the opponent.  That’s the strategy for the game.  As leaders in any business, we deal with strategy/plans too.  We have sales plans to target the right business.  We have operating plans to take care of equipment, to run efficiently, and to ensure quality.  To ensure you have the right strategy/plan, forget pride.  Ask people with experience and/or proven success in the area you are struggling.  Your  job is not to figure it out on your own as a leader; rather your job is to use all the resources possible to get the results needed.  So before “pushing” any more, ask that simple question:  Are we doing the right things?

After you are convinced we are doing the right things (or made changes to the right things), then evaluate if we are doing those things right (execution).  Take an honest assessment through observation, evaluation, and questioning.  Are we really doing what we are supposed to do without compromise, on a consistent basis, all the time, and executed properly?  Going back to the football coach example of game plan being strategy, execution is running the plays correctly during the game (all 11 players carrying out their assignment, on every play, to the best of their ability, throughout the entire game).  Great plans fail without solid execution.  Good plans succeed with solid execution!

Don’t get frustrated if you aren’t getting results.  Stop and ask those two questions.  Get some wise counsel.  Observe what’s going on around you.   Make adjustments as needed.  Leaders have to consistently ask those two questions and make adjustments.  Yes, there are times to keep pushing, but there are also times to stop and ask!

Yes, this message applies to individuals, groups, leaders, etc.  You pick any area of life, and this message is applicable.

Oh ya, my reward for finishing that mowing so quickly was the opportunity to help apply hot asphalt roofing to the complex’s flat roofs.  Nothing like pulling those buckets up three stories with a rope onto the roof and spreading that liquid in 100+ degree sunshine!   Fun Times!

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