5 Random Musings On Self-Discipline, Leadership, Burning Man, and More

Behold! In today’s post I bring some quick thoughts on topics ranging from self-discipline to leadership to Burning Man and more. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy…

Self-Discipline: Use A Habit-Tracking System To Help You Adopt Good Habits

The past few years, like most successful fitness professionals… I’ve turned into one of my clients.

Gone are the days of sweatpants and literally keeping a chicken breast wrapped in a paper towel in my pocket (yep… I really did that!). My life now consists of constant travel for work, changes in time zones, endless temptations while eating out, and all the other obstacles that come with being an entrepreneur road warrior. And when I am in town, I want to enjoy that time with my wife and friends, and my favorite non-work related activities involve great meals and cocktails.

Happily, as a student and practitioner of behavior change, I know how to create the conditions that motivate me to behave in line with my goals. By creating a simple habit tracker in Google Sheets and keeping the tab open on my computer, I can keep track of the core self-care habits that I need to dial info for optimal health and mental performance: hours of sleep, minutes of meditation, minutes of reading, minutes of lifting, ounces of water, number of alcoholic drinks, daily greens formula, etc. 

While I use mine for mostly health-related activities, many entrepreneurs and leaders struggle with self-discipline around key work behaviors. If this sounds like you, you might benefit from quantifying your most important work-related tasks and tracking them as a daily habit. Examples could include minutes spent on marketing activities, number of sales calls, tracking specific positive feedback to your team, thank you cards to clients, or anything else you know will move the ball forward but you struggle to do consistently.

Part of the resistance to the above tasks is that many are not intrinsically rewarding. Otherwise you’d already be doing them. Here’s where tracking can be powerful. By keeping your streak going, you create a pleasurable reward that reinforces your desired behavior. The sense of self-satisfaction that comes from logging your success is like giving yourself a delicious “dopamine cookie”; If you do it consistently, you’ll set a positive feedback loop in motion. 

Although I’ve personally found great success with a spreadsheet, I confess have a very intimate relationship with my computer and purposely minimize the use of my phone. There a number of habit-tracking apps available that may be a better fit if you prefer something with push notifications to keep your habits top of mind.

For more best practices for adopting better habits, check out James Clear’s excellent Atomic Habits and/or Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit.

Leadership: Onboarding Needs To Be More Than Two Weeks

If there’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about over the past several years, it’s proper onboarding. Successful businesses require a properly trained team, consistently executing clearly documented and agreed-upon standards.

Previous posts have covered the basics of onboarding as well as the basics of effective training. While Mark Fisher Fitness has gotten better and better at this over the years, one (probably obvious to everyone but me) distinction has led to massive improvements.

Onboarding can’t simply be a one to four-week braindump followed by a pat on the butt and an encouraging “Go get ‘em!” with a couple of informal check-ins. Most new team members will require ongoing training over their first two to three months. Exactly what this looks like will depend on the role and the constraints of your organization, but it will probably include:

  • Weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one’s with a manager or trainer
  • Reviewing and/or repeating key training modules and testing on core skills
  • Extra auditing/ shadowing/ reviewing of work to provide real time feedback
  • 90 day check-in meeting with each new hire to provide performance feedback and receive feedback to improve the onboarding process

Regardless of the size of the organization, and no matter how often you bring on new people, here’s one more consideration: your onboarding system must be clearly documented and consistently repeated. The level of detail and granularity will vary based on the role, but training  new team members is too important to be improvised. Furthermore, consistently repeating your onboarding and gathering feedback is the only way to improve the system and get better results over time.

Time Management: Stepping Out of the Day-To-Day Of Your Business Requires Three Things

I was recently having a discussion about how I managed to step out of much of the day-to-day of Mark Fisher Fitness. To be clear, I’m certainly not an absentee owner, and I’m still very involved in Mark Fisher Fitness; it’s still my babychild! But let’s just say if I died tomorrow, everybody would miss me (I hope!?), but MFF would be ok. With the exception of my founder’s perspective and mentorship, my work shepherding special projects, and my occasional writing of copy, there wouldn’t be much slack for anyone to pick up. There are three things that have made this possible. 

  1. Weekly (or Daily) Key Performance Indicators
  2. Access to Qualitative Feedback
  3. No More Than 2 Direct Reports with “Owner Mindsets”

First of all, we have a clear scoreboard that shows what’s going on with our business quantitatively. We use the Traction EOS system and track weekly “leading indicators.” We also track and review “lagging indicators” like financial metrics for the month, aggregated several weeks after the month has closed. However, this doesn’t give us the same real-time data as weekly metrics. Each scoreboard item has a single owner responsible for hitting certain targets. This lets me quickly see how the business is doing in a given week in real time, even while on the road. For more on KPI’s, check out this article HERE.

Since numbers don’t tell the whole story, I also read every piece of subjective feedback, for good or bad, that comes in about MFF. Just as pure numbers don’t tell the whole story, qualitative feedback is also imperfect. I know I don’t hear about every missed expectation, and I’m certain I don’t hear about every awesome experience our team provides. Nonetheless, getting sufficient qualitative feedback via weekly surveys, suggestion box items, and GLOWS & GROWS gives me a sense of how things are going.

Finally, another key element of stepping back is having one to two strong leaders who can really take your place. In my case, there are only two people who report directly to me. In my “special projects” role, I’m always available if I can be useful in any way to anyone on our team. But on a weekly basis, I’m only directly managing two people who are then responsible for directly or indirectly managing the rest of the team. Since there are only so many hours in the week, this has also been a necessary step to create more bandwidth.

A large part of my ability to step back has also been because we’ve found some truly spectacular people with an “owner mindset.” KPI’s and org chart aside, if you don’t get this right, you’ll still find yourself having to weigh in on each and every roadbump that challenges your organization. Or worse, dealing with a mutiny from your team.

Here’s one more thought on stepping back…

On the one hand, there are things that I can’t know about MFF and have to rely on our leadership team to fill me in on and/or handle directly. This is a limitation. I don’t pretend KPI’s and feedback and great leaders can clue me into the ineffable things one learns by being in the physical space on a day-to-day basis. On the other hand, because I’m NOT there on a daily basis, it frees me up to see the big picture. I can think more strategically. I can spend more of my time studying, thinking, and looking for ideas and solutions to improve our business.

And so long as I’m aware of the limitations of my position AND I have strong leaders in place, MFF can now leverage my skills in a way it couldn’t when I was in the day-to-day.

Leadership & Culture: Hey! Burner Entrepreneur Guy Over Here Talking About F*cking Burning Man! Blah Blah Blah, Burning Man! 

Sooooooo cliche, I know… I promise I hate myself, BUT this is actually relevant/ useful. Seriously folks, Burning Man can teach you a lot about leadership and culture. 

I often say founding a business gives you an opportunity to create “the city you want to live in.” You get to fashion the behavioral norms for how people will act. In Black Rock City (the name of the temporary city that pops up for a week in the Nevada desert), we’re guided by ten principles (or values) set down by Burning Man’s founder Larry Harvey.

As the event grew and started spawning a regional network of smaller Burns all over the world, the community wanted some codification of what made Burning Man, well… Burning Man. And in spite of the extremely anti-authority bent of most of the community, by some miracle, there was remarkably little pushback when the principles were released.

The principles don’t really tell you exactly how to do Burning Man; as Larry Harvey said, it’s a self-service cult and “you have to wash your own mind.” But they do give some guidelines for what matters to our community.

Outside the larger city, each camp is a microcosm of the broader social experiment. Each camp has a chance to live up to (or fail to live up to) the principles. And just like in any human organization, the camp leadership is watched carefully for cues on how to behave.

To effectively shape behavioral norms, you have to both model it in your own behavior, AND clearly articulate them.

(Long time readers of BFU know we talk a lot about values around these parts. If you want a handy guide to identifying them for your organization and making them stick, go HERE.)

The former is always the most powerful piece. As a leader, your behavior is “loud.” And since your team will watch you carefully, their eagle eyes are going to pick up your cues on how to behave. But things that are this important shouldn’t be implicit. So in addition to walking the walk, it’s important to be crystal clear on your intentions and what you’re expecting from others.

Clearly communicating your values to your team has another benefit; if and when you accidentally veering off, you may have some brave souls on your team help you see you’re no longer modeling “the city you want to live in.”

Incidentally, Burning Man is also a great place to practice making plans, watching them get completely annihilated, and learning how to be flexible. You still need to plan, otherwise you’ll be completely out at sea. You just have to prepare yourself for the worst case scenario(s). Having some “If-Then” plans in your back pocket can be helpful, though logistical disasters will often surprise and delight you by coming from the least likely of places. Fun!

You can choose to freak out and be a stress ball, or you can choose to take a breath, roll with it, and make a new plan on the fly. The latter is obviously better and it’s a good skill to intentionally practice. And whoa boy, you’ll get a lot of reps out there in the desert…

Personal Development: Identify Your Personal Superpowers Via Positive Feedback

In the classic management book, Managing Oneself, Peter Drucker makes the claim that most people are far better at knowing their weaknesses than their strengths. And this makes sense, as a known quirk of our evolutionary programming is a “negativity bias.” Simply put, things that are negative stick out more than things that are positive. So anytime we’ve received critical feedback, the stinging leaves a mark. Setting aside those with formidable powers of self-delusion, over time most of us see the patterns of our challenges more clearly than the patterns of our successes.

While I don’t completely agree with Drucker’s suggestion to ignore your weaknesses and focus exclusively on your strengths (more thoughts HERE), lately I’ve found myself wondering about my own strengths. I feel like I have a sense of where I excel… but do I really?

This question has taken on all the more gravity as I find myself considering a few potential projects. I want to leverage my unique abilities to maximize my fulfillment, joy, and positive impact on the world. So to that end, I want to be very clear on just what those abilities are.

Enter this powerful exercise I found via my frientor Dr. John Berardi. By asking a handful of pointed questions of people I trust from different parts of my life, I can aggregate data on what those closest to me see when they see me at my very best. 

To get the questions and worksheet (as well as many other awesome resources), go to this page HERE. And while you’re on the website, you can also pre-order the new book from which this is pulled, Change Maker. Although the book is written with the health and fitness industry in mind, you will not find a brighter person or a clearer thinker. And being intentional about developing a career and a life of service is broadly applicable to anyone.