Let’s first talk about apples. The story of apples is as almost as old as time. Many different historical stories and mythologiesinclude apples. (And trust me, this isn’t a religion or history lesson or even some fruit allergy discussion.) But the apple can teach a valuable lesson about life, business, and leadership.
The apple can fill many purposes. For example, it can be sliced, pied, sugared, candied, drizzled in caramel, frozen and more. The possibilities are endless! Any way you slice it, an apple can be delicious to your taste.
Further, apples come in many varieties: They come in Golden Delicious, Gala, Fuji, McIntosh, Granny Smith and Honeycrisp varieties (my personal favorite), to name a few. In fact, according to the University of Illinois Extension, there are 7,500 types of varieties of apples grown throughout the world.
With these countless varieties and innumerable purposes, there is one commonality amongst all apples: When an apple is not used to its fullest potential, whether it’s used raw or in a pie, the apple will wither and die — its insides turn dark and mushy and become unusable. It’s here where I believe the apple mirrors all of us.
When we as leaders, entrepreneurs or managers don’t find focus and we sit dormant — regardless of our variety or personality type — we may dwindle, become discouraged and wither away.
Are any of these you?
• A manager who takes on all the duties of their team because you feel like you can only trust the way you do it
• An entrepreneur who makes endless daily task lists but never seems to get them done or make progress on them
• A leader who works countless hours but can’t find anyone else to “pick up the ball” and help
If so, I believe you need to learn how to find focus, and quickly, before you wither away.
The trick, to me, is making focus your obsession. The apple knows its purpose; you cannot generally be a part-time entrepreneur or a halfway-hobby leader. Make your focus what you are all about.
Here are three ways to crystallize focus daily.
1. Establish daily reading habits.
How much are you reading? Are you considered an expert in your office? Why not? You could be an expert on something if you became obsessed about it. Listen to audiobooks on your commute or while you cook dinner. Prioritize the time.
• As a sales leader, pick 20 sales books, like The 10X Rule, The Challenger Sale and Fanatical Prospecting. These books changed the way I looked at selling and are the first books I recommend to every salesperson.
• In marketing, you can become obsessed with strategies like digital marketing, social marketing, or SEO. Start with books like This is Marketing and Blue Ocean Strategy. Is a marketer, identifying your core and niche can make all the difference. These books can help get you started on that path.
• Are you an entrepreneur? Study some of the top books, like The Lean Startup, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, The Go-Giver, Can’t Hurt Me and more. I believe every entrepreneur should start with these books because they teach that entrepreneurship isn’t glamorous and takes real grit. These books can become a launchpad for your entrepreneurship journey.
By focusing on personal learning, you may find that your focus enhances.
2. Establish a daily practice.
How much are you practicing? Doctors, salespeople, mothers, teachers, entrepreneurs, athletes and even CEOs all still need to get better every day. In my experience, we only get better through disciplined practice and not performance. One 2014 study found that, in nearly every profession or sector studied, people that had deliberate practice in nearly every profession showed improvement in their performance. So how are you drilling the right behaviors to get better at them? How are you practicing? Here are some suggestions:
• As a salesperson, are you roleplaying objections with teammates?
• As a leader, do you film yourself giving a presentation and then practice areas for improvement where you struggle?
• As a manager, do you roleplay and practice handling difficult conversations or coaching conversations with challenging employees?
A Navy SEALs maxim says, “The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed on the battlefield.”
This applies to every job or career in the world. I still train nearly every morning with my own set of sales and leadership training modules, and so can you. Prioritize the time and enhance your focus.
3. Establish daily measurables.
Every job has things you can measure. In his book The Breakthrough Factor, Henry Marsh — the former American record-holder in the steeplechase — discusses the importance of focusing on your personal bests every single day instead of comparing to other runners. To be world class at anything, I believe you must measure your results every day. Identify how you can measure everything. Some daily things to measure that you might not realize improve your focus include:
• Customer calls: How many customers did you speak with today, and how were the interactions?
• Employee one-on-ones: One role of a leader is to interact with their teams. Are you stuck in your office too much or just moving from meeting to meeting? Get with your people. Engage. You can do this over the phone or in person. Measure these interactions.
• Partner calls: Every leader is part of business development. How many new partners or potential strategic partners did you talk to today?
Remember this simple formula: Measure to manage to grow. That is how you can focus and become your best self. Don’t run against other competitors, run against yourself.
All of us are like the apple: If we don’t focus on our purpose, we might wither away. Stay focused, stay obsessed, and win.
Article written by Don Markland and originally published on forbes.com