When it comes to leadership and business, every day is a school day.

The most successful leaders are undoubtedly the ones who focus equally on learning from their successes and their failures. But learning only has value when it leads to change.

In this case, ensuring that we optimise the things that are working well while ensuring we do not continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.

Here are the 14 most powerful and game changing lessons that I learned in 2017.

1. Get out of your head

If you’re wrestling with something and can’t seem to find a way forward, empty your head into a journal. Turn over to a crisp, fresh page and download all that you are thinking and feeling. Write down your perfect outcome, the current situation, your thoughts, feelings, opportunities, risks and fears. There is no need to follow a prescriptive process; just give yourself time and space then allow the solutions to appear.

2. Focus on delivering outstanding value

When you focus on delivering outstanding value, you will stand out. Full stop. Period.

3. Play the long game

Anything worthwhile takes time. If your dream is really your dream, then focus on winning in the long-term as opposed to being a short-lived overnight success story.
Bonus tip: be wary of the ‘Fail fast and fail quickly’ cliché. The words we use have a powerful effect on our experience of life. Is failing quickly really what you are aiming for or is the goal to win in the long term?

4. Have a theme for the year

Invest the time in developing a theme for the year ahead. If it is strong enough and you connect to it on a deep emotional level, your life will unfold in accordance with it.
Once you’ve identified your theme write it in your journal or on a piece of paper where you will see it every day, then work towards it with relentless passion and energy. If you do, I guarantee 2018 will be a great year for you.

5. Plan in de-loading periods

I’m an early riser, a relentless learner, a constant thinker and fanatical road-biker. More importantly I’m a husband striving to be better and a proud father who is trying to be a brilliant role model to his wonderful daughter. I love my life, I love getting up at 5:15 to run and all that I cram into my schedule.

And – I’ve realised that I’m at my very best when I consciously ease of every fourth week. Work out what routine works best for you and schedule it into your diary. Your body, mind, friends and family will thank you for it.

6. Compound interest is for life, not just your finances

Lots of tiny investments, made consistently over time will add up to create huge returns. Investing your time and money in accordance with your vision will bring huge returns in the long run, as will striving to make small daily improvements in every area of your life and business.

7. Carve out time to think

I believe this is a non-negotiable for leaders. The way most of us work simply doesn’t work. We work longer and harder in an attempt to get everything done and end up becoming reactive, busy fools. We sacrifice our health, hobbies, and time with our loved ones and friends for work in the hope that we’ll get the balance back when we’re ‘successful’. That’s a broken formula.

8. Outthink outlearn and out-live your competition

Create a daily habit of thinking, learning and practicing self-care. When you do this you’ll have all of the energy and expertise to win in the long run, and enjoy life to the full.

9. Face into conflict and uncomfortable situations

If something that is important to you is not right then you have three choices. Option one – tackle it head on in the best way you can whist being true to your values.

Option two – find a way to let go and move on; that may involve ending a relationship, winding-up a project or cutting your losses and starting again.

Option three – stick your head in the sand like an ostrich, complain to everyone around you and become a victim.

10. Ask questions instead of asking for questions

No matter how many times you ask if people have any questions and no matter how approachable you think you are, people will always hold back. They hold back because they are afraid of looking stupid in front of you and their peers.

This is a lesson I recently rediscovered from my time in the Army. At the end of a briefing – we would always ask questions of our team to ensure clarity and alignment. We never sought clarity by asking our team if they had any questions.

11. One man’s wisdom is another man’s folly

The fact that you are reading this article suggests you are the type of person who has a hunger for growth and self-improvement. But this doesn’t mean that you should be a slave to all of the advice and wisdom routines that others espouse.

I recommend challenging and developing their ideas so that they work for you. Above all else, be ready to reject those things that do not work for you; provided you are not rejecting them simply to avoid doing the work or stepping out of your comfort zone.

12. Be your authentic self

The more authentic you are, the better everything in life becomes. Your health, energy, leadership capabilities, work performance and relationships all kick-on to new levels when you start to drop the mask and let people get to know the real you.

The irony is, that dropping the mask means that you have to be prepared to be vulnerable and this takes courage. If you want to know more, read about my own experience of dropping the mask here.

13. Nothing happens by chance

Someone once told me that there is no such thing as luck, just timing and judgement.

The power of this simple statement lies in the fact that timing and judgement are two things that are within our control. Where we cannot control them, we can usually influence them.

All events and opportunities that present themselves to us are a result of what we choose to focus on, the choices we make and the actions we take. Ultimately, clarity of vision supported by constant, focussed action will deliver the results you seek.

14. Discipline and structure provide freedom and autonomy

Developing laser-like clarity on the things and projects that really matter to you in life allows you to say yes and no to the right things.

Scheduling your priorities into the years, quarters, weeks and days does not reduce your freedom. It provides huge flexibility and choice because you know that the important stuff is being taken care of. This leaves you with total freedom around how you use your remaining time. It provides you with the time to apply lesson #7.

Which of these resonate most with you? What did you learn in 2017 that you’re going to apply in 2018?

Ben Morton is founder of TwentyOne Leadership.

Further reading on business goals for 2018

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