12/27/2012 01:41 pm ET Updated Feb 26, 2013

The Art of Adherence


"Frequently, the difference between success and failure is the resolve to stick to your plan long enough to win." David Cottrell

Life is filled with watershed moments. Every time we have a birthday or anniversary or graduation we find ourselves closing out one part of our lives and standing on the threshold of another. Moving from one calendar year to the next is also one of those thresholds.

Of course, we look back on the past 12 months and we wonder where they could have gone. Were we not just working on saying "2012" and now its use as the "present" is about to be over? 2012 had its share of heartaches which, at times, we may have wondered how we would get through them. But 2012 has also had its share of celebrations and, at times, we wondered how we deserved them.

But now 2013 is before us. And moment by moment we will make our way through it just as we did 2012. As Walker Percy said, "To live in the past and future is easy. To live in the present is like trying to thread a needle."

Lee J. Colan suggests three things which are necessary to accomplish all that we want to accomplish as we move forward: focus, competence, and passion. His book Sticking to It: The Art of Adherence suggests that all three of these qualities are needed for anyone to make a difference in the world. And, since we are about to start a new year, I thought it would be helpful if we pondered each of them.

Focus. Laurence Johnson Peter said, "If you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else." Years ago Walgreens owned over 500 restaurants. I remember eating at one in Minneapolis where Evie and I would get a hamburger and fries. They decided their future was in convenience drug stores and that they would be out of the restaurant business in five years.

It took enormous courage to say "No" to what they did not want to do but that redirection of resources helped secure for them a better future. This meant they would simplify their mission and with that simplification they were able to stay focused.

Competence. Colan suggests that to enhance organizational competence one needs to elevate the average. The best way to do that is to define clear goals and make sure those goals are reached.

Good systems are also needed for competent organizations. A wise person once said, "The key to success is not to know everything but to be able to plug up your ignorance within 24 hours." Colan describes it this way, "As a leader, you cannot be an expert in everything your team does. Implement systems to help you quickly gauge if your team is on track and, if not, to identify the cause so you can take corrective action."

Passion. We have all seen people who have passion for what they do. They use the pronoun "we" instead of "they." They act as though they have stock in the organization, whether or not they do. You can feel and taste and smell their passion. It sparkles in their eyes and you can hear it in their voices. They believe in the mission and they are committed through and through to get it done.

Colan says one must "Value your values." I think often of one of our college's values. We want to be good neighbors. This affects everything we do as we connect to our community. From the quality of the work from our students who are hired by local businesses, to the way we partner with community initiatives and in countless other ways, we have daily choices to live out that value.

And now as a new year begins, it would be wise for all of us to ponder these three qualities: focus, competence, passion.

Think about it.