Election season is upon us and as I process the chaos, excitement, and diversity of the political landscape, I’m reminded of a fantastic political drama and one of my favorite television shows of all time – The West Wing. This is such an exciting time for our country, and I’d like to pay tribute to American politics and good television by sharing what I’ve learned from the show.
I loved The West Wing. It was funny, dramatic and intense. But, more than anything else, it portrayed a group of high-performing, highly intelligent individuals collaborating on important work. I found these distinctive characteristics to be stimulating because I, too, strive to be a high-performing individual and dedicate my time to important tasks. I was able to extract four key lessons from The West Wing that will contribute to performance and productivity in both your business and personal lives. These may be things you hear in business every day, and you can certainly witness them in action when watching The West Wing.
The first thing is the impact you can have on the world around you. The West Wing may differ greatly from your life experiences (obviously) because people are working in the White House and affecting policy change. Maybe that is your case, and in that case you should take that work seriously. But impact is also entirely relevant whether you are working in food service, packing boxes, or selling or delivering any product or service. We all have impact that we can make. If you want to explore this concept a bit more you can look at Steven Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective People. He talks about our circle of influence. To understand your circle of influence is to understand what things you can impact. Make sure you focus your time elements that are within that circle. As you do that, your circle of influence will grow and you will have greater impact on more of the world around you.
The second lesson is cause. Find a cause. Commit yourself to your cause. Some people’s cause is finding lifestyle design and finding a way to balance family, play, work, and leisure. These are important causes and the same can be applied to those. However, my intent is to speak specifically to high-performing individuals, people looking to accomplish much with their lives, and folks committed to who they are personally. They commit to a specific goal or mission in life. They want to excel or be the best way they can be in something specific.
When you commit yourself to a cause, think of yourself as a professional athlete. Your cause is your sport. Commit to your sport. Athletes live, eat, sleep, and breath their cause. They are the first person on the field and last person off. Their diet is reflective of what they are trying to accomplish. Their sleep habits and the activities they engage in are indicative of their goals. Find your cause and commit to your cause. Are you working every day like you are committed both to increasing your circle of influence and to defining your cause?
The next thing is teamwork. It is such an important element. When you look at The West Wing, you’ve got these people – all in different departments, all doing different kinds of work, all high performing individuals – that are committed to teamwork. They always stopped when it was important, and they would come together with their team to decide the best course of action. Are we moving together in this? I want to bounce an idea off of you. This is what I’m thinking…Does that work? This is how I’m going to explain it to someone else. Shoot holes in my ideas and theories.
Just because you are dependent on other people doesn’t mean that you are any weaker. Covey talks about interdependence. This is where you are a fully independent person, strong and capable, able to accomplish things, but at the same time, you’re still improving the impact that you can have by working with others. So please, use teamwork. Take the opportunity to consider the thoughts, ideas, and perspectives of the people around you. It is to everyone’s benefit.
The last thing I will talk about is delivering solutions. This is one of the earliest lessons you can learn in your career, and it will carry you so far. People in all stages of their careers do not necessarily focus on solutions, and I’m specifically talking about bringing solutions not problems. If you are in business, education, politics – whatever it is – there are always going to be problems. There are always going to be fires that need to be put out, issues to deal with, and concerns arising. But rather than taking that problem and running to your team or supervisors, first, stop. Think about a solution to the problem. Use those creative juices. Everybody’s got them. Think about what you can do about this problem, and then deliver the problem and the solution to the team. They may not use your solution. Your idea may not be the best solution, and working with the team will help you discover that. But that doesn’t matter. The most important thing you can do is stop and come up with a solution. You may not find the best one, but come up with it. The intellectual dexterity that you will develop by starting to think through solutions on your own and taking those to the team not only will help you grow personally and professionally, but it will give you greater credibility with your peers in a professional environment. When you’re bringing solutions, again, even if they’re not the best ones, it shows that you’re thinking and trying to accomplish something. It will inspire confidence and creativity from others.
All of these lessons – impact, cause, teamwork, and delivering solutions – are really important. It’s not an exhaustive list, and they are certainly not the keys for every business. If you want to see these things in action, The West Wing is a great place to do it.