Don’t answer the wrong question when you’re procrastinating (review of Who Not How)

I’ve been procrastinating since the start of the pandemic. It turns out that’s been a smart move.

On the desk in my home office basement bunker is a notebook. Inside that notebook is nearly 30 years’ worth of hits, misses and lessons learned on leadership communications.

I’ve cribbed notes from the hundreds of leadership books I’ve reviewed and the dozens of senior executives I’ve worked with and watched in action. Some were great communicators and a few made it seem like hiring committees sometimes play cruel practical jokes on employees.  

But now I’m stuck on how to get what’s in my notebook out into the world. Next steps remain a mystery.

It turns out dawdling can be a good thing.

“Procrastination is wisdom if you listen to it,” say Who Not How authors Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy. “The bigger your personal ambition, the more procrastination you’ll experience. Everyone who is ambitious procrastinates. It is part of having big goals that stretch far beyond you.”

Procrastination puts us at a crossroads and prompts us to ask one of two questions.

“How do I do this?” is the wrong question. Turning your big and bold goal into a do-it-yourself project will lead you down the path where dreams go to die.  As you stumble along, you’ll lose confidence, your ambition will wane, you’ll grow increasingly frustrated and eventually ditch your dream.

“Who can help me with this?” is the right question. Instead of going it alone, you assemble a team of wicked smart and passionate people with the know-how and connections to get you across the finish line. They’ll boost your confidence, deepen your commitment, refuel your ambition and take your good idea and make it better.

“Asking ‘who?’ is the automatic response you need to develop every time you think of a new goal or desire,” say Sullivan and Hardy. “If you’re procrastinating, it’s because you’re focusing on how rather than who.

“If you’re courageous enough to pursue big goals, you’ll need Whos to help you. You’ll need Whos to transform your vision, giving it greater purpose and possibility than your initial thoughts could.”

So how do we assemble a dream team of Whos?

Ask for help and be as clear and compelling as possible. 

Sullivan and Hardy recommend using something they call an impact filter. On one page, answer these seven questions:

  • What’s our project?
  • What do we want to accomplish? What’s our purpose?
  • What’s the biggest difference our project will make in the world? Why’s it important?
  • What does our completed project look like? What’s the ideal outcome?
  • What’s the best that’ll happen if we take action?
  • What’s the worst that’ll happen if we do nothing? 
  • What has to be true when our project’s finished? What’s our criteria for success?

“It is actually impossible not to attract incredible Whos once your vision is defined and expressed,” say Sullivan and Hardy. “There is endless talent and skill – endless resources – waiting to be directed toward your clearly and powerfully expressed goals. People are attracted to purpose and are looking for something meaningful to be a part of. Everyone wants a compelling cause.”

Our relationships with the people who voluntarily join our compelling cause must be transformational rather than transactional. We need to be the hero to our Whos, say Sullivan and Hardy. “Don’t reach out to someone unless you have something meaningful to offer them.”

So be generous by giving more than you take and never micromanage. Trust your Whos to figure out the Hows.

“Every entrepreneurial breakthrough comes as an entrepreneur finds Whos rather than doing all of the Hows themselves,” say Sullivan and Hardy. “The greatest work you’ll do is with the people you serve and the people you work with. Your ability to succeed is based on the quality of the people in your life.”

This review first ran in the Nov. 13 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

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Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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