A Self-Exam on One Piece of Paper

Posted 10.14.2011

One of the many intelligent things that Socrates said is “An unexamined life is not worth living.” In an era when many professionals are running flat out until they crash, taking time for self examination usually ends up falling into the category of important but not urgent. The downside of that, of course, is that the urgent things end up overwhelming the important things that a little bit of self examination might have identified.

Fortunately, Mike Figliuolo has come up with a simple yet powerful approach to self examination in his new book, One Piece of Paper. The big idea is to boil your personal philosophy on four basic aspects of leadership down to one piece of paper. Mike offers a series of questions and exercises to help you do that. One of his core tools is what he calls the maxim. The maxim is a simple idea that you hold in your head to remind yourself of how to act. An example that Mike offers is “What would my grandmother say?” (As I wrote earlier this year, that question also worked for Tim Sanders.)

To give you an idea of how Mike’s approach works in real life, I’ve considered a few of his questions in the aspect of Leading Yourself and will share my one piece of paper (less than that actually) answers with you:

What guidelines do you live by?

My maxim is follow the Boy Scout law.

The story behind this maxim is rooted in how I grew up. I wanted to be a Boy Scout because I wanted to go on adventures with my grandfather the Scoutmaster. A lot of the leadership principles I try to live by today come from the Scout Law starting with a Scout being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly and courteous. When people refer to me as being “such a Boy Scout,” I take it as a compliment.

When you fall down, how do you pick yourself back up?

My maxim is no situation or condition is permanent.

The story behind this maxim is based on life experience. I’ve lived long enough to learn that things change. Good things change and bad things change. On more than a few occasions, time has shown that the good things maybe weren’t so good and the bad things maybe weren’t so bad. I have a paperweight on my desk that my wife gave me that has a quote from Winston Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” That’s pretty much the only viable option when things aren’t working out the way you hoped they would. Keep going.

How do you hold yourself accountable?

My maxim is get it on the list.

The story behind this maxim is no one’s going to hold me more accountable than me. In order to meet the commitments I’ve made to others, I have to get my tasks on a master list and be diligent in working the list.

The format above is straight from Mike. The answers are my own. His process really makes you think. It gets you off the dance floor and onto the balcony. That’s a pretty good place to do some self-examination. I encourage you to check out One Piece of Paper.

In the meantime, how would you answer Mike’s three questions on Leading Yourself? Feel free to share your thoughts with the rest of us.