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The Simple Habit That Will Spawn Your Best Work

My first mentor in consulting—think stern, silver-haired, driven genius who never settled for less than his (or my) very best work—taught me one of the most important habits I ever learned.

The after action review.

Born in the military, it’s not the usual corporate-style debrief where we’re all busily (if unintentionally) assigning blame.The after action review (AAR) is focused solely on you. What you intended to happen versus what actually did.It’s not about how your client or the situation could have improved. It’s about how YOU could have better served your visionin this very particular set of circumstances.No finger pointing. No righteous anger. Just an inwardly focused understanding of what derailed your plan.The perfect habit for the soloist who wants to keep getting better.Think of it as having your first allegiance to the work itself, the transformations you’re promising clients and buyers: did you do what you set out to do?

At the end of every project, all you have to do is ask and answer three questions:

What happened?Why did it happen?What can I do better next time?A clear-eyed AAR will give you the clarity to identify and avoid future missteps and the circumstances that produced them.It’s also how we learn which challenges and clients (or team members) we’re temperamentally suited for and where we deliver the most transformational outcomes.I once had a client who would not (or could not) tame his temper. I never knew who would be on the other end of the line—the calm, seasoned pro, or the temporary werewolf who used his consultants to vent whatever had set him off that day.My first AAR with him made me quickly realize that I was not doing my best work. Sure I could blame it on his mercurial personality, but that wasn’t the point. It’s that I couldn’t reliably produce the transformation for him that I wanted every client to experience.He wasn’t going to change his style and I wasn’t willing to adapt. We parted ways amicably.The point is, not every project—or relationship for that matter—proceeds exactly the way we plan. And when the results suck, it’s time to understand why or we’re doomed to repeat them.Related: Build More Authority Into Your Mindset