We all like a bit of freedom—the chance to act on our own initiative. Much of the time that’s a good thing.
Recently, however, I’ve been noticing just how much energy can be wasted if everyone is pulling in different directions in an organisation, even if they’re acting with the best of intentions. The result can be a feeling of overload and not having enough resource. In reality, lots of energy is getting wasted in unaligned, incoherent activity, much of which cancels out.
Yes, the organisation may be short of resource—quite likely it is…
Or maybe it has enough resource, if its participants would agree to a little more alignment in what they do—to sacrifice a little autonomy in the interests of a sensible workload.
An important role for leaders then to stimulate a shared sense of purpose that leads to coherent, aligned activity.
Perhaps that means you.
We need to keep learning e.g. about people; and we need to keep doing or delivering e.g. in a business. So which is more important? Delivering perhaps (it’s certainly likely to be more urgent), but what if the delivery is weak because we haven’t yet learned some vitally relevant information?
If learning is the priority then perhaps the opportunity or expectation will pass before we have made ourselves ready.
Obviously, it’s a balance. Do you have it in the right place? Could you benefit from moving learning up a bit?
Sometimes, of course, we need to act in order to learn: We can’t merely think our way to the right solution. We need to gather some experience of the issue. We need to attempt delivery and see what happens.
Which is more likely to make a long-term, sustainable difference: Learning or delivering? Probably learning, I’d say.
How do you balance this out?
Or is it just natural human reticence that most of us could do with overcoming (though some were never troubled in this way)?
For many, we need to work at putting ourselves out there to be judged. It’s uncomfortable, or seems so at first. But arguably it’s part of the natural human journey of increasing maturity, if we choose that particular part of the path.
How do you decide whether you are being admirably refined or just unwisely and over-cautiously reticent?
The wrong choice could be holding you back and, conversely, a change could propel you forward.
Just because something is comfortable, doesn’t mean it’s right: It just means it’s our usual habit—a familiar, programmed pattern that was helpful once but perhaps not any more.
Many situations seem to require being focused and broad at the same time; being specialist as well as generalist.
That appears to be a contradiction, a dichotomy—one that needs very careful handling if a group of people is involved, and a considerable challenge to manage successfully.
If we suggest focusing an organisation, for example, in one or more particular areas, the people involved in the non-preferred areas are likely to resist because they feel threatened. But we possibly didn’t intend any real downside for them. It’s more that we hope to grow certain emerging strengths.
Alternatively, if we aim to keep everyone happy, we may fail to develop the concentration of effort necessary to achieve significant breakthroughs.
Chances are what we really require is a relative emphasis on certain areas that may yield superior returns on effort, not a major upheaval.
Our biggest challenge, in fact, may be to convey the subtlety of what we intend so that we don’t “frighten the horses” whose support we need. Managing the situation with the necessary sensitivity and spreading that ethos throughout the organisation could be harder than—and just as vital as—the actual choice of areas of focus.
In other words…
The subtlety is the point.
Flexibility is a good thing.
Sometimes—and about some things—we need to be inflexible: We need to have boundaries. We need to decide what we are going to accept and what we are not going to accept. Actually, we probably already know, deep down (we can tell by what upsets us—that’s a signal), we just need to articulate the parameters properly to ourselves, and our colleagues, if they’re involved.
Then we need to make our boundaries clear and visible to those we are interacting with, whose compliance we need—and whose liberty-taking is causing us problems.
Funnily enough, it can be in the other party’s interest to be compelled to act in a certain way if they want a particular outcome. They may benefit from that kind of influence.
For example, having high expectations of the time-keeping and focus of participants in events and workshops may actually be part of the learning. They need—maybe in some ways want—to be called out on their distracted behaviour, like checking their phones for email, or just not turning up at all.
Rather than being soft and accommodating, we may be more help to people if we set fair boundaries, communicate them clearly, and are robust in their defence.
How are your boundaries looking?