Time and space is the greatest gift

Anyone who has ever been through the process of moving house understands the sensation of discovering a vast array of stuff that has been squirreled away in various cupboards, drawers and hideaways over the years. We also all probably recognise the thought process that led to us holding on to the item in the first place. It goes something like this,

I’ll get rid of that. 

Wait, hang on…maybe it will be useful.

I’ve got space.

I’ll just tuck it in here.

Fantastic, I’ll always have that, you know, just in case…

And of course, the extra foot for the microwave oven, the instructions for the long broken CD player, the box from the expensive chocolates that we were bought by a random relative several years ago, all sit idle in the cupboard in which they were placed until we are absolutely compelled to face into their inutility and avoid the transportation costs.

Unfortunately, we very rarely have the same opportunity within our organisations to spring clean and start afresh. The one exception that I can think of is in a merger or acquisition, where there are a new set of eyes looking in the metaphorical cupboards. So instead of cleaning out we continue to either force more “stuff” into the available space or instead increase capacity.

But we aren’t dealing with cupboards and stuff, we are dealing with people and processes and the effect of this is to place our colleagues and teams under increasing pressure to manage the conflicting requirements in a bewildered and beffudled state. How many times have you heard, “I just don’t know why we do this anymore?” or, “I’m not actually sure what happens with that”?

And our organisational lives are even worse, because when we “move house”, instead of taking our rubbish with us, we leave it behind for someone else to come and add to. Generation and generation of leaders come, take a look and implement. Because we all know that if something isn’t happening, the answer is to change the process…right?

Every organisation exists to fulfill a clear purpose, management is about helping to achieve that purpose, it is never and should never be an activity in itself. We exist to help and facilitate our teams and people, to make their lives easy, to allocate resource and to remove barriers.

Sometimes the greatest gift we can give is to get the hell out of the way, to declutter and throw out those unnecessary activities and to create a bit of space to breathe, think and act. That, my friends, is true leadership.

Holding yourself back

I regularly meet people with a clear narrative on their unhappiness in their organisation. It isn’t that I attract it, at least I don’t think so, I just consider it a facet of the job; when you spend your life working with people you can expect to hear the good, the bad and the indifferent.

Whilst the situation, the participants and the timing of the narratives are different, the organisations, the villain, the circumstance all change, there is one common factor that links them all together. The victim is the narrator.

Life has a habit of throwing us curve balls, things don’t always proceed in the way that we would like, or indeed envisage. Sometimes circumstances run amok with the best laid plans that we have made. Our ability to move on from this determines both our success and our happiness.

I’m no life coach, so I’ll stick to the events that take place at work and offer you three options if you’re unhappy with something that has happened in the past that still holds you back;

  • leave and go somewhere else,
  • find a way to accept it,
  • remain unhappy at your own cost.

It really is that simple.

Ultimately, you are singularly responsible for your happiness and whilst you can’t control the things that happen, the promotion missed, the pay rise promised or the reporting change, you can control your response to it and your actions thereafter. Life is full of ups and downs, dwelling on the low points has no material impact on anyone else, it just holds you back.

Which, by all accounts, is a pretty dumb thing to do.

 

 

 

As we age we must change

Most of us will spend most of our lives in work. We will enter in our late teens or early twenties and leave when we are in our sixties or seventies (unless we are very lucky). For the sake of argument, lets call it 45 years, the probable majority of our lives.

During that time we will experience so many different things in our lives; love, bereavement, birth, separation, happiness and sadness. Who we are and how we see life will change. In each era of our lives we become someone slightly different, moulded by our experiences.

Yet at work so often I see people who remain broadly the same, wired into the system and unable to change their self image or behaviours, whilst the lens in which the world views them moves on with age. The cheeky chappy at 21 becomes the lecherous man at 52, the rebellious upstart becomes the unhelpful detractor, the interesting maverick into the permanently frustrated and angry stuck colleague.

Further proof comes from the way in which we describe ourselves, talking first about the job title and then the organisation and rarely if ever about the informal role and behaviours that we contribute. We talk about what we are not who we are and we spend little time thinking about who we should and could be.

If our organisations are social systems, then our role in those systems needs to change as we do, we need to bring different things and contribute in a different way for the ongoing success of the system. Where we were challenging, we leave that to others and learn to focus on support. Where we were rebellious, we can help others understand what we learnt.

We can all take a moment to think about the person that we were when we started work and who we have become. Celebrate the change and embrace our new roles in the new stage of our lives, seeking not to hang on to the vestiges of the past, but grabbing boldly with both hands the opportunity that awaits.

 

The power of inaction

I’m going to make a case for doing nothing. It is one of the most underrated tools available to leaders and yet one of the most underused.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that in our organisations we are obsessed with doing stuff, in most cases regardless of data, evidence or meaningful evaluation. We prefer to be active regardless of whether there is genuine value to the activity, extending this to finding means of justifying our activity with reports, and spurious data points.

There’s a value to doing less that we underestimate. Sometimes things will settle and sort themselves without our interventions. In fact they’ll often thrive quicker if left alone than when targeted with multiple initiatives.

Doing nothing is a choice, it’s an activity in itself, but one that in our current management lexicon has been tainted as somehow being weak and ineffective. When in fact sometime it takes greater bravery and confidence to do nothing, than it does to burst into action.

Less is more. Slow can be the quickest route. And choosing to do nothing can be the most effective action you will ever take.