Birthdays come around once a year. They are a repeating milestone. This year I have a small gift for myself – an absence of expectations. Instead I am focusing on what I am and what I do.
There is much discussion these days on the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves. Every day’s to do list is a reminder to me that I fall easily for creating these expectations. Much of my life’s experience has taught me that most of the time we are neither quite as bad or as good as we think.
So this birthday, I am changing my expectations. I am.
On previous birthdays I have reflected on what I wanted to be. I set myself all kinds of milestones. I challenged myself to do more. Some I achieved but far too many became part of the overhang of what might have been. That overhang was mine alone, an unreal fiction and entirely unconstructive. Nothing more gets done because I once thought that I would have done more by now.
The last two years of working for myself has been a wonderful lesson in the importance of being & doing. I wondered what I might become when I began this process. I didn’t become anything. I am and I do. However, along the way I discovered:
I am helping people & organisations with collaboration, leadership, learning and the future of work, because it interests me and I work at improving my capabilities & connections every day
I am a baker because I bake whenever I can and I learn new techniques and approaches
I am a writer because I write whenever I have something important to say and I seek to get better with feedback.
I am enjoying a different life, because every day I am making new and better choices
I am happy. I just am. If I wasn’t, I would do something about it.
When other people want to hire your expertise, it is a solid reminder you are growing more every day. When people admire your baking, or your writing or some other activity, it is a reminder that those skills are growing too. If nobody else notices, then you still know you are growing. When you ask yourself what made you happy today and there is always an answer, you are happy.
What you are now doesn’t matter. It just is.
What you want to be doesn’t matter now. What matters is what you do today.
Looking up the hierarchy employees can believe that being CEO must be a game changing experience. However, the reality is that the imagined power comes with its own constraints. Here are a few words for the new CEO (or any new manager) on what matters. This is where the reality and the illusion diverge:
What You Hear Matters More Than What You Know: You have plans and agendas. You know the place & the ropes. You have great skills, knowledge and wisdom. Show it by going and listening to the people who matter most – those doing the work, your customers and your community. Ask their views and change your own. Let what you hear guide what you do.
What You Do Matters More Than What You Say: You are surrounded now by people who want to listen to you. You are supported by teams of professional communicators. You can order an expensive new brand campaign if you want. You have a soapbox but the smartest way to roll is to get down off the soapbox and go to work. Let others work out who you are by what you do.
Your Reputation Matters More Than Your Record: You must have a great record or you wouldn’t have the job. Nobody cares about what you did now. They only care about how you did it. The how determines your reputation internally and externally. Everything you do is added or subtracted from your reputation. Everybody wants to discuss your reputation because they want to predict what you will do next. Your reputation has more influence on what you will get done than you think.
Your Influence Matters More Than Your Power: Congratulations on being top of the hierarchy (excepting of course for your accountability to the board, the chair, shareholders, analysts, community activists, politicians, your family, and anyone who ever had a view about your company, etc). You have the power now, but mostly you can’t use it. You can’t sack everyone. You can’t survive a revolt. You can’t do the work yourself. You can’t answer every question. Accept that with all your power the best way to get anything done is still with influence, the same way you climbed the ladder.
Your Network Matters More Than Your Hierarchy: The hierarchy mutes your influence. A hierarchy is only one part of your network. Some of your direct reports are openly campaigning for your job. You’ve been there and you know they won’t wait long. The further down the hierarchy you go the less your voice is heard and understood. Importantly, you are now the face of the organisation to customers and the community. Looking down the hierarchy won’t help you deal with those critical stakeholders. Start leveraging the networks through and around the organisation. Those networks helped you on the way up and they will help you now. That’s where you should use your influence. The network magnifies your influence. That’s where you do your best work.
Your People Matter More Than Your Process: Nothing in the organisation gets done without people. The best processes, technology and organisations will fall apart without the right people. Start focusing on building their capabilities and changing the processes to adapt where required. Your customers and community will appreciate the immediate increase in your organisation’s responsiveness.
Your Exceptions Matter More Than Your Rules: If everything was predictable, great people wouldn’t be required. Focus on how you identify, manage and adapt for exceptions, anomalies and surprises. Don’t let your team explain them away. Many exceptions hide insights, risks, threats or breakdowns that your current processes can’t handle. Exceptions are where the disruptive innovations lurk and where reputations are won or lost. See exceptions as a chance for you to lead make changes, especially to help your people and your customers.
Your Effectiveness Matters More Than Your Efficiency: Your new staff are going to make your life extremely efficient. They will quickly create a schedule, cut access and manage a protective bubble of carefully selected information. That’s the best way for them to make their life easy and predictable again. However, obstacles are the work, exceptions hide insights and you will need to experiment on your personal effectiveness. Without slack, freedom to connect and thinking time you won’t be able to do this. Incidentally the need to focus on effectiveness of purpose goes for the whole organisation too (see ResponsiveOrg).
Your Purpose Matters More Than Your Pay: You’ve spent a lot of the crazy pay already and here I am saying it doesn’t matter. What matters is the impact you have on the world. The internal motivator called purpose pushed you so hard to get here. You wanted to make a mark, not cash. Delivering on purpose is what makes the role worth doing and will be how your tenure is judged. Years from now you will barely remember the money but you will see the faces of those in the network around the organisations whose lives you changed. Which way do you want to influence their lives? Let’s hope they are smiling later.
The Job Matters More Than You: Unless you are a founder or a complete failure, the role you play existed before you came along and will exist afterwards. That role means a lot to the hopes and dreams of all the employees, customers and community. Those dreams deserve your respect. The role is not yours. You are no better because you have it. You are just the current steward. Leave it better for the next person and make sure that you have the influence to choose them wisely. That may be the best legacy you can leave.
More human misery has been caused by anticipation than the events that were feared. Stop bringing forward the pain.
This morning I caught a commuter train. Aside from the aesthetic misery caused by anti-graffiti fabric on the seats, the other noticeable thing was how glum a Monday morning work crowd can be.
We all know why work might make people glum. Engagement of employees is remarkably low. However, none of the people on the train were yet at work. They were glum because of the anticipation of the work day ahead. They could have been enjoying their last moments of freedom.
Stress is also a consequence of anticipation. Stress is a present concern about future events. We bring forward the pain with our anticipation.
Anticipation is a positive when it enables us to act and avoid negative events. However that demands we recognise the source of the anticipated pain and get on the job of avoiding it.
If anticipation is causing pain, either do something different or accept that the present moment is better than you think.
“We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar.” – William James
Complex changes like realising the Responsive Organisation and developing the future of work need people to connect in communities and along networks of practice. Forming new habits will be essentially to developing the richness of practice required.
Habits are required in Practice
How are those New Year Resolutions tracking? A week into the new year and many people are already struggling with new practices that look like failed intentions. New practices struggle to embed unless we turn them into habits.
However I can point out the serendipity. Maria’s relentless and excellent curation is a habit. My practice of writing this blog is a habit. Without these habits and many more the coincidence would not be possible. Similar serendipity is found in the practice of working out loud. These moments of encouragement extend the practice further.
To create change we need to start developing suites of new future of work practices and turning them first into experiments and then embedding the successes as habits. Through the long practice of habit will come innovations, solutions to problems and a richer connection with others pushing the practice forward. We need to create the habits and connections that enable the serendipity to power change for Responsive Organisations.
Habits bring time to Practice
Habits bring the gift of time to practice. They ensure that our feeble new practices are not killed by lack of attention or effort. Habits sustain us through the hard days and the days we would rather not. We all love quick wins but focusing on new practices reminds us that not everything transforms immediately. There are obstacles, new skills and lessons to be learned in practice.
Successful practice takes time and learning. Habits are the key to winning that time.
This is Your Year
This year is definitely my year. I would like it to be yours too. That will take some new habits.
This poster first featured on this blog a year ago when its claims were decidedly uncertain. The poster celebrated that the obstacles are the work. It sits in my office in my eye line as a reminder that it is relentless practice and good habits that will deliver me the year that I seek. There are many ways I can ensure it will be my year:
If I practice what I preach consistently
If I experiment, to learn and to build new good habits
If I keep focus and avoid the distractions of the bright and shiny things
If I keep looking for ways to move forward, overcome the obstacles and achieve my purpose; but most of all
If I keep translating the believe that ‘This is My Year’ into action
This year is your year too. Like it or not, it will pass with every action and omission you make. The choice is yours to make it a year to remember. Create the habits required to own your year. The resulting practice will deliver great rewards.
Habits don’t have to be big things. Small steps accumulate. Small steps that can be consistently repeated in a process of learning accelerate success.
What would make it really your year? What do you need to do consistently to make it happen? What is your new habit?
Just one action is enough to make a difference. It helps you learn.
When we want to improve things or make a change, the opportunities can be overwhelming.
All at once we want to change everything simultaneously. We can become a whirlwind trying to make everything happen now. Usually, that results in a lot of confusion and a mess of partially completed plans.
Alternatively, we can get stuck trying to make the best choice among the options. We can go looking for that one perfect thing that will make the biggest difference. Paralysis by analysis will result. There are too many choices and too much analysis to pick the right option with the fewest risks.
Just do one thing. Today.
How do you choose? Do what feels most right. Go with your best hunch. Back your judgement. You are immersed in the problem.
Do one thing well.
But, and this is a big but…
Measure your action. Learn and do one new thing again based on what you learn.