This is one of Stephen Covey’s seven secrets of highly effective people. It means that, at all times, we need to be clear about what we are trying to achieve or where it is we are trying to get to. Without that clarity we can drift and become unfocused. This is likely to hamper progress and can also prove stressful at times, as the lack of a sense of direction can create anxiety and uncertainty. It can also reduce our credibility (and thus our ability to influence other people) as we will come across in ways that do not inspire confidence if we are unfocused and unclear about what we are trying to achieve. Beginning with the end in mind is therefore wise counsel.
Are you living your life or is your life living you? How much in control do you feel about what is happening to you? People who have what psychologist call an internal locus of control will have a good sense of being able to control (or at least influence) key aspects of their lives, both at work and at home. Someone with an external locus of control, by contrast, tends to have little sense of control and can pay a price for that in terms of lower confidence higher stress levels and so on. In a very real sense, having an external locus of control is a form of self-disempowerment, a way of putting obstacles in your own way. So, it is important to be clear about what you can control and make things happen accordingly rather than surrender to being a passive victim of circumstance.
A phenomenon I have come across many times in many organizations is for matters of dissatisfaction to act as a basis for moaning sessions (which do little good) and for the concerns or dissatisfactions not to be channelled in the direction of a person or group who can potentially do something about the problem. There is often a fear that if issues are raised the person(s) raising them will be seen as troublemakers, but it all depends on how the issues are raised. If they are raised in a confrontational approach, don’t be surprised if the response is a defensive one (and some people, of course, will act on the basis that attack is the best form of defence). Raising concerns sensibly and sensitively with the people who have the power to do something about it will do far more good than feeding low morale by just feeding low morale through moaning.
In today’s busy, pressurized world we can find ourselves with many different demands on our time. As a result of this important things may not get done. We can find ourselves drifting and losing sight of what is important to us. ‘Carpe diem’ – seize the day – is a good principle to guard against that. It can pay huge dividends to step back from time to time, to clarify what matters to use and focus on making happen whatever needs to happen to make sure those important things are given the attention they deserve.
When people act or speak in discriminatory ways, bully people or behave disrespectfully towards others, it can be very tempting to ‘have a go’ at them, to give them a piece of your mind. While that reaction is quite understandable, it can be highly problematic. This is because there is a danger that the person who is behaving irresponsibly will see you as the unreasonable one, to see you as the person who is behaving inappropriately. This can just make a difficult situation worse. ‘Elegant’ challenging, by contrast, refers to challenging inappropriate behaviour tactfully and sensitively, so that you are giving the other person no ammunition to fire back at you. Skilfully pointing out why what somebody has said or done is much less likely to produce a defensive response and is therefore much more likely to be effective.
A key part of leadership is being able to work with a group to establish where they are heading for and help them get there. Are you clear about where you want to get to and how you are going to get there? Having this sense of direction is an important part of spirituality and can be a great personal resource. We may wander aimlessly without it.
We can so easily become so engrossed in our work and under so much pressure that we don’t look more broadly at the situation we are dealing with. This can mean that we can find ourselves reinventing the wheel – that is, not realizing that it is likely that other people will have faced the type of situation we are in now and will have found helpful ways of responding to it. There is much to be learned from finding out how other people tackle their challenges, but we won’t do any of that learning if we don’t take the trouble to try and find out. If we don’t make that effort, we will be doomed to reinvent the wheel and not learn from other people’s experiences.
Self-awareness is an important basis for reflective practice. It involves being able to tune in to: (i) what effect you are having on the situation; and (ii) what effect the situation is having on you. When we interact with other people, we become part of that dynamic; we shape the situation to a certain extent, and so we will be in a stronger position to influence that situation in a positive direction if we are aware of what effect our presence and contribution are having. It is also helpful to be aware of what effect the situation is having on us: Are we anxious? Are we rushing? Are we tired? All these things can have a significant bearing on how the interaction develops, so we would do well to be alert to what part they are playing in shaping the dynamic.
There are things that we can change directly, things that we can change indirectly (through influence), but there are very many things that we cannot change at all. When we encounter these we basically have two choices: (i) we can learn to accept that we cannot bring about change, make the best of the situation and invest our energies in those things we can change; or (ii) waste a lot of time and energy trying to do the impossible and/or become negative, defeatist or even cynical about the fact that there are certain things we cannot change. Which option we choose will have major consequences for ourselves, our colleagues and the people we are seeking to help. So, make sure you choose wisely.
Some people can be quite dogmatic and stick to their views despite evidence and argument to the contrary, and that of course is not helpful. However, it can also be problematic when some people go to the opposite extreme and simply assume that they are wrong whenever they encounter any resistance or disagreement. What is needed, of course, is a balanced approach. Being dogmatic does not help, but nor does abandoning your views prematurely. Being open minded is essential, but that need to include being open to the possibility that you were right all along.