A new year, that means resolutions, plans and budgets. This is a confusing process, both personally and professionally, since it has to do with choices. In business of course the first choice of course is: are we going to choose – and thus focus – or are we going to diversify – and thus have more opportunities and less risk? Then there is a multitude of related choices: Clients Satisfaction first, or Employee Engagement; Command and Control or Self Steering teams, Cash or Value?
Undecided, you read a book under the Christmas tree – thank you Santa – and you stumble across the immortal quote: “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”. Admittedly it was not Seneca or Socrates who said that, and not even Jim Collins or Michael Porter. It was Harry Potter. He did not do too badly for himself, did he? So that is decided. We choose. We choose why we do things, and what we do. And on a personal level how we do them. Professionally we let others decide how they do the things they are supposed to do. Or we should, if we can resist the urge to manage, or at least: to micro-manage. There we go again. More choices: do we Strategize, do we Lead, or do we Manage? Zappos gets rid of managers this year but not of all hierarchy, and it might work for them. We tried it at Qhuba, too, last year but were not too happy with the results. A lot of time got wasted on… making choices. Time that could have been spent on clients, or on communication, or on learning, or on employee engagement, building trust and celebrating successes.
The answer of course is: we need to do a lot, for different purposes, and at the same time we need to focus and filter out the distractions.
As a Business we will focus on what we do best and where we can make a real difference: Business Technology Management. If there is no Technology component we won’t do it. Better to build on an established reputation, network and organisation than trying to establish new ones. Saras Sarasvathy would probably call this the Bird in Hand principle. A treat she recognized in expert entrepreneurs.
As Leaders we will focus our attention, too. That seems easy enough, but after some searching, researching and soul-searching, this is also a subject with several dimensions. Most things come in three’s (even airline crashes). In this case: focus on yourself, focus on others, and focus on the wider world.
The inward focus, usually associated with authenticity, self-awareness and self-control (or: willpower) is an important characteristic for leaders, if in balance with the focus on others.
The focus on others does not come natural to all. It is usually associated with the term Empathy, which is often misunderstood as “being overly sympathetic”, “soft” or “compassionate”. It is none of those, but has more to do with (of course) three things: how we can explain ourselves to others and understand how they perceive us (cognitive empathy), being able to understand how other people feel (emotional empathy) and being able to sense what other people need from you (empathic concern). Being able to do all that, and especially in emotional empathy some of us, including myself, could still learn a thing or two, enable us to decide if we want to meet the other person’s need. And hopefully that is a deliberate, and sometimes tough, decision.
The focus on the outside world – and this is where the distraction lurks in the shadows – is a balance between focus on the job at hand: taking advantage of what we have and what is working now (exploitation), and all the people, information and opportunities out there, that might be crucial for your future success (exploitation). The problem is that there is so much out there, and the minds of the curious easily wander off. Or maybe exploration is just much more fun than exploitation. Still, more is not always better, and more than forty years ago we have been warned that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”. The original text of Herbert Simon’s “Designing organizations for an information-rich world” is fun and gives an interesting perspective on where we came from, if you can spare the time and attention.
And as a person? Well: get back to the my New Year’s resolution:
Focus your attention, pick your battles, plan your travels and pop your bottles.
Oh yes and I have just sent in my registration for a coaching course. Questioning, ok. Listening: to be improved. Emotional empathy: might need some work. Happy New Year.