Ever Felt That Working in a Circus
Would be a Better Option?

by Anne Riches

Have you ever wondered if it might be easier to run away and join a circus – at least it would be part of your job description to keep all the balls in the air while maintaining balance at the same time!

When you think about your competing priorities – do you ever wonder where to start? What choices to make? How to identify what is the ‘right thing’ to do when the options appear to be in stark contrast to each other?

For example, have you been in a leadership position during restructuring, downsizing, cutting costs, outsourcing or implementing a new IT system? Were you under pressure, as a leader, to get the project happening “yesterday” and the results on the ‘bottom line’ today?

Yet you might have been torn by the competing desire for time to assist your people prepare for the change knowing that in the long run, it would be more productive in terms of morale and hence outcomes.

Maybe you are lucky enough to work in an organization that does decent forward planning or has good antenna to foresee most of the events that appear without warning. However I doubt there are many organizations like this.

Even if the change is expected, it can be personally challenging as a leader if you don’t agree with the new strategic direction or response you have to implement.

For example, a new round of downsizing has begun especially in the air transport and tourism industries. Most pragmatic executives know that downsizing to prop up profits simply does not pay off in the long term.

Even the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Ian Macfarlane said last December, it is “a serious error to think that companies in general can protect their earnings this way”. But taking this example further - what if you have to retrench people who are close social friends or teammates? Or there is no downsizing but you have to counsel them or ‘let them go’ for poor performance?

These challenges apply to all leaders whether the CEO, a supervisor, the manager or team leader. How to approach them?

Perspective, principles and priorities

First – get things into perspective.

I feel like a well-worn record when I say that few people on their deathbeds wish they had spent more time at the office! However I have an approach that works for me on a day-to-day basis. I have shared this in my leadership programs and am assured that it works for others too. It is the 2 x 2 x 2 approach.

You can use whatever measure you like but ask yourself: will the problem / deadline / challenge that I am getting myself worked up about still be significant in 2 days, 2 weeks or 2 months time? Or 2 weeks, 2 months, 2 years? Use whatever measurement units suit you. If it will matter, then why? Who will remember it? Who will it impact? What will be the consequences?

There is of course, no substitute for planning and time management. But beyond that realistic expectations on yourself and using perspective can often help.

You should also be clear about your own response to unexpected change. Do you know how you react to sudden departures from an expected course of action? This is about your emotional intelligence – knowing what you are feeling, how you are showing it and the effect on others. This knowledge is very powerful as a leader and the good news is, you can increase your EQ.

Next – principles.

Do you know how your values fit in with your organization’s? Are you clear about what you stand for, and what you will stand up for?

I am amazed by how few people have identified their values, the principles that guide our behaviour consciously and unconsciously, especially when we are under pressure.

A value analysis can guide you in the way you react to unpleasant tasks or the implementation of strategic direction you don’t think you agree with.

Take the earlier example of firing someone who is a friend. I am assuming that all the appropriate counselling and other steps have been taken. Your immediate reaction based on the value of ‘loyalty’ to your friend may make this an incredibly difficult and painful experience for you and you may delay doing it.

However if you also have ‘respect’ amongst your values and if you ranked it higher than ‘loyalty’, it would still be unpleasant to terminate your friend but it could be far more respectful to do that than obstruct their opportunity to find a position better suited to their skills.

Priorities

Values also play a role in determining priorities. Do you know your operational (i.e. the way you live your life) and terminal (i.e. your end goals in life) values? How do they align with the formally stated values where you work? More importantly, how do they line up with the real culture, the unspoken or implicit rules that guide everyday actions in your workplace?

If your priorities are aligned with your employer’s, then it will be easier to determine how to best use your time – it will be on whatever will get the organization faster to where it wants to go.

In my experience, procrastination or energy spent on procrastination or peripheral or non-main stream activities is often the result of misaligned or simply unclear personal values.

Think about it. Do your organization’s values – the real ones fit comfortably with you? Would you stand up and fight for them?


Anne Riches has over 25 years international experience planning strategy, leading transitions and developing leadership capability. Anne provides specialist facilitation skills and advice that enable organisations to plan and implement directional shifts as they occur in organizations and teams. She is also a speaker and trainer in organizational change and leadership. Phone: 0412 509 289; Email: anne@anneriches.com.au ; Website: www.anneriches.com.au .

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Copyright 2002 by Anne Riches. All rights reserved.

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