Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What about everyone else?

Don’t think you’re done with the “you” stuff. That’s a life-long work-in-progress! But in the interest of time, let’s move on, shall we?

Self-awareness is important to a good leader. Now its time to take those same skills you learned while learning about yourself and apply them toward learning about others and the world around you.

Simply put. You gotta know what’s going on, man!

How many of you know of a manager who only leaves his office to bark orders at the employees, before retreating back to his ivory tower? Who wants to work for THAT guy?

A good leader needs to get up and take a walk around the office. Not just once. Regularly. Check in with the staff. Touch base. Connect. Not only are you able to get a feel for what’s going on behind the scenes, but you also show your team you’re available to them.

“But I’m so BUSY!” you say. Yeah, I know. Me too. I have a million projects that I am trying to juggle and wish I had about ten more hours in the day to get everything done. I get it.

I have to tell you though – making time to do this is worth it. In order to be a good leader, to make good decisions, to lead your organization to greater places, you have to be willing to stop and listen. Take a moment to observe what’s going on around you. Build time into your day for listening, for observation and for reflection. These activities are just as important as conference calls and budget meetings (and might actually improve them!)

So how do you find some time in your day for all this reflection mumbo-jumbo? A crucial skill for a leader is the ability to differentiate between the urgent and important and prioritize appropriately.

A philosophy professor stood before his class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a large empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, rocks about 2" in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full?

They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He then asked the students again if the jar was full.

They agreed it was. The students laughed.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

"Now," said the professor, "I want you to recognise that this is your life. The rocks are the important things - your family, your partner, your health, your children - things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else, the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal. Take care of the rocks first - the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

So, I share one of my favorite stories (mad bonus points for anyone who comments with that story’s origins!) to point out that just because there is a LOT of something, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the most important thing, or that it should have the highest priority in your life.

Every day, we are presented with buckets and buckets of sand – “urgent” problems that need to be resolved, fires that need to be put out, surprise meetings, extra-long phone calls that put our entire day behind… the list goes on and on.

Sometimes, sure, the sand really does have to take priority. I mean, there’s an exception to everything! But, if you’re really honest, even the most “urgent” issues can be put aside for something that’s important. It’s up to you to learn how to prioritize… or in the case of the professor, learn to put the rocks in the jar before you put in the sand!

I challenge you to begin to build time into your day to increase your “other-awarness” by getting out of the office, taking the time to listen to your staff, and reflecting on what you learn. Make increasing your awareness a “rock” priority today!

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