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Are you fighting the tide or riding the wave?

Date: 12 March 2015

Someone recently asked me what has changed in my lifetime’s work. Naturally, given the opportunity to suck the oxygen out of the room I began to wax lyrical regarding snail mail to email- local to global and the like.

“No. I meant what’s changed about you?”

Bang. Such a simple question never warrants a glib or off the cuff remark and, as it transpired, required an uncharacteristic period of reflection and silence before I could respond.

I replied that without doubt the biggest shift in my working life has been to stop seeing everything as a battle,(and wanting to win each and every battle at that) to choosing which battles to fight, if any. Being right, being righteous and being effective are rarely the same bedfellows. My inquisitor who is starting his managerial career was keen to probe.

“How do you know which fights to fight though?” My views were, by now, pretty clear. I explained my five most important learning points when it came to prioritisation what things to solve:

  1. Clarity – know what success looks like and how you will get rewarded for doing a great job. If your personal objectives and goals are not aligned to overall goal of the Company- start worrying. If you are in a ruck over something that is irrelevant to the overall Company goal? Why are you even wasting time on it? Does it help? No? Move on.
  2. Control – Happy? In control. Unhappy? Someone else is in control. If you cannot control the particular issue – then don’t waste energy fighting it- you will consume yourself and needless energy. Again – why react?
  3. Timing- the secret to golf, love, comedy and success can often be timing. Even when you know an issue needs addressing, and you are prepared for the “fight to put it right” are others around you on the same page? If not, history has shown lone evangelists often became martyrs. Over time learn to recognise that people need time to ensure the timing of addressing an issue is right.
  4. Never March on Moscow! – my father gave me this superb advice when I left home. Every man or woman – e.g. Napoleon, meets something they think they can conquer when all the evidence and history alerts to the contrary. Don’t start believing your own PR – if others better than you have failed on that particular fight – why are you superhuman? Knowing when to retreat and back down is sometimes more important than win at all costs. Do not underestimate the “butcher’s bill” of a needless battle.
  5. The power of nice – being nice and explaining, expanding, communicating better, and seeking to understand helps avoid the need to fight. Anyone with a put upon spouse and children learns this.

My final observation when we chatted was that the more I applied the above, the easier business became and oddly enough the more energy for the good stuff I found I had left. There is nothing worse than running on empty!