Focus on You

Focus on You

Recently, I was presenting to a group of city managers at a conference. The conference was about the challenges managing cities in today’s environment of everyone thinking they can get more for less, whenever they want. While I have no expertise in how to manage cities, I was asked to provide some thoughts on how to lead in a fast-paced, ever-changing environment. My answer might shock you: focus on you.

Why do I suggest you focus on you? Because, in the end, that is all you can control.

What I often see in organizations is that the company has gotten clearer on its goals while the workers have not. I bet that everyone reading this blog works for an organization that has some type of vision statement, mission statement and/or set of values. So, if that is true, how will they get that accomplished with people that aren’t as clear on their own vision, mission and values? When you don’t see how you are accomplishing your own mission and vision at work, or doing work that aligns with your values, work becomes a frustrating place.

I learned this lesson from my mom. At about 55 years of age, she decided to quit her job. While she enjoyed the work, she started to become stressed as the company was changing her hours and days of work, making it difficult for her to attend church on Sundays. As you can imagine, I and my siblings were very worried that, at that age, she would have difficulty finding another job. We told her that the change wasn’t that bad as the company was only asking her to work some Sundays; not all Sundays. When we tried to give her advice, her answer was “there are lots of crappy jobs out there.” You see, my mom wasn’t stressed about finding a job; she was focused on getting a job in which the vision, mission and values matched hers. When that happens, you have to ask yourself if what the work, your boss, or the customer is demanding, is the work you would be doing any way.

I recommend a recent article by Clayton Christenson in the Harvard Business Review titled How Will You Measure Your Life? In a nutshell, he says that we really have three very simple slices of life. Draw three circles that overlap. In one circle, you have success in your work; the other circle is success in relationships (family, friends, spouse, etc.); and the last is successfully staying out of jail. Success for most people would be the “sweet spot that intersects success in work, success in relationships, and staying out of jail.”

Christenson then goes on to provide some insights as to how to achieve this success. While I won’t repeat them all here, two are important for our conversation. The first is to create a strategy. Success just doesn’t happen without a plan. By strategy, I don’t mean New Year’s resolutions where you wish for things in January and forget about them by February. Nor do I mean the knee jerk reaction that many of us have after something bad happens. We hear that a friend has died of a heart attack and promptly give up eating meat and start exercising. By strategy, I mean a plan that comes from some deep thinking on where you want to be in the future. If done correctly, this is hard work, and has spurned a cottage industry of life coaches.

The other insight suggests that it is up to us to actually create a measuring stick. So how do you measure your life? In dollars, in smiles, in places travelled, in relationships gained—or lost? For my mom, her measuring stick was where and how she spent her time. Not only did she find a job that gave her more Sunday’s off, the job was also much closer to her house enabling her to walk to work as opposed to taking public transit, which in turn, gave her more time as well as control over that time.

So what am I saying? First, the crazier things become in the world, the better off you will be if you focus on understand yourself. Second, to get started understanding you, create a strategy. Third, begin to reflect on how you measure your life. Finally, once you have answers to these questions, find a job that allows you “to be you.”