January 20, 2013 2 Comments
This is post #3 of 5 in a series unpacking five big ideas about the role of storytelling and narrative in leadership. If you missed the first two posts then feel free to click here and here to get the context for what follows.
The first post in this series was call out to leaders everywhere to consider the idea that we’re all artists – hopefully creating something that moves people as we go about doing our best work. Flowing out of this, post number two introduced the suggestion that the best leaders intentionally shape big stories – GRAND narratives – to help their followers find meaning and context for their lives and work.
It’s been nearly a year since post number two was published, meaning that I sit here typing away in a state of no little embarrassment. I let this blog almost go the way of so many out there… becoming the digital equivalent of a barren shipwreck. Lifeless. Desolate. Never Visited. Well and truly… Sunk.
I’m a big believer that when something goes awry however, the best way to start a salvage operation is by pursuing a path of radical honesty. So let me ‘fess up’ to you, the reader, about the genuine – albeit inexcusable – reason for my neglect.
Many of you will be familiar with the concept in time-management of thinking about all the things you have to do in terms of their Urgency and their Importance. In fact, in the classic “7 Habits” book Stephen Covey helpfully articulates a four box model for understanding where our time ends up going… I (somewhat cheesily) think about these four quadrants as areas of Delusion, Demand, Distraction and Delight. (It’s not for here to fully unpack this so watch a nice little video here on Covey’s Four Quadrants if you’re unfamiliar with the model).
If I’m honest, I’m starting 2013 sat firmly in the quadrant of Demand. Urgent AND Important. Good stuff… Lots of stuff…. that needs to get done… NOW.
Now if Im generous to myself, most of this has come from simply working out in the first eighteen months of running a company just where the boundaries are. I’ve been lucky enough to have a load of great opportunities come my way and have just kept adding and adding and adding. In 2012 I…
- Helped the leadership team of a medium sized business turn their company around
- Worked with a national charity to help in reshaping their whole approach to training leaders
- Designed and delivered training for clients in Manchester, London, Derby and Stockholm!
- Ran a major fundraising event for three charities I really care about
- Volunteered a big chunk of time to serving the vision of my local church
- Worked part time as the Marketing Director for a brand new conference and community centre
As I sit here I can pull up my task management software and tell you that I have over 300 action items across all my various lists.
Let me be clear. None of this is to brag. Having a silly amount of tasks and commitments with little time left for reflection, creativity and nurture does NOT make me proud. If this kept up for long, it would be downright unhealthy.
Which brings me to Idea #3. Bless yourself with space.
I’m not alone in my tendency to keep saying “yes” to good and worthwhile activities. Most of the leaders I talk to across the business, community and the charity worlds all have schedules crammed to bursting with appointments. They have personal and professional projects happening left, right and centre and they’re driven to make an impact across a whole host of contexts.
The problem arises when the sheer avalanche of demand on a leader’s time forms a suffocating layer that all but kills the small seeds of ideas and habits that – with a little bit of nurture – could form their greatest contribution.
It takes thought to construct, cultivate and communicate a truly great narrative that helps you AND those you influence find greater levels of purpose and connection.
To truly make a dent, to really leave a legacy, you need to be intentional in shaping the story of your cause.
To be blunt, if you’re going to be the best leader you can be you need some space. To bless yourself with that space, you’re going to have to sacrifice. And some of those sacrifices might make you unpopular. That’s leadership.
As it stands at the moment, I’m drowning in commitments. Now, I appreciate the irony of my admittance of being in a state of overwhelming complexity whilst running a company that is supposed to help leaders gain greater clarity. You know what, it’s pretty vulnerable to publicly state that you’re in danger of becoming a hypocrite. What’s more important for me than being presentable however, is being authentic. So – for now – I’ll swallow that risk.
My question to you is this – How’s it going?
As you kick off this new year, what do you need to unpick to move into a greater level of impact in the things that matter most? What’s it going to take for you to look back on the narrative of 2013 and realize that it didn’t happen by accident but by design?
What could happen if you blessed yourself with some space?
Title image courtesy of cooleewinds : Creative Commons