Traction: Getting unstuck

A few weeks ago my Facebook memories reminded me of the day that I got the car stuck on the front lawn.  I’d decided to try to drive out across the wet and muddy grass to avoid an obstacle in the driveway and about halfway through the process the wheels started spinning and I was going nowhere fast.  I knew in that instant that I’d lost traction.

stuck in the mud

Traction is the act of drawing or pulling something over a surface, it is the grip of a tyre on the road, but it is also the extent to which an idea gains acceptance.  The question is, when you get stuck, how do you regain traction?

If you’ve ever been stuck you’ll know that pushing harder on the accelerator only causes you to sink more deeply into the quagmire.  The quicker you can identify a loss of traction, the easier it is to regain it.  If the ground is steady enough and you’re not completely dug in, easing off and giving a gentle push can sometimes do it, but in some cases, you need to get out of the car and lay some groundwork.

If you’re alone it’s harder.  The ideal solution is a team, a couple of people to dig out the tyres and underpin them with some solid foundation, a couple to push from behind, and someone to sit in the drivers seat and gently edge forward.  You may even need to ask an external party for a helping hand in the form of a tow, but even then you still need someone to hold the wheel and steer.

To succeed, the whole team need to communicate with each other, anyone out of synch, or not doing their bit and everyone could end up covered in mud.

The reward for an enormous effort can be a small movement forward, a moment of traction.  You cross your fingers that the traction will be sustained and the motion will continue.

The moral of the story, if you plan to drive out across uncharted territory, test the ground and pick the path that looks most stable, if it is all pretty rough and you’re still convinced it’s worth doing, lay some groundwork in advance.  Finally, make sure you’ve got the team and tools for the journey so that if you do lose traction, you’ve got the means to get unstuck.

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Purposeful Choices – The value of a clear vision in a personal context.

Strategy 101 tells you that choices must be made in the context of a strategic intent.  A knowledge of the desired future state as expressed by some combination of vision, mission, values, goals (order and importance vary based on whatever source / author you’re referring to at the time).  As a strategy professional, my musing for today was reflecting upon the strategic intent behind the career choices that I’ve made to date.

As a five year old I would have expressed my future goals as “being a ‘boss’ and going to the Olympics.”  As a ten year old I wanted to “be the head coach of the All Blacks”.  By 11 I’d realised that the chance of that happening for a non-rugby playing female was relatively slim and so it became a desire to be “the All Blacks’ head doctor.”  15-year-old-me would have said I was going to be a leading Orthopaedic Surgeon and a few years later I’d completely pivoted to wanting to be a School Principal at a prominent school.

Now it’s completely normal for your ideas about your future to change as you age, but what I’ve realised is that there is very strong thread of commonality running through my intentions and dreams.  Although the specific goals have changed and flexed to suit the circumstances and context of the time, my vision has been pretty consistent.  In every field I chose to fixate on for that moment, I wanted to be the leader, to perform in the highest arena, to have influence and power so as to effect change, to use that change to enable success and to feel personal success through high performance.

Fast forward a good decade or so and here I am sitting in my car on the way home with hubby and he’s describing my career trajectory in terms that would be closer to luck than planning.  I was immediately uncomfortable with this suggestion.  Yes, from the outside it appears as if I’ve randomly hopped around through roles across multiple industries moving diagonally as well us vertically, and yes some of the opportunities I’ve been exposed to have come without me seeking them, but every choice I’ve made has been in keeping with the original vision.  For the record, these days I would express that vision as “leading and enabling shared success through high performance”, and yes, there is a current version of a specific and measurable goal that sits alongside that.

I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I don’t believe in luck, but luck is definitely influenced by considered planning led by good decision making and then proving your capability at every step of the way.  Confidence speaks volumes, but confidence backed by capability and good decisions wins.

Having worked in a variety of strategic roles and being immersed in strategic business conversations at the dinner table since childhood, I’ve been constantly exposed to the principles of good decision making.  Strategy is at its core, the art of making winning decisions.  The principles of good decision making apply not only to business, but to life, and upon reflection, it’s these that have guided my career thus far.

  1. Know what it is that you want to achieve but be open to alternate interpretations along the way.
  2. Share the vision widely, especially with trusted people who have power or influence, but most importantly share it with your support network and your team.
  3. Fully commit to the current course and know what defines success within the current interpretation. Know the goal and then systematically work towards those success metrics (yes numbers) until something indicates the need for change.
  4. Stay alert and open to opportunities and information that may change the status quo.
  5. Consider opportunities in the context of the overall vision and gather information to inform that view. Don’t make decisions in a vacuum.
  6. Share the thinking, create buy in and take people with you on the journey, especially when making significant changes.
  7. Fully commit to any new course of action ensuring you’ve got the capability required and execute with confidence.
  8. Celebrate milestones and success along the way. Look back to see how far you’ve come, and look forward to remind yourself of the end game, the vision and the current goal.

So back to the conversation of last night and I can’t help but wonder what my husband’s career vision is.  I don’t even know his longer term goal.  My clarity of vision (and personality) are such that I shout my opinions from the rooftops.  He is a more conservative soul motivated primarily by a thirst for knowledge and a feeling of making a difference for the local community rather than corporate ladder climbing.  There is however, no reason why he can’t gain clarity on his own vision and goals and pursue them in the same manner of purposeful choice that I have always instinctively followed.  A conversation for tonight perhaps!