Balance and diversity of thought

People often say, opposites attract.  For my husband and I, that couldn’t be more true.

I am a risk comfortable, high energy, extrovert.  I think fast first, trusting my gut with an overlay of slow thinking to test to the minimum level required.  I love the company of people I know, but hate small talk with strangers.  I create tension by challenging the status quo.  I see a box as an opportunity to push the boundaries.  I am happy in the big and unknown.

Hubby is risk averse, contained and introverted.  He thinks slow first, with an enormous attention to detail that drives me crazy.  He loves the company of anyone, and can talk the ear off a donkey, but when he is with those he knows he feels safe enough to withdraw and take some time out for himself.  He smooths the way and tries to accommodate others.  He sees a box as a boundary within which to operate.  He is happy in the detailed and certain.

Neither of these are better or worse.  They just are.  We are both strong in our own right, but it is by combining these differing strengths that we create a whole that is better than the parts.

Where I want to leap into a decision, he makes me consider the risks.  Where he moves into paralysis by analysis, I push us forward.  He covers me when we are with strangers, and I cover him when we are with family.  Where I challenge our children, he supports them.

A strong management team is the same.  It is through diversity of thought, different approaches, a balance of strengths and an ability to push each other forward through the tough decisions that success occurs.  As long as you build a culture of trust where the team are able to have a constructive disagreement but maintain the relationship, differences will only make you stronger.

Stretch goals and motivation; watching from the side

My husband is going to run a marathon this year.  To take that statement at face value, you would assume that he is a runner, that he is the fit and healthy type and that he has probably done a half marathon before.

None of these assumptions would be accurate.  To be fair, when we met ten years ago he would go for the occasional run.  He even entered a few fun run type events, although the furthest distance he’d ever achieved was circa 10-12km.  Fast forward to present day and he is essentially going from zero to hero.  From couch to marathon.  From directionless and unmotivated, to single minded and driven.  Whilst this may be a sign of a midlife crisis, it is most definitely an achievement worth celebrating.

Upon winning an entry to the ASB Auckland Marathon event, he umm-ed and ahh-ed about the distance to enter.  A half would have been impressive, ‘Go for the full,’ I flippantly said.  Go for the full he has, and not just in distance, but in fundraising too.

By setting a big hairy audacious goal, a significant stretch for distance and funds raised, he has had to be significantly more disciplined in his approach.  With 42.2km to run and $4,220 to raise, he has had to understand the gap that existed between current and ideal states, then create a clear path to get there.  He has had to develop a comprehensive plan that has had to flex and bend obstacles arose.  He has had to create tactics that align with both his fundraising and training strategy for maximum efficiencies.  He has built awareness, created interest and converted his followers to capture donations.  I have never seen him more focused and so clear about the steps that he needs to take to achieve a goal.

His last training run was 28km, his donations are surging ahead at $3.5k.  Come the end of October he will have not only run a marathon and made a huge difference to Starship Children’s Hospital, but he will have knocked his BHAG out of the park.  Something that at first glance he thought was unachievable.

This to me is a story of the power of a goal.  Not just any goal, but a stretch goal, a BHAG.

The discipline and focus required to achieve something that borders the unachievable is one of the most powerful tools in the strategist’s toolkit.  What can seem scary at first forces you to think in a way that you would not have otherwise.  In business, or in life, what is driving you?  What is your stretch goal?  What sits at the outer edge of what you think is achievable?

To see more about Howard’s journey and donate:

Delegation, responsibility and accountability – Lessons from parenting

Last week we had our parent-teacher conference at our seven year old daughter’s school.  It was the usual interesting review of her current outputs and testing results and there are certainly no concerns from either side.  There was however, one comment that has stuck with me over the past week, and that was a compliment about our attitude towards personal responsibility.  I can’t remember the exact phrasing, but it essentially amounted to the fact that we don’t do everything for her.  Even when it’s not the easiest route, we let her take age appropriate responsibility and accountability for herself and her choices and that is resulting in a little girl who is independent, confident and makes good choices.

Prompted by this observation, I’ve reflected on the struggle that I see often, both in business and life, to delegate effectively.  I’m going to illustrate my point with a parenting based example, however the thinking is just as applicable to any business situation.

Little Miss arrives home from school daily with a reader and other simple activities that should take no more than 20 minutes.  The ideal outcome is that the homework gets completed before bedtime without fuss, whining, nagging or conflict.  The reality however, is that there are a number of things that she would much rather be doing with her afternoon than homework, and as a working mother I am not actually there to exert authority.  In this situation, the likelihood of the ideal outcome is directly related to the level of responsibility that she feels and her ownership of the outcome.

Note that accountability is the ability to be able to account for the situation.  The accountable party is the one person that accepts that they have the obligation to report, explain or justify what happened.  Responsibility is the ability to be able to respond to the situation.  One or more people who have the power to control or manage what happens.

In many households, the way homework plays out is the imposition of a set of consequences.  You must do your homework before X; you will not be allowed Y unless it’s done, etc. etc.  The parent or caregiver assumes full responsibility for getting the homework done, and more than that they also take on the accountability (as evidenced by the number of notes and explanations that I used to receive as a teacher from parents accounting for why the homework was not complete.)

Now this is great way to create action if you have the authority to enforce consequences that have the power to facilitate the desired behaviour, but in the business world (as in our household), this is not necessarily the case.  The problem in our house, is that off-the-charts level of stubbornness (yes it’s genetic) means that our children would rather accept whatever consequences we as caregivers can dish out retaining their power to choose their behaviour, than to give in and avoid the consequence.  What inevitably happens is a good old Mexican standoff with neither party willing to back down, resulting in no one winning and everyone losing.

When we first encountered the homework phenomenon, I sat back and thought about how we could set Little Miss up for success, avoiding the conflict and nagging that was likely to ensue.  Although I didn’t consider it at the time, these questions directly relate to the delegation of responsibility and accountability for an outcome, in this case, the completed homework.

  1. Who has the power to control and manage what happens?
    The answer is, to some extent both of us.  Only she can physically complete the task and thus owns the majority of the responsibility, however, I can set clear expectations and manage the conditions under which the homework can occur.  This places some of the responsibility on me and the other caregivers.
  2. Where does the buck stop? Who will report or explain the outcome?
    The answer here, although it may not seem natural to say so, is actually her.  She is the only one that has to front up to her teacher and explain the outcome.  She is the one who will deal with the consequence imposed at that point.

So with clarity there, the next question is what conditions I can set to facilitate the ideal outcome?

It always start with communicating clear expectations across a number of contributing factors…

  • The outcome – Homework is important and should be completed.
  • The boundaries – The only element that is able to be completed after dinner is reading, and your light will be switched off at the usual time, there is no staying up late.
  • The support available – We are here to help if you need it, but you will need to ask.
  • The management system – We will not nag you to get it done, but we will give you one reminder (and only one) if we have not seen it before we start preparing dinner.
  • The responsibility – It is your responsibility to plan your time and get it completed.
  • The accountability – If for whatever reason, it doesn’t get done, you will need to explain yourself to your teacher. There will be no notes from us.
  • The measure of success – We would like to see the completed work if you would like to share it. If homework completion becomes a problem, then we will have to reassess your afternoon activities.

Having set the conditions to enable the desired outcome and delegated the responsibility and accountability, we then follow through.  We don’t interfere in ‘how’ it gets done, we don’t pass judgement or circumvent the process.  We don’t undermine the set expectations.  She asks for help when she needs it and feels empowered to manage her own time and methodology.  She then shares her outputs.

The result…  There is no fuss, nagging, whining, or conflict about homework in our house.  The majority of the time, it gets done, and if it doesn’t she explains herself to her teacher and deals with the consequence.  In summary, we have achieved our desired outcome.

I believe that there is a real lesson here for life or business.  When you are considering delegating either responsibility or accountability for an activity (or being delegated to), there are three quick actions that will set you (and your team) up for success.

  1. Ask, who has the power to control and manage what happens?
    Who is responsible and what actions do they need to take?
  2. Ask, where does the buck stop?
    Who will report or explain the outcome?  Who will be held accountable to what authority?
  3. Then, when you’re ready, set and communicate clear expectations:
  • The expected outcome.
  • The boundaries and limitations under which the activity must occur.
  • The availability of support.
  • The management system / feedback loops that are in place.
  • The responsible party.
  • The accountable party.
  • The measure of success.

Of course, the true test will be when our younger child Mr Rule Breaker, starts school!  Will the same method of delegation work with him?  Fingers crossed!

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!