I was texting a colleague today who was on her second day back from vacation and already felt like she was being shot out of a cannon. So much for the afterglow of a sunny respite. Sure, we all have seasons that launch us with such speed and/or force that we can’t do much more than hang on for dear life. For those of us who want to lead for the long-term, however, we need to take pro-active steps to make sure such chaotic times are indeed a season, and don’t expand to become our life.
Leaders have a special responsibility to limit the casualties from cannon fire, because we set the expectation — as much by our actions as by our words. Regardless of how much we talk about balance, if we are running around like our hair is on fire all the time, staff who want to succeed are likely to emulate that behavior . . . our words to the contrary drifting away like the smoke from a cannon.
Yes, I know, easier said that done. And there will be those days . . . The goal here isn’t to totally eliminate such days (although I’m open to suggestions!), the goal is simply to reduce the frequency and duration of the cannon fire. How?
Priorities and the ability to say no . . . or at least not now. Because here’s the deal . . . your best people (and I’m including you, dear reader, in that category) will have lots of opportunities to do really cool things that could forward your mission. And those same people will want to pursue a number of them, because who knows which opportunity could be the one to launch you closer to achieving your mission. True enough. You as the leader also have to realize that some of those opportunities/cannons may fail to launch and lead your best and brightest to burn out.
So before you ignite the fuse on another new project, ask yourself where it ranks on your organization’s list of priorities. If it doesn’t hit the top two or three, what do you lose by saying no, or not now? Maybe the more important question is, what is the cost of saying yes? When everything is a priority, nothing is. Line up the cannons.
Can you name your organization’s top two our three priorities? Can your staff? Even two or three priorities can lead to periods of chaos. Thankfully, at the end of such seasons most people are willing to take a deep breath, dust of their singed edges and carry on.
Just remember, the same energy that can spark a launch can also cause people to flame out. Cannon fire is most effective when selectively, and sparingly, used.