The Hard Truth

Hard Truth GrSome days, leadership is just plain hard. And as much as we might like it to be different in those moments when we have to make a decision with no clear path forward, I think it is supposed to be hard. Struggling through the hard stuff is how we learn and grow and gain greater clarity . . . and yes, at times stumble, but ultimately chart a better course. It is shouldering the pushback, the skepticism, the lack of understanding of well-intended people, (including yourself!) while you strive toward the larger vision.

True, this is not the picture of leadership that you typically see highlighted in feature stories that talk about the confident, charismatic stuff of which great leaders are made. The piece that gets left out of the story is that the confidence comes on the other side, once you have worked your way through the tough stuff. So what is a leader to do when firmly wedged between what feels like a rock and a hard place?

  • Walk all the way around the issue. If you think there is only one option, one choice, you just aren’t looking closely enough. Gather input from a cross-section of people. The more clearly you can identify what is going on “underneath” different perspectives, the better you can put things in context.
  • Make the case yourself, out loud, for both perspectives. Things sometimes sound different when you say them out loud than they do in your head, and making both arguments yourself helps minimize the impact of personalities on your consideration.
  • Recognize that “grappling” is part of the process. This is the hard part . . . the lonely inner wrestling about the best decision. It does not make you indecisive or weak or somehow deficit in your capabilities. It means you care enough to put yourself through the wringer as you search for the right choice.
  • Sleep on it. Once you have found a place to land, let it sit. Sleep on it. Yes, I know that you are down to the wire and it feels like you have to come up with an answer right now. Sleep on it. The extra measure of clarity that can come with the light of a new day is well worth a short delay in the final call.

Does knowing these steps make the process of leadership easier? Not really. There will still be plenty of situations where your heart and your head, your trusted advisors, and your short and long-term perspectives will be in conflict. It will be draining and frustrating, and just plain hard. But . . . somehow it helps to know that it is part of the process. That this is how it works. And the potential gain is worth the pain that a leader will endure getting there.

That, my friends, is the hard truth of leadership.

The Balancing Bird of Importance

Balancing Bird

When my boys were younger, we used to have a bright green “balancing bird.” Perhaps you’ve seen one — a bird with it’s wings extended so that, if you place its’ beak on your finger, it will balance perfectly even though it looks impossible because most of the bird’s body appears to be on one side of the balance point.

For me the balancing bird is a good visual reminder of something that virtually every leader I know struggles with — finding the balance between the urgent and the important. Keeping with the bird analogy, the urgent is like an annoying blue jay, always making a racket and usually dive-bombing anything that moves within it’s path, making you feel like you always have to be on the defensive. It is hard to ignore, and neutralizing the noise it makes can consume huge amounts of our time. If we’re not careful, the day will be done and we realize we have totally ignored the song of the blue bird — that still small chorus of what is really important in our work and life, because we were distracted by the urgent squawk of the jay.

I’m not suggesting that the solution is just to ignore the urgent. For most of us, that simply isn’t realistic. It is the balance between the urgent and the important that is key. And even it if appears that there is more weight on the side of the urgent, if we have stretched our wings toward the important, we will likely be able to maintain a good balance.

All analogies aside, sometimes life, either personally or professionally, provides a painful wake-up call to take a good hard look at whether you are making the most of your days. Have you really spent enough time on those things that you would clearly deem as important? Not all your time, but enough? Sure enough is a moving target, which means you have to intentionally ask yourself, “Where is the balance point today?”

And when you’re a leader, you not only have to do that for your own sanity, you also have to set an example for others in your organization of how to manage the urgent/important balance. It’s amazing how even a little bit of time devoted to the important can make the day seem so much more productive, and bring a sense of calm to the chaos outside your door.

So put your finger out and ask yourself, right now, would your urgent/important bird hold steady? If you’re not sure, take a moment and stretch your wings toward something important . . . you’ll feel it when you’ve found your balance.