Guest Author: Roger Osbaldiston
I've been watching sailing races recently as part of the America’s Cup sailing regatta being held in my city, Auckland, New Zealand. I’m not a sailor, but these fast new boats are fun to watch.
One of the things that amazes me is that the skipper of the boat needs to assess all the data coming to them about wind speeds, wind direction, course markers, and watch the water for wind changes, as well as monitoring the tactics of their competitor. As I watch on TV I have the benefit of camera angles and overlaid graphics to see the course lines, but the sailors on the boat don't have that. Without the TV graphics and commentary I would be lost! But without the data and course markers, the sailors would be lost also.
In leadership, we also need to have a clear idea of our course - where the marker points are, and have ways to assess how we are making progress. Without these we can just be floating about in the ocean. Maybe we are having a good time, but are we completing the race set before us?
At the moment in the world, many of our markers are moving, change is constant, and we continually need to make course corrections to stay on track. How can we do that well? I have personally benefited from some processes and habits that have helped me focus on what I believe I am called to do, and to make progress towards them, even when things feel all at sea. For me, this comes down to considering three things - my Purpose, Priorities and Practices.
Simon Sinek may call this, ‘starting with why’. However you frame it, I believe it's important to have a growing understanding of your purpose, calling and mission. This is your “north star”, the guiding philosophy for your life. Without it you are floating in the Ocean. I like the verse in Acts 13:36 where it says of Israel’s King David, “David had served God’s purpose in his own generation”
Over the years I have been exposed to a variety of tools to help me get clarity around my purpose and mission in life, and there is no perfect tool. I have used tools from Steven Covey, Ron Jenson, Michael Hyatt, LeaderImpact and others.
Leaderimpact.com has an excellent resource called “Foundations” which walks leaders through a process of clarifying your values, describing a vision of your preferred future, writing a personal mission statement, and then establishing your priorities and goals. I thoroughly recommend doing something like this, with a small group of others, to help set your purpose as the foundation.
This is not a “once and done” process, and needs to be something that is regularly reviewed. As we mature and grow as leaders our view of our purpose may change, but I believe that for any leader, articulating your personal purpose in life is vital. If you are going to lead others, you need to have a clear vision of where you want to head.
Once we have a sense of our broader purpose, can we begin to establish priorities for our day to day practices.
Priorities are those areas we choose to focus on for a period of time. Our purpose ought to be more constant, but our priorities will change from season to season.
The Foundations resource looks at three aspects of our lives - the professional, personal, and spiritual and how these work together in an integrated way. I have also used the “7Fs” to consider a more detailed approach. This approach encourages us to evaluate and set priorities in the areas of Faith, Family, Friends, Fitness, Finances, Fellowship (Church) and Firm (Work). You can come up with your own categories as the particular approach is not so important, What's important is that we have a way to evaluate what is important to us now in light or our purpose, and to know how we are going to make progress over the seasons of life.
Once you have clarity around your purpose, you can use the three aspects (personal, professional, spiritual) or the “7Fs” to set shorter term goals and priorities. My pattern has been to identify up to 10 goals per year, but I only prioritise 3-5 of these at any given period. In fact, the fewer there are, the more likely I am to accomplish something.
Less is more! Greg McKeown in his excellent book “Essentialism” talks of the ‘disciplined pursuit of less’. He also goes on to explain that the word priority was originally ‘singular’ and spoke of the ‘first thing’. Over time the meaning of the word has changed to include more ‘first things’. It might be extreme to just have one thing to focus on, but we can take his point that if we have a long list of priorities, then nothing will actually be a priority.
Another question I have often asked myself to help establish my priorities has been “what is that that I uniquely can do? If someone else can do something, then perhaps I can let them do it! If I can delegate something, why not? But what are the things I cannot delegate? What are the things that unless I do them, they will not be done, or if I don't do it I won't accomplish my purpose, or fulfill my calling or obligations?
All of this can seem a little overwhelming - and that's where breaking it down into simple practices can help.
Right now, I use Michael Hyatt’s “Full Focus” planning approach. This has worked well for me the past few years and I have found it the most helpful combination of practices. I have adapted it for myself a bit, and it comes down to four practices:
Annual Review - this is where I take some extended time once a year (usually at the beginning of the year) to write or review my overall purpose, mission, and calling. Once I have considered those, I ask God what He would have me focus on this year. Then I prayerfully list out up to 10 goals or priority areas.
““MANY ARE THE PLANS IN A PERSON’S HEART, BUT IT IS THE LORD’S PURPOSE THAT PREVAILS.””
— Proverbs 19:21
Quarterly Review - Every three months I then take up to a half day to review how I am going in these areas. What adjustments do I need to make? Have I completed some things? Have things changed? This keeps the process dynamic.
Weekly Review - One a week, usually at the end, I review how the past week has gone, then make sure I schedule in my calendar and task list the key things I must do to move ahead in my priorities or accomplish my goals. This has become one of my favorite times of the week - to celebrate milestones achieved, and get clarity on my focus for the coming week.
Daily Activity - Setting priorities and reviewing them is of no use unless I am actually getting it done, and this comes down to my daily activity. I have gone back to using a physical paper planner to write out my tasks and schedule and mark this off each day. It seems almost archaic in a digital world, but I use my paper planner alongside my other digital tools as I have found that it is easy for important things to get lost in the online world but my physical planner is right in front of me and helps me keep focussed on my tasks at hand
Getting back to my sailing analogy - having established priorities and clear practices help me as a leader get an idea of where I am on the course, and make the best progress. These review times help me make course corrections as situations change, and keep me focussed on keeping the main things, the main thing in my life. As the world has been in so much upheaval, these priorities and practices have helped me progress, rather than just float around the ocean of uncertainty.
Can you articulate your purpose, mission, calling?
What are your current priorities? Can you list 3-5 things that you uniquely must prioritise now?
What practices can help you make progress towards your priorities?
A final word - remember to keep it simple! There are a lot of ideas here and many more out there on this topic. The important thing is to find a pattern that works for you, and my hunch is, the simpler it is, the more likely you are to succeed! Carpe Diem!
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