As an owner of a small consultancy, one thing you learn to do very well is manage time and get things done. In an age where slowing down and being mindful is in vogue, and stress reduction and work/life balance are more prominent topics in the workplace, where does the entrepreneur fall on the continuum? Well, truthfully, my pursuit of my goals wins over my desire for balance on many weeks of the year. But taking the whole year in sum, the time I make for family and friends and new experiences is what sustains me and keeps me looking at the world with fresh eyes. It also keeps me increasingly ruthless with how I spend my time.
Having recently been asked to create a targeted seminar on the new thinking in time management, I thought I’d share with readers of this blog some ways that executives take control of their time and create the conditions for a fulfilling career. To me, they are one and the same.
Over the 18 years that I’ve worked with senior executives as a consultant and coach, two factors that the most senior and most successful have in common are (1) the unwavering drive and courage to achieve their goals, and (2) the habit of periodically pausing for reflection, learning, and renewal. Coaching is a great means for the reflection, naturally, and with the right coach, clients discover what they need to learn while taking their leadership to the next level.
Achieving your goals, on the other hand, is much harder to master. There are too many variables outside of one’s control. And against the tide of competing interests, it is too easy to be distracted. But can you really afford to wait?
Waiting will only leave you having worked an entire year, or even an entire career without that lasting achievement to look back on in your (hopefully long) retirement. Here is an old saying that nobody dies wishing they had worked harder or done more housework. We are, however, living longer and most of us will work well into our late sixties. Apart from building a retirement nest egg, don’t we want our days at work to count for something?
The unwavering drive and courage to achieve your goals requires two things: a clear purpose and conflict management.
A Clear Purpose
To really achieve, an executive first needs to be crystal clear on what the goals are. This is not simply fulfilling the business goals and objectives. No, this is personal. This is about defining who you are through what you achieve, in essence, your purpose. Considering your values and abilities, what must you achieve in your life’s work? And given where you are in this world, what goals will you realise? What purpose will you fulfill? Without a purpose, we cannot feel fulfilled, and instead are more likely to feel victimised by the pressures of others’ expectations. In fact, I would argue that
Without a purpose, there is no time to be “managed,”only a constant “to do” list to juggle.
With a purpose, however, we create more certainty in our lives, and what we need to achieve becomes quite clear. With a purpose, it is much easier to ask yourself, “What is most important for me to do now, so that everything else is easier or unnecessary?” (credit to Gary Keller on that great question.) Think of Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, and George C. Marshall. Each had a clear purpose, and they focused their time and attention on achieving it. They also made sure that their purpose was clear with their followers.
OK, so you might not be an internationally recognised leader, but without knowing what you want to contribute, it is hard to feel fulfilled. It doesn’t have to be grandiose. It simply needs to be meaningful to you, and in turn, meaningful to those you lead. Consider these purposes of people I have known:
A financial services client specialising in the automotive industry with strong family values and a belief in economic equality, described his purpose as “Making car ownership affordable to more people.” He realised his team felt more focused on achieving their targets when they pictured the end beneficiary of their work was a parent on a modest income who could safely afford their financing terms.
A client in the energy sector believed in transparency, efficiency, and cross-cultural collaboration. His purpose, “To bring opportunity to others through the increasingly efficient and reliable supply of natural resources” helped him stay the course on changes he was implementing, not all of which were immediately embraced by others. Through staying focused and providing clear messages, he saw the changes through and made the supply chain more efficient and better for customers.
With a guiding purpose, it is much easier to decide what to spend time on and what not to waste time on. This includes which issues need to have our focused attention, and which can be downplayed. But of course, it won’t be an easy path. There will be conflict.
In part 2, I will focus on the importance of conflict management.
For more information on how Talent Futures coaching can help you develop your purpose and achieve, see our Coaching case studies and Executive Coaching services pages on the website, and other blog entries on the topics of Reflection and Purpose.