#191: Being Effective (Part Two)

Dear All

My holiday break, of course, included wine, I live in Cape Town after all.

There was a lazy Winemaker’s lunch beneath Rust en Vrede’s oaks. Despite summer’s heat, the sirloins demanded their Estate Syrah, it wasn’t a mistake. Another lunch was lubricated by Ken Forrester’s Dirty Little Secret, a golden elixir with mercury’s viscosity, its pairing with pizza seemed both a sin and entirely right.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading my newsletter archive. Whilst sometimes I’ve cringed, I’ve also been delighted. I rediscovered  The Billionaire Shepherd, How to Rebuild: The Lego Story and Psychoanalyzing South Africa, letters that, in retrospect, I am proud to have written.

I hope you enjoy today’s thoughts.

Companies, and lives, run on energy. How effectively we use time and money are powerful determinants of the momentum we unlock (These letters are useful on the money question).

Last week’s letter started exploring Peter Drucker’s Effective Executive and we continue with that today.
By now, you should have a better understanding of how you use your time, and perhaps have even taken steps to reclaim some of it (NB: You’re never going to get it all back).

Now what? Often, we liberate time, design the ideal day and week, we don’t achieve it, we despair and soon life has reset to the same crazed, unstrategic whirlwind it was before.

I find variation and seasonality useful concepts to guide time management.

You’ve got seven days. Vary their design. Each one can, should, be different. You can choose.

Some mornings are for meetings, others for thinking. Some nights you’ll tackle Karl’s reading list, on others you’ll drink a glass of wine. Introducing variation allows you to achieve that.

For example, I read six hundred hours a year to support my coaching practice (and this letter). My Friday afternoons are reserved for this. Forty-seven Fridays at four hours takes me a third of the way. Most days I’ll read for ninety minutes, but some days jazz calls, then Saturdays have three hours of reading (Incidentally, many clients will tell me that they don’t have time for reading. Every single one that starts – even if just this letter – report that their effectiveness increases. As Verne Harnish puts it in Scaling Up, “Nothing interesting can come out of your brain that you don’t put in first. Having a natural curiosity and thirst for learning separates the good from the great in our experience”).

Seasonality. Most strategic goals take months often years to achieve, especially ones like a new job, starting a business, or launching a new product. It is useful to break the years into phases, with desired outcomes and supporting actions.  

For example, if you’ve started a new role, you’ve got a season of building relationships and developing understanding ahead of you. Your energy should mostly focus on activities enabling that. Depending on the business the length of that season will vary.

A crisis may hit – like Covid – you adapt to that season. Be aware of when seasonal demands have passed. I am amazed at how many people continue with work habits that were necessary to survive Covid but currently don’t serve them.  

Let’s go back to Drucker…

Every executive is confronted with innumerable competing demands. Drucker says:

  1. “Pick the future not the past.
  2. Focus on opportunities not problems.
  3. Choose your own direction, rather than climb on the bandwagon.
  4. Aim high, aim for something that will make a difference instead of something that is safe and easy to do”.

On decision-making Drucker is contrarian.

We want tidiness and control, decision-making based in ‘fact’ (if we’re honest, we mean ‘our facts’), colleagues agreeing with our decisions. He reminds us, “A decision is a judgment. It is a choice between alternatives. It is rarely a choice between right and wrong. It is at best a choice between ‘almost right’ and ‘probably wrong’ – but much more often a choice between two courses of action neither of which is provably more nearly right than the other”.  It’s a good reminder.

How often have you complained ‘everyone has opinion’?

Drucker says, “There is nothing wrong with that. People experienced in an area should be expected to have an opinion”.

Drucker argues because we’re choosing between shades of right, “Effective decision-makers organize disagreement. This protects them against being taken in by the plausible but false or incomplete… And it forces the imagination – theirs and that of their associates. Disagreement converts the plausible into the right and the right into the good decision”.

In a sentence, effective executives welcome disagreement.

You might have read the last two letters and felt ‘I am not that person’. No one is born effective, it is a habit we learn and strengthen. 

The world will conspire to make you ineffective. At any moment there are distractions and demands, many of them entirely legitimate.

Effectiveness is not a character trait, nor is it something that, once obtained, lasts forever. Like fitness, it is a behaviour that must be done habitually with intent. You can do it. 

Last week, I introduced you to James Flaherty’s framework for powerful conversations – establish relationship, deepen understanding, explore possibilities, and agree action. Like effectiveness, this is a habit.

We often make the mistake that the person in front of us is the person who was there yesterday. Often, they aren’t. It might be as simple as a bad night’s sleep or a skipped breakfast making them a touch grumpy, it could be more than that. If you don’t pause to ask, listen, and explore, you won’t know. Even worse, if you react unthinkingly, it can spiral in costly ways.  Pay attention to the person.

A few months ago, I stepped onto our local beach and stopped, puzzled. I was at the wrong beach (despite my exhortations to mindfulness, I can easily follow thoughts to Narnia, through Middle Earth and into Wonderland). I looked back, it was the right staircase, but it was a different beach. I was thoroughly confused. Eventually, I decided that my absent-mindedness meant I hadn’t previously noticed the rocky pile in the beach’s middle.

Over the next few days, I observed closely (hoping that I had found a portal into another dimension). Sure enough, the beach changed with the tides. Some days postcard sleek, others rugged and rocky. Beneath the waves were also changes. A new current opened a deep channel, on either side of it I could stand, in its middle, no chance. In retrospect, embarrassingly obvious.

On Thursday, I did the hour’s drive into the city. To get there, I travel over a mountain pass. Even at six in the morning, there are cars on the road. Ordinarily, I wish they weren’t there, I’d like it to be me and the mountain. On that day, thick low clouds shrunk visibility. I was grateful for the taillights alerting me to corners beyond which lurked steep drops. Same cars, very different feeling.

We are all ever-changing.
Much love

PS: You might also enjoy Be a Better Manager, How You Can Build Sustained Performance and Effective One-on-One Meetings.
PPS: Please do share this letter. You can subscribe here.

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