As an avid water skier, I’ve learned over the years that my body position over the ski determines the acceleration of the ski from one buoy to the next. Faster is better. Watching a webcast of a ski tournament one day, the commentator (also a pro skier) summed up the “stacked body position” this way: “It’s important to have alignment before there is pressure." And behind the boat, there is a ton of pressure.
Alignment before there is pressure. We need the same in work and in life. Just think about it.
For a new team, if there is not alignment before there is pressure, they can expect power struggles, different interpretations of the same message, conflicting decisions, and other forms of friction. Conflict can be incredibly useful for a team. However, if there is too much pressure on the team before there is alignment, the improperly stacked "boxes" will come tumbling down, causing the conflict to divert from being productively around ideas to chaotic and personal.
Whether building a new house, or new marriage, pressure before there is alignment can be painful. For a new marriage, imagine what happens when the couple is not aligned on finances, housekeeping, or family size. (I don't have to imagine this - I've lived it!) Many a fight has occurred because there was pressure before there was alignment.
How often do we rush into a new team, project, or situation without fully aligning our goals and values? What happens when we get so excited about getting to our goal, that we forget to “stack the boxes” or find out what our teammates are aiming for and care about?
Getting alignment involves talking, testing and prodding. It requires us to ask discovery questions to find out what matters to those around us. True alignment needs to be tested.
Create alignment before there is pressure and watch what happens to your results.
The other day I heard someone expressing frustration (the corporate code word for anger) over a decision that had been made that he obviously did not agree with. As a key influencer on that decision, he was also puzzled that the decision went the way it did given the overwhelming data supporting his position. What the heck? He had expected that the group do one thing and they went the opposite way, even though he had provided them clear data that would have brought about the decision he wanted.
Another time, in talking with a client who had recently joined a new company, he voiced disillusionment with the start time of his meetings. A 10:00 meeting seemed to always start about 10:15, even though he was the one in charge and ready to go at 10:00. It seems the culture of the new organization just “ran late”.
There is missing ingredient in both stories – a clear request. In both cases, assumptions (also known as internal expectations) are substituting for a clear request. In the case of the decision gone awry, the complainer discovered too late that no one had read the data he provided via email. In the late meeting situation, the client contended, “they should know to be here on time.” Both resisted the idea that they “should have to ask for something that they had a right to expect.”
And that is the assumption at the root of countless breakdowns at work. Yep, they do have a right to expect that someone would read an email attachment or come to a meeting on time or any of a number of assumed professional behaviors. Turning that internal expectation into a clear request can be transformative. It gets you on the same page, and shows what is important to you.
How often do we let our expectations go unspoken? What keeps us from making a clear request for someone to take action? What stops us from asking for what we need?
Ask for what you expect. Otherwise, you are destined to be disappointed.
Just recently, I heard a television personality thank an important public figure for his time as they completed their on-air interview. Time is an interesting idea. I catch myself frequently saying “I don’t have time for that.” One of the most common questions I hear people ask when faced with the chance to do something meaningful, creative or generally outside of their norm is this: “Where would I find the time?”
Sometimes it seems we are obsessed with asking for, making and finding time. But where is time? I can tell you this - you won’t find time lying around in patches to be picked, like wild strawberries in the bush. We are surrounded by time – but we just might not be thinking about time in a way that serves us.
What if time is not the most valuable resource we have? I’m coming to realize that my most valuable resource is my attention. Why? Because my actions follow my attention.
If I get caught up in my computer, I’m blindly surfing the internet and before I know it, an hour has gone by. It happens way more often than I want to admit, and it’s not the only way my attention wanders into unproductive territory. When I step back and ask myself whether funny stories on social media (or other mind-numbing nonsense) are one of my priorities, the answer is no.
When I shift my attention to my actual priorities, it looks different - I can always find time to take care of what really matters to me. My attention is what drives my results.
The proof may be in how my busier days go. When I schedule my water ski time first, that becomes the priority around which I schedule everything else. It creates focus from which to run my day, rather than letting my day run me. I get much more done on those days, compared to days that give me the illusion of having “plenty of time” to do everything.
Does disciplining my attention give me more time? Nope. What it does do is set the conditions for me to complete what I most want to accomplish. Now excuse me - I have to go exercise my attention.
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