I learned a valuable business leadership lesson when I was introduced to mountain bike riding on the winding tracks of the beautiful Blue Mountains. Most of the tracks we ride on are narrow walking tracks carved out along ridges and down into the gullies of the rugged landscape. On these tracks are lots of rocks of various sizes and tree roots to navigate as the path winds through trees and around boulders. And then there are the low hanging branches that suddenly appear when you are travelling at speed.
Like many of the lessons of life, my learning involved a few falls, scrapes and bruises. Thankfully no broken bones. The biggest lesson I had to learn was to focus on the path. With so many rocks, tree roots and branches to avoid, it was easy to make the mistake of focusing on those.
I found the more I focused on the path, and not the rocks and tree roots, the safer and faster I was able to ride. I was aware of the rocks, tree roots and branches but learned to keep that awareness in my peripheral vision. My focused vision was devoted to the path. This took discipline and initially it was counter intuitive. It felt responsible to focus on the obstacles. My first few rides were quite slow. After a few outings I was able to increase my speed and enjoy the ride more.
You move towards what you focus on
The principle at work here is one every mountain bike rider must learn; ‘you move towards whatever you focus on’.
What is true for mountain bike riding is also true in business. If you focus on all the details and problems that arise in your business each day or week you will move towards those things. In fact, the problems will increase in number and become bigger than they need to be. They will distract you and slow you down from where you need to be headed. Sometimes it feels irresponsible to minimise your focus on the problems. Truth is that a problem-focused business will always be finding obstacles blocking the path and slowing the journey towards outcomes. A vision-focused business will be aware of the issues that arise but will stay focused on a path illuminated by vision. This will always lead to greater progress.
Possibilities and complexities abound in our ‘post-covid’ workplace.
I have noticed during Q2 2021 the pace of business life has increased considerably. There are many more issues to think about with the extra uncertainty the ongoing threat of Covid breakouts and lockdowns. Businesses were forced to adapt during 2020 (with government support) and must stay vigilant (now without government support). There are new levels of possibility, but also new levels of complexity at almost every turn. My concern is that many businesspeople are becoming tired and distracted. The danger is that vision becomes foggy and unclear. Some have almost thrown out their vision and are trying to play the game of responding to whatever works for now.
Do not allow uncertainty to hijack your life.
The bigger danger from the pandemic is to allow this past 15 months to hijack the longer-term trajectory of your life. It is time to revisit your purpose. Make sure your vision is clear. You may have to set some new goals based on the new information we all now have about changes to the marketplace. Then get on with the important work of creating and working your next 90-day plan.
Uncertainty and change are always a part of the world we live and work in. Since you had not faced a global pandemic in your lifetime, you felt more out of control in recent times than you like. That does not mean that all principles and normal ways of operating no longer apply. Most things are inherently simple. Back to my mountain bike analogy – if I started trying to ride fast without having learned the discipline of focusing on the pathway, I would have wrecked my body and my bike. I had to learn to stay focused on where I wanted to go, not on the obstacles.
Same in business. If you seem to have a never-ending list of problems and things feel very complicated, I would be willing to bet you have lost sight of the path. Your vision has become cloudy. You have let some fear get into the back of your mind. You are no longer just worried about making it through the pandemic. You are in danger of losing your way.
Make sure you connect your work to your purpose.
I recommend business owners and corporate executives take a day or two out each year to work on these things. Stephen Covey talked about the importance of the compass not just the clock. The current danger is that we lose sight of our overall direction and purpose. Work and purpose need to be intimately connected. If you are doing work for which you feel no purpose or meaning, then it is even more important to hit pause and invest a couple of days to become clear about these things.
A Business Mentor can help.
Truth is we can struggle to do this alone. This is some of the most important work I do. It is part of my purpose to help others discover or rediscover their purpose, clarify their vision, set motivating goals, and create strategic workable plans to achieve them. That sense you have within you of being fully alive at certain times when you are working – that is your purpose. You just need to find the words to describe it in a way that makes sense to you and can be easily understood by the people who work closely with you.
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