By Paul Bridle
What is the first thing we learn after we are born? If you think about it, the first thing we learn is ‘balance’. From keeping our head up on our shoulders to sitting up, feeding ourselves or walking, the first part was getting the balance right. And it never stops really. If you want to learn almost any sport, getting the balance right is the fundamental part of the process.
A boxer has to have his weight on the right foot to make the hit effective, the golfer has to stand correctly to make the shot, the football player has to get the balance right when seeking to make the shot…and it goes on.
It applies to most aspects of life and sustainable leaders generally understand two things. First is the importance of balance and secondly the importance of change.
What use is knowledge if a person does not know how to use it? The same applies to everything we do, especially in business. We get so focused on the share price, the sales target or similar objectives, that we don’t take time to get some of the enjoyment and learning from the process.
Are you only focused on the money to exclusion of the journey?
Are you so focused on the goal that you are not taking advantage of the learning you can get each and every day and enjoying the journey? In this busy world with deadlines and targets, it becomes easy to get caught up in the big push to succeed.
Sales people fall into this trap. They are so focused on making target and closing the sale that they forget to learn from each and every encounter with a customer.
So what has this got to do with Leadership? The leaders job is to help people find this balance. A leader needs to keep the balance in people’s minds. The leaders job is to help people not only remain focused but also to make sure that they are learning from the journey and getting the most out of it.
However, if the leader needs to be able to help people find this balance and, mot importantly, they also need to be able to do it themselves.
So how do we remain focused at the same time as maintain balance?
Lets look at a mountain climber as an example. A team climbed Mount Everest in 1994 including Dennis Brown, John McIsacc, Jamie Clarke and others. Here was a team of people who faced all the obstacles thrown at them. What helped them make it through? A constant focus on the peak. Their focus was always on making the peak and they couldn’t allow the worsening conditions or individual problems get in the way of what they wanted to achieve.
The team were struggling and Dennis and John had to go on alone. Finally, Dennis had to stop and left John to continue to the summit. At 162 meters and only forty minutes from the summit, John was faced with the reality that physically he was not going to be able to make it. Not that he could not reach the top, but rather that he would not be able to make it back after reaching the summit!
You see, making the summit and then not making it back was not a worthwhile goal. The aim had to be to get there and that had to be balanced with also getting back. With only 162 meters to go the decision was made to turn back.
Can you imagine being so close and yet recognising that the last few feet would be breaking the balance? But it did not end there. Having decided to turn back they had to descend the mountain and make sure that they were capable of making it back another day! These climbers were learning at each stage of the operation. They were storing that information so that they were capable of using it next time.
I am reminded of Rudyard Kiplings famous poem ‘If’.
“Meet triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same”
I have found that leaders do just that. Failure is viewed as a learning opportunity and so is success. That does not mean that in both cases we go out and celebrate in the same way. It does mean that we don’t get carried away by the success or the failure.
Leaders celebrate the success and enjoy the moment, but they maintain a balance that says, ‘what can we learn from that experience and what do we need to do next time?’
If we are going to learn to have that balance within ourselves we need to be able to always put the situation into perspective. We need to be able to look at it in context of the greater opportunities or the bigger picture.
Please don’t let me mislead you, a lot of the time should be spent on maintaining focus. My point is that there is a time to step back and look at the bigger picture and ask yourself what it is you are missing…if anything? My study of leaders showed me that they generally do this at certain times.
1. When they are getting too emotionally involved in the goal they want, then they will seek an objective stance that checks that this is the right track to be on.
2. When they are getting more pressure than they anticipated, this will cause them to step back and ask themselves what they are missing?
3. When someone they respect makes a comment that makes them try to see the situation from another persons perspective
4. Just before they hit the point of no turning back, they will re-examine the situation to make sure that this is the right focus and that there is nothing they are missing.
There are probably many other times, but these are the main times that I have noticed that leaders make sure that they bring out the scales of balance and put the whole situation into a perspective.
As leaders we need to develop this ability within ourselves.
Practice the skill of seeking to find balance. Use the signals that great leaders use to know that you have probably lost the balance. Most of all remain focused with the ability to step out of the situation when necessary and take in the bigger picture.
For 21 years Paul Bridle has been studying effective organisations and the people that lead them. His skill is being able to contextualise information in a manner that people can use in their business. He is referred to as a global citizen and has been voted 12th in the Top 30 most influential Leadership Gurus in the World for three years for his contribution to leadership. www.paulbridle.com
Watch a video of Brian Chernett, Founder of The Academy For Chief Excecutives, explaining how The Academy For Chief Executives inspires business leaders.