Stop the train: taking stock for planning ahead

Friday, August 14, 2015 - 15:59

Guest post by Alasdair Bradley, AIM's Head Designer of Learning

The pace is often frenetic. Days roll into weeks and months and before we know it, another year has passed. We live in a time where time is of the essence, where a moment lived is a moment lost. Every day we wake to a new future only to have it relegated almost immediately to the past. We are constantly if not consistently propelled toward forward; looking back rarely seems an option.

Taking stock means taking a stand against this rapid motion. It is the self-reflective art of standing still long enough to experience now, to analyse the past and to contemplate the future. When we take stock, we can ask the bigger questions:

  • Who am I?
  • How did I get here?
  • Where am I going?
  • What is my purpose?
  • Why do I do what I do?

In responding to these questions we can critically self-analyse; we can seek to better understand ourselves; our motivations, behaviours, thoughts, feelings and the impact we have on others. Such self-reflective practice is essential if we are to become better managers and better leaders.

As a manager of people you are likely possessed of many invaluable capabilities. There is a high probability that you have successfully demonstrated talents that the objective observer considers necessary to effectively manage and lead others.

You may strive for, and on occasion reach, the heights of perfection. Yet even the seemingly perfect come with flaws. Taking stock is allowing yourself to understand and appreciate those capabilities that are your strengths.

You also have some capabilities that need work. And that’s OK. Great managers understand that perfection is not necessarily the ideal. If we have nothing left to develop there is a danger that we likewise having nothing left to offer. In taking stock, we give careful consideration to our own imperfections and look to take steps to refine them. Recognising that we have development needs of our own is essential if we are to effectively manage and develop the people with whom we work.

Set Personal Goals

While reflections on the past are critical, to dwell there is at best limiting, at less-than-best unhelpful. As it is, review of the past is often hindered by the necessity of the present. We are constantly performing in some capacity or other. Even while we sleep, our minds and bodies continue to be busy.

There will be times when we cannot see the wood for the trees; when the near future is the only distance we can plan for. Even when this is the case, personal goals are essential. These can be long-term, short-term, simple or audacious. They can relate to our careers or our personal lives. They can be easily achieved for immediate gratification, or they can stretch us to our limits in the pursuit of something more, something ‘other’.

Personal goals should serve a purpose if they are to be of genuine value. They must also be realistic within the bounds of who we are. Having the goal to save humanity may seem honourable, but the likelihood of realising it may be slim.

When goals are big, break them down. Set timeframes for when you will work on your goals. Set measures in place that enable you to track your progress. Once the goal is achieved, celebrate your achievement before planning your next.

Be a Role Model

As a manager of people, you have great responsibility for setting the standard of workplace behaviours. Assignment to a management role does not guarantee that employees will look up to you, but you can guarantee beyond any doubt that they will be looking at you.

The way in which you conduct yourself will always be under scrutiny. Your people will take your lead. If you are late and lackadaisical, moody or malicious, your team will assume that this is the norm to which they should conform.

Role-modelling is about understanding and embodying the behaviours that define good leadership. It is acting with integrity, dignity, respect and aplomb. It is a constant process of self-observation and keeping yourself in check.

In being an effective role-model, you must set the bar, raise the bar and live the bar. If you do not love what you do, if you do not strive for excellence in your craft, why should anyone be led by you?

When you love what you do, chances are your attitude will be positive. Attitude is infectious. Feelings of positivity and optimism contribute towards effectiveness. By choosing and using a positive attitude, you can positively impact the workplace experiences of your team members, colleagues and managers. Indeed, where positivity pervades, whole organisations can reap the rewards.

In short, taking stock is about evaluating our strengths and limitations and taking active steps on the path to ongoing development and improvement. It is also having the sense of self to understand and most effectively use the talents we possess. While modesty is often the way of the majority, recognising and celebrating our own triumphs will make it easier to notice and appreciate the triumphs of others.