When managing people you’ll notice that when you assign a task, people tend to tackle it differently. For some, their ‘go-to’ way of working is to focus on one thing at a time while others want to see all the information before beginning. They like to look for correlations in the material while their counterparts simply want to compartmentalize. It is natural for those process people to get very frustrated with those who just want to jump to the end result.
Likewise, if you are someone who likes to focus on the goal you can become very impatient with those who get bogged down in the process. It’s important to be able to see the big picture while also taking in all the detail as described by Robert F. Mager, who said, “If you’re not sure where you are going, you’re liable to end up someplace else”. How do we find the balance of knowing ‘what’ we want to achieve while taking the time to figure out ‘how’ to achieve it?
Sometimes it is about Enjoying the Journey
I learned the value of appreciating the journey rather than simply focusing on the destination during my first business trip after joining PotashCorp. I overheard part of a conversation outside the office of my new boss.
“What are you going to do with her?”
“Simple. I’m going to send her down to travel with Wally. If she comes back, she can stay,” I heard him reply.
So, after only two days at company headquarters, I found myself on a plane and on my way to the American Midwest to attend a momentous event for our company. The very first unit train (composed of railcars loaded entirely with potash) was due to arrive at a fancy new inland storage facility and I was to be there to take photos and write a story for the company newsletter.
Wally picked me up at the airport, and we went directly to the train station to determine when the train would arrive. The stationmaster explained that unlike passenger trains, which adhere to a schedule, it could arrive as early as that evening, in the wee hours of the morning, or as late as the next day at noon. With this information, we decided to check into our respective rooms at the motel.
During the middle of the night, I woke to the startling noise of Wally banging on my door yelling, “Train’s in! Train’s in!” Hurriedly, I jumped out of bed, threw on clothes, grabbed my camera, and scrambling into my coat, ran for the car. Wally peeled out of the parking lot and we sped to the station. Once there, he swung into a spot and, after smacking the car into park and rummaging in the back, handed me a beer with a wide grin. “Whoops, wrong train.”
“Wrong train?” I said incredulously. Then it dawned on me … “You got me up just to drink with you?” I laughed, shaking my head.
“Yep!” he said.
For the rest of that night, Wally shared stories and his vast knowledge of the company with me—the fertilizer market, its players, and our customer base. I could not have asked for a more insightful teacher, and through the years, the information served me well. I had been so focused on the destination—getting photos and a story about the arrival of the first train to exclusively transport potash—that I almost missed the opportunity to journey with (and learn from) the top salesman in the industry.
Eventually, I did get the photos and story I needed, and today I count myself lucky to have been blessed with the opportunity of discovering early on (thanks to Wally’s prank) the importance of balancing both the journey and the destination.
Those who focus on the destination often fall into a pattern of impatience and miss important information. While those who focus too much on the journey can suffer from procrastination where nothing gets done- deadlines are missed and clients are disappointed. I freely admit to a burst of annoyed impatience with Wally for rousing me in the middle of the night, but fortunately, I shifted to the enjoyment of the journey, and found some balance. Wally was a charming guy, but as luck would have it, I was focused on the destination—or it would have been easy to keep drinking and listening to his anecdotes, and I could have missed getting the pictures altogether!
As you can see there are lessons to be learned in balancing two seemingly polarized positions in every situation. And balancing both will make you a more effective executive as described by John Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at Harvard Business School. He taught that management is about planning and controlling to get the appropriate systems in place whereas leadership is about articulating a vision while anticipating and addressing change. His bottom line is that leadership is about knowing ‘what’ to do while management is about knowing ‘how’ to do it, and successful individuals do both.
It is natural to be either a ‘what’ person or a ‘how’ person but don’t accept that as the status quo. Work to develop your opposite and help those who work for you to do the same. Balancing these two “energies” can be tricky but my book Gender Physics helps you identify what your go-to energy is, how each energy can work in different situations, and most importantly, provides some simple exercises to help you use both.