Monday, September 26, 2011

Get Out of Your Way

Photo by Jeffrey Beall
Secrets. Of. The. Universe.

When I taught high school students, we often talked about "secrets of the universe" - those enduring, but not always well-known, principles of success. You can ignore them if you want, but they're still out there.

One such "secret of the universe" goes something like this:

Causes produce effects. When we focus on effects, rather than causes, we trip ourselves up.

Some examples of this principle include:
  • You gain respect by being respectable, not by focusing on others giving you respect. (Cause: being respectable, Effect: respect)
  • You become trusted by being trustworthy, not by focusing on wheedling secrets out of others. (Cause: being trustworthy, Effect: trust)
  • You pass classes by truly learning the content, not by focusing on grades. (Cause: learning, Effect: grades
  • You make friends by being a friend, not by focusing on how many friends you have. (Cause: being a friend, Effect: friends)
  • You live by savoring life, not by focusing on being not-dead. (Cause: living, Effect: life)
Effective leaders and managers understand that real influence requires credibility and that real credibility is developed through authentic commitment to people, competence, and results.

Many leaders limit their effectiveness because they focus on the effects of leadership: achievement, influence, reputation, image, power, accomplishment, respect, security, etc.

However, all of these are effects. They are outcomes of an authentic focus on being a role model, sharing vision, building a team, encouraging others, and solving problems. Leaders cannot lead effectively while focused primarily on their own image.

In the short term, authentic leadership can feel risky...when faced with an opportunity to invest in their team or to immediately look good to others, many leaders take the path of immediate gratification. In the long run, however, when the problem is too big they won't be able to rally a skilled and committed team.

This is a basic life lesson, but one it is easy to forget in the middle of leadership and management challenges.

How do you maintain your focus on "causes" and not get caught up in "effects"?

For more on this topic:  It's Not About You

David M. Dye

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Twitter: @davidmdye
David shares twenty years experience teaching, coaching, leading, and managing in youth service, education advocacy, city governance, and faith-based nonprofits. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer for Colorado UpLift and enjoys helping others discover and realize their own potential.

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