What exactly do you want to achieve?

I read an article this week extoling the virtues of asking simple questions to achieve clarity.  Couldn’t agree more; simple questions often illicit the most insightful answers.  Reflecting, I was prompted to share one of my favourite questions…

“What are you trying to achieve?”

Sounds straightforward enough.  But you’d be surprised (well, perhaps not) how many people when asked this seem to answer a different question, as if they heard…

“What are you trying to do?”. 

Now, these are similar questions, I’ll grant you that.  But there’s a crucial difference: one considers the outcome, what you want to achieve, the other considers actions, the things you’ll do to achieve the outcome.  And at the risk of sounding like the Minister for Stating the Bleedin’ Obvious, if we don’t know what we want to achieve there’s a pretty good chance we won’t achieve it!!

The thing is it seems to me that as people we’re hard-wired to focus on task rather than outcome.  We like to ‘do’ things, be seen to be industrious, to be getting on with stuff.  We can readily describe or show others what we are doing, perhaps thinking it must be self-evident why we are doing it.  And let’s be honest, often at work we see reward go to those who ‘do’ the most, those who are first in last out with no time to stop, rushing from one meeting to the next.  The ones who are doing stuff, lots of stuff, and fast.

Of course, industry and action generate outcome, so rewarding the most industrious isn’t such a bad model is it?  No, it’s not, but businesses want results, not just to be busy, and that’s where great leadership comes in.

As leaders its essential we have absolute clarity of purpose, to define, to share and to remain focused on the desired outcome.  We must be able to translate this for individuals and for teams if we are to harness, indeed multiply the collective power of the people we lead.  Fail to make ‘what we are trying to achieve’ crystal clear to everyone and there will be a real chance of at best inefficiency and at worst unwanted, unintended consequences.

For me, thinking hard about what needs to be achieved and articulating this in clear, simple language is one of the most empowering actions a leader can take.  Sharing the desired outcome with others liberates them from task focus, providing purpose to their work and a guiding light to navigate towards if things don’t go quite to plan.  In my experience, when people are clear what a good outcome looks like they respond by adapting their day-to-day work to help make it a reality.  In short, they take ownership of the outcome, not just the task.

So, if you take time to be clear on what you want to achieve I think you’ll find determining what to do to achieve it all the easier.

Executing that successfully, now, that’s a whole new article…

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