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Advice from Outside the Square

Dancing while watching from the balcony

Dancing while watching from the balcony

In any size business, but particularly in the smaller business, one of the traits the business owner or CEO or unit manager needs to keep in mind is the ability to focus on the task while keeping the big picture in mind.

What do I mean by keeping focus while having the big picture in mind?
Let me give you an analogy.
I was driving the back streets of my suburb last Sunday when I came upon a road signage crew training staff. This is a crew that puts up witches’ hats and “slow down” signs when roadworks are in progress. As I approached the intersection, I saw the care and attention they had paid to the task.
About 200 meters before the intersection they had put up signs slowing traffic and one sign even explaining “training” in progress. As you approached, they had beacons, people with “lollipop” signs saying “stop” on one side and “slow” on the other. All their crew were wearing high-visibility vests, supervisors were carefully spaced out and radios were being used. Clearly they knew what they were doing and all safety procedures were being put into use.
Then I got to the intersection and whereas their training vehicles had been parked some distance away and positioned so as not to block traffic, one vehicle, marked as “Supervisor Training” was parked right at the corner of the intersection so that it blocked my view of the other road into the intersection so that I could not see if it was clear to move ahead. The supervisor was standing by his vehicle proudly surveying the safety consciousness of his workforce.
All that care and attention to safety, and the guy overseeing it all causing the worst possible breach; because his focus was on how the training was being conducted, not on the bigger picture of why it was being conducted!
In business, it is important, even crucial, that you focus on the task or outcome. How do you plan strategy when you are thinking about your meetings the next day? How do you prepare for a product launch when your mind is full of staff annual reviews? Get it done one at a time turning your full attention to it to get the best possible outcome.
Yet at the same time, you need to have in mind the bigger picture of why you are trying to do it. No point having the most effective strategic plan if in the process of writing it you answer the phone from a disgruntled customer and tell him to go to hell simply because your mind is focused on the marketing strategy over the next 5 years. No point being focused on conducting the best staff interviews if you are not also aware of the need for cultural sustainability during those interviews.
While you focus on individual outcomes in your business, you are your business – every day. To operate your business well you must both participate in the running of your business, and observe your own participation in it.
Heifetz and Linksy (Leadership on the Line, 2002) refers to this as being both on the balcony and on the dance floor. The skill you need to develop is the ability to dance the best waltz you can on the dance floor while watching your performance from the balcony.
So, can you relate? Have you been in a situation of concentration or focus and forgotten what you were doing it for? What did you do to be on the balcony while you were dancing?

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