I am addicted to progress. I am not interested in being busy, but I have an insatiable desire to see forward movement. Properly applied, this addiction can inspire others to deliver outcomes at a steady pace and holds me accountable for doing the same. As with every obsession, there is a dark side. That dark side is frustration with others who don’t share a visible commitment to produce. It’s an interesting dichotomy because I am certain that my addiction frustrates many others, but for different reasons.
There are few statements as meaningless as, “I’m so busy.” In fact when people tell me how busy they are, I quickly respond with one of these questions: Is it productive? Are you making progress? Are you delivering value? Are you merely distracted from the real work? The amount of time we spend on a task is not the measure of value, the lack of white space in our calendar is not a badge of honor, and the number of tasks we complete mean very little. Time spent and tasks completed can be an important measure of progress, but not always.
In my line of work, we are working to deliver some very strategic outcomes. The initiatives to which we continue to apply our resources make it easy for some to focus more on being busy than on the progress being made. For that reason, it is extremely important to continually remind people of the latter. There are many ways to do that, and how it is done is not nearly as important as that it gets done. If leaders don’t care enough to make progress the priority, a few things can happen:
- Teammates lose focus of the outcome they are ultimately responsible for generating in favor of the task of the day
- Those not directly working on the initiative assume progress is not being made (we can only be aware of that which we are made aware)
- Team culture devolves into punching a time clock, critical thinking dissipates, and shared ownership disappears
Of late, I have been reminded that explaining inaction is equally important. Some of us do, some of us share with others what it is we are doing and why we are doing it, and some of us do all of the above. But what happens when we chose to do nothing? As you contemplate that, we must differentiate between choosing to do nothing and doing nothing. Doing nothing is irresponsible and lazy. Choosing to do nothing is neither. Many times in life the most responsible decision we make is to deliberately do nothing. But if we don’t tell others that our inaction is deliberate, we lead them to believe, and rightfully so, that we are inconsiderate, if not irresponsible and lazy.
Those of us who live in the world of making ideas happen have many ideas of our own and are pitched ideas on a regular basis. We have a responsibility to differentiate between the things we could do, we should do, and we will do. Equally important, we have a responsibility to identify those things that we won’t do. Given my addiction, my future orientation, and the company I keep, I struggle with the busyness, the lack of follow through, and slow pace of progress. That said, leaders who care enough to explain inaction are those most committed to progress, strengthening trust across the team, and delivering valued outcomes. Leaders who don’t aren’t particularly interested in any of that.
- Are you busy, making progress, both, or neither?
- Are your priorities clear?
- Are you committed to explaining inaction?