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Balancing Operations with Strategic Thinking

In my conclusion on Friday, I wrote:

So we can and should talk through things as a strategy for pushing through discomfort; the idea isn’t about institutionalizing personal connection, but about allowing other people to experience your discomfort; listen to, take it from, or guide you; and in any case help you to work through it. Because in the end, asking for help and showing vulnerability are courageous acts of strength and a necessary part of leading, especially in a world where we have resorted to war to hide such qualities.

Very frequently, we think of a long list of qualities associated with leadership, but too infrequently vulnerability and a willingness to ask for help are not among them.

Committees. Meetings. Responsibilities.

These are three things that are symbolically linked to leadership almost universally. As I take on more of each, however, I am led down a path of disengagement from the day-to-day work of my colleagues and reports. So my rumination today centers on that: how do good leaders, especially of small organizations where there are consistent requirements to have a more operational role, balance involvement in the day-to-day work with the formulation of long-term, strategic goals and the follow-through necessary to pursue and attain those goals?

It stands to reason that to some extent a leader must be purposeful, intentional in their use of time to cover all the various pulls on their attention. As a tech guy, I have used a plethora of tools to take command of my time: calendars, to-do apps, digital and analog notepads, and more. But tools do not create strategies and motivation, not even the best ones. Instead, the tool must provide a pathway to putting created strategies and intrinsic motivations into practice.

The learned strategies and intrinsic motivations lead to intentional behaviors that must become habitual.

  • Calendar: Having the best calendar app (FantastiCal) puts power at your finger tips, but taking the time to plan your week and day intentionally are behaviors.
  • Notes: This one is hard because there are many options out there for apps and methodologies. I find that taking notes is a behavior most developed in school, so it is the habit that needs intentionality; my advice is to remember that there are valid options in both digital and analog forms. Sometimes, paper is still the best.
  • To-do Lists: As with notes, this is a deeply personal and hard fought space. I personally have found success in hybrid approaches: plan things that need longevity or have timelines digitally, plan short-term needs on paper, and use whatever tool fits into established workflows, but actually use them.
  • Relationships: A colleague told me recently that they wished they had a database to manage all their professional relationships, information like when you talked last and the subject of the conversation. To each their own with regard to what types of information they want to keep a record of, but don’t overcomplicate it because it overcomplicates the relationship. I have taken to keeping important pieces of information about long-time contacts in Contacts.
  • Communications: Just like calendars, communications can be sources of fascination or fatigue. Also just like calendars, they need to be controlled, so as not to overwhelm. I am involved in campus partnerships that require me to exist in three different group chat applications, two documentation platforms, and four cloud storage providers, not to mention normal emails workflows. For me, the key to controlling this is understanding where I have control to remove noise and where I don’t and to be intentional about where in my day I can handle each connection.