When we wake up and get ready for work each day, part of our mental preparation is likely to be a desire to get through what we know we must achieve that day, going over the lists as we have breakfast, rehearsing difficult phone calls as we get dressed, having ideas as we catch the train. By the time we arrive, we all believe that we are ready to do a good job today and, for most of us for most of the time, the effort and the results at the end of the day will be very clear and satisfying.
There may be moments, though, when we ask ourselves difficult questions. As we make our way home at the end of the day and we allow ourselves to begin to wind down, memories of the day may begin to surface. We might become aware of a little nagging doubt that perhaps we could have handled that call a little better or we could have crafted that email with a little more sensitivity. Have we delivered at something less than our usual standard or simply just not well enough for that particular task? What could we have done which would have guaranteed a better outcome?
The good news is that there is no need to be downbeat about these difficult thoughts. Instead give yourself a pat on the back for your self-awareness. This inclination to indulge in reflective practice (the capacity to reflect on our actions so as to engage in a process of continuous learning) is an essential tool for anyone who strives for excellence on a daily basis. Why should we do it? What is it for? Overwhelmingly, it is because our search for excellence in day-to-day activities is not just about us and how we feel about doing our jobs but about the effect of our actions on others around us. Yes, we all need a level of satisfaction from a job well done but how can we “guesstimate” the quality of our achievements relative to those around us?
The answer lies, to a large extent, in placing what we do in context and understanding the levels of interaction and influence with those around us. Even if your role is delivered in a predominantly virtual way, none of us works in isolation so our behaviours will affect and influence others in both expected and unexpected ways. The results of those interactions form the fabric of a jigsaw of connections which can tell us a great deal about our effectiveness.
John Adair, one of the world’s leading authorities on leadership, developed a model of three connecting circles which represent the three concerns of managers for Task, Team and Individuals. At the time it was a ground-breaking shift from the established ideas of what makes a great leader. His belief in the importance of interaction and connectivity was expressed by visualising his model as three interconnecting circles. The same interconnectivity of influence remains true for any individual at any level of an organisation. Our daily activities are an expression of our attitudes and our delivery has an eventual effect not just on the task in hand but also on ourselves, on our bosses, our colleagues, the organisation as a whole, our clients and customers, the sector we work in and, eventually, society itself. We do not and should not work in isolation.
The big picture is, these days, a very hackneyed phrase and I prefer to use “contextual thinking” but it is still true nonetheless and should always be at the back of our minds, even as we tackle the most seemingly trivial tasks.
There is a story about big-picture thinking which, whether it is true or merely apocryphal, is possibly the ultimate expression of the benefits of contextual thinking. One day a janitor, whose job involved mopping the floors in the aircraft hangars at NASA, is interrupted by the arrival of a large group of visiting dignitaries. When one of them asks the janitor what he is doing there his response is “I’m helping to put a man on the moon”. Now there is a man who not only has a personal role but understands completely the purpose and eventual achievement for what he is undertaking. No guesswork required! “