Question: Is the storm approaching or receding?
Our eyes are wonderful things, perfectly adapted for the human species to be able to see across a broad and wide landscape, and yet in the next instant focus on a small task right in front of us. And whatever we focus on, that image hits the back of the eye, gets converted into signals that flow into the visual cortex of the brain and, combined with lots of past images and feelings, allow us not only to see our surroundings, but to interpret them as well.
These images define the human experience: the “dangerous curve up ahead” image that signals us to slow down the car, and the “tears of a friend” image that signals us to be compassionate and to reach out with friendship.
Yes, we have the ability to see broadly, but too often we narrow our vision to only a fraction of the total picture. We tend to focus on one thing and not the whole. At times this “selective vision” is good and helps separate the wheat from the chaff. On the other side of the coin, selective perception is our worst enemy.
Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal. ~Henry Ford
The image at the start of this blog, the storm clouds combined with the Moon and open sky provides a rich visual tapestry, as does life itself. But too often, we focus mainly on the storm clouds, the impending doom, the bad circumstances, the storms in our lives. There is much more to this picture, but we tend to focus on the negative.
Listen to any conversation at a cafe, in the office, or in your own home and, if you pay attention and keep a tally, you will find that most of the time people focus on the negative, the storm, and not the positive, the clear sky.
And this is a phenomenon I find all too often today in businesses. Yes the global economy is struggling. Yes companies are cutting back in order to survive. Yes many managers don’t have good people skills. There are many storm clouds about. But it’s only a part of the picture and not the whole.
The problem is, the more we focus on the negative things, and the more we talk about the negative things, the worse we begin to feel. Focus on the negative and it is easy to become negative as well.
Many posts ago I wrote about a book that changed my life: As A Man Thinketh, by James Allen. The basic wisdom behind this short little book (more like an essay) is that what we dwell upon with our thinking, we tend to create. And since thoughts guide our feelings, what we focus our thinking upon affects our attitude as well. Thoughts influence attitude and attitude influences actions.
Now we come back to business. In today’s difficult global economic environment, many businesses are struggling and talk of growth and new market opportunities has been replaced with cost cutting and layoffs. And if we listen to the everyday conversations inside of most companies, it is overwhelmingly about the storm clouds. “It’s a tough market. Nobody is buying right now. They (usually top management or corporate) won’t let us invest and have cut our R&D and innovation budgets to zero. How can I hope to motivate my staff when the future is so bleak.”
Yet I firmly believe many executives and managers are only seeing a part of the picture. Only focusing on the storm clouds. Only seeing and talking about the problems. What about focusing on the good news? The 18-hour days the project team put in to deliver a time sensitive proposal before the deadline? The opportunity to fix some of the wasteful policies and procedures that have been ignored during the boom times? The opportunity to mentor and develop people? The opportunity to develop a strategic plan or scenario planning? The great work people are doing to help keep the company cost competitive?
It’s not important what happens in life, it’s how you handle it that counts! ~Thomas D Willhite
Being willing to see the whole picture and not just focusing on the storm clouds, is a great leadership skill. And we are talking about self leadership as well.
Tight Lines . . .
John R Childress