It’s All About Choices

I’m willing to bet that you have lots to do. At the end of the day, week, or month you can look back and spot all sorts of things that you could have accomplished but didn’t. You’ve clearly made choices about what to do, what not to do, what to pay attention to, and what to ignore or defer until later. You probably make hundreds of choices every day. The choices you make must answer three basic questions:

  • Who should address or resolve this issue? – you, somebody else, or nobody?
  • How important is this to me? Is this mission-critical to my job or not so important?
  • What is the best use of my time, talent, and energy right now? Handling this particular issue or something else on my plate at the moment?

I’m certain you have issues you can make decisions about, otherwise known as your “span of control.” These are decisions you can make on your own, choosing what seems best to you. For example, if something is within your span of control, you may decide to move ahead and keep your boss in the loop after the fact. If the issue requires sign-off or approval from your supervisor, then it clearly is not in your span of control; it’s in somebody else’s span of control.

You also have issues, challenges, problems, and concerns that you have some influence over, whether you realize it or not. This is your “sphere of influence.” These issues are outside your span of control; your position and authority don’t allow you to simply decide what to do. In this case you need the approval of someone else or the willingness of your boss to carry things forward. These issues tend to be things you care about and would like to see changed, but are outside your direct ability to make happen. So it pays to get good at raising issues, communicating critical information, and making recommendations so you can influence the person who actually can make the decision to make their choice the way you would like to see it made.

Learning to effectively use your sphere of influence has a great deal to do with the future scope of your span of control. Using and expanding your sphere of influence usually starts with your relationship with your own manager. You should quickly learn how they prefer to get your suggestions and ideas. Do they:

  • Need a lot of data or just a general overview?
  • Prefer to discuss your idea or issue, see it in writing, or receive it electronically?
  • Have a more receptive time of day?
  • Need to perceive any new idea as their own?

This is all about your ability to influence the future direction of your team or unit. The goal is to provide your manager with the information needed so their decision will go the way you want it to. Obviously, you need to provide your boss with information that’s truthful and complete. You don’t want to leave out an essential piece of information that could prove to be a problem later. That would brand you as someone who doesn’t think things through very well. Still, you can craft information and recommendations in such a way that they lead logically to the conclusion you prefer.

Often, supervisors and managers are frustrated by an issue or problem outside their span of control. So they toss the issue to their boss without thinking about how that person prefers to get input. When their boss ignores it, rejects the idea or makes a decision they don’t like, the frustration continues.

If you look back and can see you are not getting the results you want from your approach, it’s probably time to try a different approach. Ask yourself some basic questions, such as:

  • What is the real problem or issue? How can I best describe it so my boss understands the essential facts and generally sees the issue as I do?
  • What specific outcome do I want? If this issue was in my span of control, what would I decide to do?
  • Are there potential difficulties or problems associated with my approach? If so, what are they? What effect might they have on implementing my recommendation? (Hint – they often are political or “turf” issues)
  • What will be the benefits of following my recommendations?
  • What will the payoff be to the organization and its customers or stakeholders?
  • Who else supports my recommended approach?

Expanding both your span of control and your sphere of influence is a natural byproduct of experience. As you become more adept at managing yourself and the assignments, challenges, and opportunities that come your way, you “graduate” (David Allen’s apt term) and get to take on new, higher-level challenges. Because of the confidence you develop in your own abilities, this growth process can continue as long as you’re alive. But you have to start somewhere and where you are right this moment is a pretty realistic place to begin.

Ask yourself two questions:

  • What issues are really within my span of control?
  • What issues are in really within my sphere of influence?

Once you’ve identified the issues that are within your particular area of responsibility, then it’s a matter of choices – what are you going to do to move those issues forward to a successful resolution, and what issues do you choose to defer (maybe) until later?

Then once you’ve identified those issues that you care enough about to want to see move forward, then it’s a matter of who, how,and what – who needs to know about this particular issue, how do you want them to move forward, and what would you recommend they do?

I recommend you really think about it. What’s within your span of control and what’s within your sphere of influence?

Think about it and commit yourself to making good choices. Choose well and you’ll see your sphere of influence and your span of control expand.

Paul

Game Changer – ONEplace@KPL

ONEplace@KPL has become a significant Game Changer for nonprofit organizations in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Opened in 2009 with support from local funders including the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, and others, and with administrative support and facilities provided by the Kalamazoo Public Library, ONEplace is a management support organization (MSO) for nonprofit organizations. Their focus is on four key areas common to nonprofits:

  • Management – operations & program directors
  • Communications – marketing, public relations & media relations
  • Fundraising – individual, foundation & corporate support
  • Leadership – board & executive director

With leadership from director Thom Andrews and associate Lolita Moss, the list of professional development opportunities for nonprofit organizations is extensive and comprehensive. The list includes workshops, roundtables, webinars, interest groups, courses, and plenty of other resources.

At the same time a variety of  direct services, such as consulting, advising, problem/opportunity identification, and action planning are provided on a confidential basis. And because of the ongoing financial support of area foundations everything at ONEplace is available at no cost to the nonprofit organizations.

Several of us at Midwest Consulting Group have been involved with ONEplace since its founding. We love working with nonprofit organizations and the wonderful work they do; it’s a great way for us to give back to our local community.

Last week saw the kickoff of the 2015 ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy (ONLA) with a bakers’ dozen of Kalamazoo County’s best and brightest nonprofit professionals taking part. ONLA consists of nine monthly day-long group sessions, one-on-one work with an executive director mentor, and other activities throughout the year.

If you lead, work in, or volunteer with nonprofit organizations in Kalamazoo County, you owe it to yourself and the nonprofits you serve to check out ONEplace@kpl. They are indeed a Game Changer for nonprofit organizations.

Stay Tuned

Paul

360 Assessments Underway

Conducting a 360 assessment process is an important part of each ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy, and the data-gathering is well underway for the 2015 Academy group.

We’re using a pair of excellent multi-rater assessments, the Management-Leadership Practices Inventory (MLPI) and the Professional Communications Inventory (PCI) – [click here for more info]. Each Academy participant selects the 360 that best fits their situation and provides us with a list of people they want to ask for feedback. The scores are provided only to the Academy participant and individual rater’s responses are reported in aggregate, so confidentiality is assured throughout the process.

At the March session the group will receive the results of the assessment process. For many this will be the first time they’ve received this kind of feedback, and the enthusiasm within the group is pretty high.

When is the last time you got really honest feedback on what you do (and don’t do) as a professional?

Stay tuned,

Paul

Nonprofit Leadership Academy – Version 4

For the past three years I’ve been involved with the ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy (ONLA) here in SW Michigan. This fantastic leadership development program is provided free of charge to the nonprofit community in Kalamazoo County through the generosity of local foundations. The 2015 version kicks off this month and promises to be exciting and innovative as we welcome a baker’s dozen of nonprofit managers. ONLA is always a great experience for the participants as well as for those of us involved in The Academy. Watch this space for more information as the process moves along.

In the meantime, take a few minutes to check things out at ONEplace@kpl.gov to see what’s going on in the nonprofit community. Thom Andrews and Lolita Moss do an outstanding job at ONEplace!

 

A Bit of Irony

Picture this: Driving on the Interstate, it’s 11 pm. There isn’t much traffic. Two billboards appear off the right side, first one and just as the first fades in your mind the second  billboard appears out of the darkness. The first is an ad for the gambling casino at the next exit and features the “120k Giveaway Every Friday in January” as an enticement to stop at that exit. The next billboard is for the small liberal arts college located in the  town five miles away. The second billboard says, “Invest in Your Future” and shows the college’s logo. An interesting little bit of irony, don’t you think?

Vision without …

Vision without execution is hallucination. Thomas Edison

Thanks to Steve Case for mentioning this Edison quote; it’s worth remembering. Another favorite is Henry Ford’s “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.” Emphasis mine. So, what step will you take tomorrow to make your vision real?

Becoming . . .

We are all a work in progress, don’t you think? One way or another we are in the process of becoming the person we will be tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. Too many times the process of becoming that person is left to random chance as we react to what is happening to us and around us.

Are you becoming the person you really want to be? If not, what does the person you really want to become actually look like? Self-knowledge builds self-awareness. Self-awareness helps us to understand our individual strengths, weaknesses, talents, and preferences. And that understanding can help us take a long view of our life. What we do today – the decisions we make, the choices we take, the forks in the road that will appear this week without us realizing that they are forks and choices – all of it will influence the “me” who we become tomorrow, next week, next year.

We all have choices every day. Choose wisely.

What will your choices be today? Who are you in the process of becoming? Food for thought.

Paul

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