The Problem with ‘Important’

A colleague and I have had a difficult time meeting lately. As I have reflected on why this has occurred, I have discovered that the word ‘important‘ is used a lot. As in, “I’m sorry but I have to cancel because something important came up”. This simple situation has caused me to reflect on the word important. What are we really saying when we use this word?

I have come to the conclusion that we use the word ‘important’ a lot. In fact, some of us may suffer from an important addiction. And over time, it has become such a normal part of our vocabulary that we have become numb to what important really means. To test the idea, take this simple test. Have you said any of these phrases in the last few weeks?

  • I can’t make the meeting because something important just came up.
  • Give me a few minutes, I’m finishing an important call.
  • We need to reschedule because I have an important meeting at that time.
  • Son, I can’t play with you right now because I have something important to do.

Important can be legitimate! It can also be an excuse with unexamined consequences. For example, here are a few things we may be communicating when we indiscriminately use the word important.

  • We tell others that they (or their tasks) are unimportant.
  • We reflect our ability (or more accurately, our inability) to prioritize.
  • We communicate that we are too busy to make time for someone else.
  • We legitimately have too many things to do.
  • We are not effective at prioritization.
  • We are using the word to make ourselves feel important. Because busy people are important people!

A few months ago, I spoke about a similar theme when I discussed the word ‘Busy’ (Our New Four Letter Word). Like the word busy, important can be legitimate. But when it is overused, it reveals that there is an underlying issue (such as those listed above).

So should we stop using the word ‘important’? Definitely not!! There are important things that need to shape our priorities. However, we need to stop giving it out like cheap candy at Halloween. We must use it strategically. We need to use it when something is really important and someone else needs to know it.

And now I must rush off to an important meeting…


 

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman is an “important” consultant, professor and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

 

Filtering Life: Is it Need to Know or Neat to Know?

Over the past few weeks I have been repeating a phrase to several of my clients:

Is this information need to know or neat to know?

This simple principle was learned from a researcher I used to work with. As he assisted me with marketing research projects, I would often ask him to add a new question to the survey (usually many new questions!). He would consistently push back and ask me this question – is this need or neat to know?

What he did was marvelously simple! He made me re-examine my strategic goals. When I could show him how the new question related to my project goals it was added. When it did not align, no matter how cool the question was, he would strike it from the list.

This principle is incredibly important in modern society. We live in a world that is information rich. Our children have more access to information on a Kindle than ancient Alexandrian libraries ever had! However, this privilege means that our choices about what to access and what to pass on are more important than ever.

We are barraged by media who tell us everything they are saying is “need to know!”. It’s not.

We are confronted by stories in our news-feed every day that promise to tell us Three things that will _______ (fill in the blank with something that will change your life forever). They don’t.

We are presented with countless business opportunities and strategies that we must consider. We shouldn’t.

 

So what do you need to know? This question is best answered by examining your priorities. Information is a powerful tool. But to use it effectively, you need to use it in response to your ‘needs’. And those are much different than your ‘neats’.

 

Nurturing Your Inner Leader: The Value of Your Values

Can you remember your last high pressure sales experience? What emotions did it stir in you – excitement, fear, caution, anger?

A few weeks ago I was offered a fantastic deal on something that required me to make a decision in a few minutes. At the time, the salesman’s high pressure tactics caused a surprising amount of emotions and anxiety. I ended up declining the offer but the experience has made me assess what really occurred when I felt stress about this $250 decision.

Research shows that we encounter stress when we are faced with situations or decisions that conflict with our values. What we often label stress, discomfort or uncertainty is actually a demonstration of a cause and effect relationship. When you are faced with situations that are incongruous with your beliefs or your values (the cause), we are affected by stress-causing emotions (the effect). When you do not understand your values, your ability to handle stress decreases and can cause even more stress (Brendel).

Research shows us that resilient people understand their values and use them to minimize stress. Here are three ways that defined values can help you:

  1. Identify the source of stress: Values can help you identify the cause of your stress. Imagine that you feel anxious every time you speak with your boss. This indicates a value conflict. What are your values? What value(s) does your boss conflict with? Once you understand this, you can begin to develop strategies to deal with the value conflict root issue.
  2. Reduce stress: Understanding your values can help you respond to day-to-day stress in healthier ways. Over time, your value clarity will help you avoid stress altogether. Your brains will quietly process the difficult situation with your boss and tell you that your value of harmony conflicts with your boss’s value of innovation through conflict and you will quietly respond with a tried-and-true strategy. You likely won’t even know this value-assessment process occurred.
  3. Avoid or reduce conflict: Values can also help you structure your life to minimize unnecessary stress. When you know your values you can be intentional about aligning your life with them. If you value sobriety, you should not be frequenting places where alcohol is served. Conversely, if you value teamwork, you should look for jobs which involve collaboration and not a lone-ranger role.

My indecision about the high pressure sale was due to value conflict.

  • I know that my wife and I consult each other before making financial decisions over $200 – value conflict!
  • I know our financial priorities and this item was not on the list – value conflict!
  • I also believe that something too good to be true is almost always too good to be true – value conflict!

As a result of knowing my values, I experienced peace about my decision to say no because I aligned my decision with my values. This demonstrates the value of values.

Define your values | Memorize Your Values | Revisit Your Values When Facing Stress

Socrates once offered us the wise counsel, “know thyself”. As we come to define and understand our values, we provide ourselves with a filter by which to understand and minimize some of the stress we encounter. And who amongst us wouldn’t like a bit less stress!


 

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman is a values-driven consultant, professor and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

 

References

Bradberry, T., & Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional Intelligence 2.0.

Brendel, D. (Sept. 8, 2015). Manage stress by knowing what you value. Harvard Business Review on-line

What’s Your Why? Assessing the Motives of a Leader

The more I study leadership the more I find myself focusing on one word – why. Why do we lead? Why do I lead? Why do you lead? It concerns me that I don’t hear this question being asked very often.

The Golden Circle Title
Simon Sinek once provided an excellent TED talk about how why related to organizational success (see How Great Leaders Inspire Action). His premise is that The Golden Circleeffective companies begin by understanding why they do what they do. He calls this The Golden Circle (see the illustration on the left). Every company has a how (process) and a what (product). But only successful companies have a compelling why (motivation).

This premise also provides an important leadership principle. Effective leaders should understand why they lead. I have adapted Sinek’s Golden circle into The GoLeadership Golden Circlelden Leadership Circle to illustrate this idea. Anyone can learn to do what we do as leaders – communicate, strategize, execute, etc. Similarly, we can all increase the effectiveness of our leadership by understanding who we are – things like our gifts, our abilities, our passions, our style, our personality, our character. However, the what and who of leadership is trumped by why we lead. If you lead to get rich this will define both who you are and what you do as a leader. If you lead because you are a religious zealot (think ISIS) it also defines your ‘who’ and your ‘what’. Furthermore, we will only produce our best when we are working with someone who shares our leadership ‘why’. This is why Donald Trump and ISIS are not bedfellows!

So why do we lead?

My research has led me to believe that there are three basic leadership motives:

  1. Me – Leadership is something that meets your personal need(s). This viewpoint defines you as the master of your domain. Therefore, what you consider to be good or valuable is what is good or valuable and becomes the reason you lead. Donald Trump appears to largely operate from this mindset.
  2. We – Leadership is something that meets a collective need. This mindset derives its motivation from the collective views of others. Democracies or organizations pursuing humanitarian needs often lead for ‘we’ reasons. The Boys & Girls Club is an example of a ‘we’ motive.
  3. He/Thee  Leadership is practiced because of a divine mandate. Therefore, leaders derive their purpose from a source outside of themselves. Whether it be God, a divine being or a force, the leaders raison d’ê·tre comes from an outside source. Mother Theresa is perhaps the most eminent modern example of this.

In practice, multiple motives can be present at the same time. For example, I could work for the Boys & Girls Club because I believe in their mission (We) but also have accepted my position because of the lucrative salary offer (Me). Or I could begin to serve as a minister (Thee) but change this motivation over time.

Leaders understand that our organizational why and leadership why are connected. These two golden circles have a symbiotic relationship and one feeds the other. When we fail to connect them we develop organizations which say one thing and do another. Or even worse, we create organizations that are not what we think they are.

What is your leadership why?

Note: WordPress glitched and sent this during an earlier draft. My apologies to those who have received this twice!


 

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman is a consultant, professor and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman