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Deming’s idea of Constancy of Purpose strikes me as perhaps the best way I’ve heard to describe that intangible but palpable drive that propels the most effective individuals and the most successful organizations.
It’s a singular, unchanging and enduring focus on doing the right things for employees and customers to grow the business and create jobs. From long observation, this unyielding focus is often missing in our workplaces and in the behaviors of those in roles of leadership.
Instead of being singularly focused in pursuit of goals, many professionals struggle to find even a shred of time to work on their most important priorities. It’s not that they don’t have the time, but rather, they allow the noise in the environment to keep them from focusing.
The tyranny of the Outlook calendar may be the single biggest adversary you face in your own pursuit of constancy of purpose. Come in from the outside and watch as people scurry from meeting to mindless meeting day after day with no time to focus on the priorities that matter.”This topic is important, but I have a meeting… .”
There are the top executives who talk in terms that reflect constancy of purpose, but struggle to model or promote the behaviors that lead to focus. Their own actions and edicts fight the idea of focus. Instead of choosing a direction and sticking with it, they choose actions. In military parlance, they are “all action and no vector.”
Focus is Rocket Fuel for Performance:
Organizations and individuals march forward when they have a clear goal and they are driven by some deep collective conviction that when successful, the world they are helping to create will be a different and better place and in the process, they will be better, and even more secure in their professions.
The earlier in his/her career a leader understands that creating “constancy of purpose” is a core task, the faster they are on their way to truly fulfilling their obligation and responsibility as a leader.
4 Ideas for Creating Constancy of Purpose on Your Team:
- Help people connect the dots. Quit assuming that the people around you understand the purpose of their priorities. It is up to you as leader to provide this critical context. Strive to constantly connect everyone’s priorities and activities to the organization’s goals and strategies. People do their best work when they have proper context for their labors.
- Manufacture context if you have to. In the absence of a clear organizational “constancy of purpose” (most workplaces), it is up to you as leader to manufacture one for your team. Better yet, engage your team in creating their own overarching purpose.
- Manage the drift. Everyone drifts from the true north of their priorities—you need to allow an appropriate amount of drift for individuals and teams and know when and how to help them reorient.
- Own your responsibility to promote focus. Mission, vision and values need to be much more than posters on walls. You cannot spend enough time thinking about and working on making these come alive for the organization. It’s not a campaign or a one-off meeting…your goal is to make these often trivialized words serve as the rallying cry and standards for performance and behavior.
The Bottom Line for Now:
Focus is hard to come by in our world, yet it is that development and infusion of focus and purpose that fuel individual and organizational performance. Reflect on whether you are diluting focus and purpose more than creating it, and adjust your approaches to improve. Your team, your firm and your career depend upon it.
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An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.