Self-Leadership: Design

I think about self-leadership often. I connect its role to leading others well and enabling collaboration. In my view, there are four distinctions that make self-leadership possible and effective. All four are needed.

  • Perspective

  • Responsibility and Choice

  • Design

  • Action

This is the third in a series of five blogs.

Design is the act of proactively thinking and planning how to achieve your desired outcome. Bob Dunham, my colleague and mentor, says,

Any nontrivial result demands a plan.

If it’s something worth committing oneself to accomplish, design can greatly improve the odds of success.

It has a couple of attributes:

Efficiency happens when you can take the journey with fewer wrong turns and missed opportunities. Effectiveness is based on your subjective assessment that your intention for the journey was achieved and you are satisfied. Often, the outcome produces what you consider to be a better future.

Design can take any of several forms. For example, it can be setting an end date for an intended goal and the milestone dates and related outcomes along the way; in other words, reverse engineering a ‘success trajectory’. You create a structure of goals and milestones, then commitments and actions to achieve success.

As part of the process of creating your timeline, ask and answer these questions:

  • Who is the person accountable for assuring each task is completed?

  • How much time does that person (it could be you) estimate it will take to accomplish each action or task?

  • In what sequence (accounting for dependencies) might these tasks need to occur?

  • Do I need to adjust the outcomes associated with the upcoming milestone?

  • Have I put the activities in my calendar or project planning tool?

Understand that when creating a schedule and milestones it’s likely to happen differently than originally planned. Adjust your design accordingly. I call this process success by successive approximation.

As an example, Martin, an executive I’m coaching, is working to improve his decision making and to become an effective communicator of his vision and strategy for his new organization. As described above, he took similar steps to design how to get to his desired future for each of his two professional development streams. The last steps: estimating the time to complete activities (with an eye towards allowing for the minimal duration needed for efficient work) and making appointments with himself in his calendar for those activities. This seemed new and even exciting. He now could see a clear path towards his next milestone outcomes.

Design can also look simpler. Shelley is a senior manager and coaching client of mine. She is working on how to have effective performance management conversations with her direct reports. She was not satisfied with the quality of their discussions, the results and how they felt afterwards. She wanted to improve.

Our coaching centered on how she planned her conversations, including her mindset, mood, intentions and how she set context with the other person. Prior to our coaching, these things were not on her radar. She was blind to them and their implications.

Our discussions enabled her to learn what she didn’t know that she didn’t know. She was able to take a larger perspective, clarify her intentions, and organize her self-leadership activities to align with their shared intentions. She even scheduled ‘experiments’ to practice and accelerate her learning curve to become more proficient. She didn’t require the same degree of structure that Martin needed because she already was familiar with some of the process. On the other hand, she discovered additional outcomes worthy of including, designing and building.

By looking with fresh eyes and becoming clear about what the larger goal and commitments are, it becomes easier to design for how to achieve them. The experimentation and practice in the design can accelerate learning and shorten the path to a chosen destination. As with choice and responsibility, there’s even space to enjoy your journey. Why not?

In the next blog of the series, I will discuss the distinction of Action. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts and experience about Design in our continuing conversation on LinkedIn.

Image provided through UNSPLASH Tim Artebury

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