beed leadership center launched the Unleashing Nepal-Unleashing You leadership thinkshop in early 2012. The thinkshop is a platform to spend two days thinking about you: where you are in life, where you want to be and how you imagine getting there. As part of the organizing team, I had the opportunity to watch the process closely and in turn use the time to reflect on myself. Following are some of my observations.
I always found leadership to be an abstract term that I appreciated, but found difficult to break down and implement in everyday situations. Many of the participants seemed to be struggling with the same issues as me: Who is a leader? A simple sign on the doormat reading “Please wipe off your designations before you enter” threw off many people. Some people even admitted that despite being in a professional leadership positions they doubted they would have any followers, once they were removed from their professional positions.
I watched heated discussions to flesh out what leadership meant. Various definitions of what a leader should be were pointed out with firm beliefs but each persuasive perspective was shot down by other equally compelling perspectives. The discussions made me revisit my definition of leadership and in due course I developed a broad and inclusive definition: a leader is someone who takes initiatives, whether it be to inspire oneself or others.
One of most striking lessons that I learnt at the thinkshop was that immediate goals can be frustrating. Although a goal such as getting a promotion to reach the next level in an organization would seem to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely), it is so specific that it can be frustrating especially if you are not able to attain it. But with a big goal there are various avenues for you to reach the goal, so that if one fails you pick another one, till you find one that suits you. The goal is then flexible enough to stand the test of time and motivate us to push boundaries, both in ourselves and our surroundings.
If organizations that do not have a clearly stated vision and mission are thought to be directionless and chaotic, I realized that the same is true for individuals. Unlike with immediate goals, long term goals make it is easier to keep the momentum going and remain motivated. Similarly, long term goals mean that the habits that you inculcate in yourself are sustained efforts to reach your big goals over time.
Another important lesson I learnt at the thinkshop was that some of our issues with time management may be rooted in our culture and as such it is not a surprise to see that most people struggle with managing time. Chronenics, the study of time perceptions, differentiates between monochronic cultures and polychromic cultures. Cultures that are monochronic do one thing at a time and time is segmented into precise, small units and time is scheduled, arranged and managed. Time is of absolute essence in these cultures. Contrarily, people from polychronic cultures do several things at the same time and a more fluid approach is taken to scheduling time. In these cultures, people do not put a lot of emphasis on time.
We are clearly a polychronic society. Many participants complained that they were obligated to entertain clients, who want to chit chat, when more important work is pending. Like many of the participants, I would frequently feel duty-bound to attend all social functions and every informal gathering. No wonder then that most of us complain of have a hard time completing work or little or no time left for family. Although there are a lot of positives of a polychronic society, (we have a strong tendency to build long-term relationships) we would benefit from learning a thing or two from the monochronics. As we get stretched thin by the various commitments, we must move away from looking at time commitments as an objective to be achieved if possible.
There is of course no point in planning to such detail that there is no scope of spontaneity. An interesting lesson is to use the 80-20 model, where you plan for 80% of your time and leave 20% for any unforeseeable issues that may arise. This model can provide both flexibility and structure that we need to be efficient. Another important lesson to manage time is to focus on the details. By getting into the habit of looking at one hour as 60 minutes for example, it is possible to squeeze in a quick phone call in the 5 minutes that we have between meetings for example. Accumulated efforts in this regard can provide the additional time to fulfill the many obligations that we may have.
Most participants of the Unleashing Nepal Unleashing You thinkshop attested to the fact that they do not remember the last time they had spent so much time thinking about themselves. The same is probably true of most people. It is very easy to get caught up in the demands of everyday life such that most of us find it taxing to take time out to plan, to dream. But a vision for the future may be all you need to motivate and perform to your full potential.