Do you focus on the goal or on the barriers to the goal? When asked this question, most people will answer that they focus on the goal. I know I would have answered it that way—until I had an experience that changed my perception of myself.
I spend time with people in leadership roles. I describe some of them as very high performing. This is based on the measurable outcomes that are produced by them and those they lead. High performers tend to seek learning. If they don’t understand something or if their results are not what they want, they are not timid about seeking help. Even when achieving high performance, individuals still seek to be better. They are constantly searching for new and better ways. They are first movers. Complacency is like a plague to them.
The late Dr. Floyd Loop comes to mind. He was the person who saved the Cleveland Clinic years ago when it was not doing well and laid the foundation for what today is a great healthcare system. Dr. Loop was always looking for ways to make healthcare better. He would regularly call me up to share something he had learned that he was excited about. Until the end, he never quit learning. He was always focused on the outcome.
Yes, there are always barriers to what we want to achieve. Those who are high performers have the same barriers as others. The difference is they know how to move through the barriers.
I read the book The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge. It had such an impact on me that I attended a Fifth Discipline workshop in Santa Cruz, California. It was very hands-on. The group was divided up into smaller groups. There were times to participate physically in the exercises and times to observe. Two exercises impacted me greatly and changed the way I view the barriers in my life.
In one exercise, some people were sent out of the room. The group who remained in the room heard these instructions: At the end of the room, visualize a point. Your goal is to walk to that point. Stay completely focused on the point you are going to. Along the way, some barriers (arms) will go up, but stay focused on the goal. The people in this group walked to the goal. As barriers came up, they walked through them, barely slowing down or not slowing down at all.
The next group was brought in. The instructions were similar, but with one difference. These people were instructed to pick a spot at the far end of the room. They were then told that as they walked, barriers would come up. They were not told to stay focused on the point they were going to and to keep moving. This group walked slowly. Most would stop walking as soon as an arm came up. Those who did walk the whole way walked much more slowly than everyone in the first group.
The conclusion is that those who focus more on the goal are more likely to achieve it. Those who focus more on the barriers are more likely to stop or slow down, and are less likely to meet the goal. And if they do, it is often late. In both instances, the arms (barriers) were the same, but the outcomes were very different.
In the next exercise, a person was instructed to hold an arm straight out, even with their shoulder. Pressure was put on the arm until it went down. The strength of the arm being held up was measured. Then the same exercise was conducted, but with different instructions. The person was asked to hold the arm up like before. But then they were told to visualize a telephone pole in front of and behind the arm, along with a rod going through the arm connected to each pole. The same pressure was applied to the arm. Yet even though the pressure in the second experience was the same as in the previous one, the arm was able to stay up much longer when the person visualized the two poles and the steel rod.
The key is to visualize what one wants to accomplish. When you combine this visualization with the commitment to look beyond the barriers, you can accomplish great things.
A few tips:
- It is hard to break a habit. It is fine to recognize barriers; just don’t stop there. Come up with ideas to move over or under the barrier and/or to remove the barrier.
- Visualize the outcome. Stay true to the goal.
- Seek learnings. Don’t wait for them to be provided. We can learn from books, videos, other people, and so forth.
- Surround yourself with people who love you enough to provide you with feedback.
- Be willing to face facts. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, talks about how, to be great, we have to face the brutal facts. At times, we’ve just got to realize that there are some things that our organizations do really well, but there are some things we need to do better. Recently, I was fortunate enough to help facilitate a workshop, and the CEO got up to give a state of that organization. He did an excellent job talking about where the organization has made progress. And he talked about one area that needs improvement. I thought he had a really nice balanced approach, using facts to give the leaders an objective view of performance.
- At times, people will stop at a barrier, believing the goal cannot be met. While there are times when the barriers will prevent the goal from being reached, don’t stop too soon. Stop only when all options are exhausted.
The big takeaway is this: Don’t beat yourself up about what you wish you had done sooner. Be grateful you are learning now and moving forward. When we learn to keep our focus on the goal, there is so much we can accomplish, in our organizations and in our lives.