Sharpen Your Axe

Posted: 28 Feb 2011 01:26 AM PST

Last week I had the opportunity to deliver an Authentic Leadership session to a lovely team at Kraft Foods, at a very nice hotel in Oxford. I love the enthusiasm with which these sessions are met these days.At the end of the session one of the participants came up to me and said that she loved it all but, that work kept her so busy that she had no time for thinking, no time for personal development, no time for reflection. 

Many of us end up being so stretched coping with life that we never quite get around to thinking about where all our “doing” is taking us; if we actually want to go there and if we do want to go there, which bits of our “doing” are contributing most to getting us there and which bits are wasted effort.

I recently heard an adaptation of a quote from the movie Fight Club which illustrates part of this: “many of us spend our lives doing jobs we hate, to buy shit we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.”

Put this way, it is easy to see that fulfilment does not lie down this path – so where does it lie?

I think the first thing to say is that, in most cases, the job is not the problem. So changing the job won’t change things very much or for very long. Our options for changing things are limited, so the first thing we need to change is ourselves.

So –

Step One

Get clear about where you are going…

Many of us are leading our lives at enormous speed, but not necessarily in the right direction. The longer we continue not going in the right direction the further away from fulfilment we get – until the gap turns into a crisis.

We can pre empt the crisis by doing something about it now. This is the foundation for all of my work. Helping people to articulate their life’s purpose and after years of practice and development I have honed the process down to the point where it can be articulated as a DIY process from a short e-book. If you have not done the exercise already, do it now. I have done two life purpose e-books – the free one and the new one called Living on Purpose which I wrote with my lovely Friend Dawn Waldron. The new one is MUCH better. Get it here – now!

The book will help you articulate your purpose, vision and values, it will also give you guidance on how to allow it to happen.

The key thing once you are clear on your purpose and vision is to ensure that the life you are leading is the right platform to deliver on your purpose. In most cases people do not need to change their job, but we do need to change our approach. We need to stop compromising, stop emotionally, physically and financially subsidizing our employers and make use of the platform they provide to find fulfilment.

At first glance, this may sound like a recipe for anarchy. It is not. Think of it this way:

If you were running a business – would you rather have a team of passionate, aligned, engaged and responsible people committed to something they believe in wholeheartedly OR a group of people with hidden agendas, reluctant to take responsibility and looking for a way out?

The second option is pretty normal, the first option comes through people finding a sense of purpose and making their work the platform for achieving it, by aligning things in such a way that profit for the business is the outcome of their pursuit of purpose.

Step 2

“Get rid of the crappy stuff” (As Steve Jobs said to the incoming CEO of Nike last year)

OK – you are clear about your direction so now you can evaluate everything in your life on the basis of whether it is contributing to fulfilling your purpose or not.

Look at what is really adding value to your life and your fulfilment and what is not. If there are things, people, activities, roles, jobs or anything that is taking your energy and not delivering value – sort it out so that it is, or move away from it.

In doing your de-clutter, allow for longer term projects that will deliver value, but also be conscious of the moment when it turns into banging your head against a brick wall.

My mantra: “It is OK to settle and it is OK to compromise, it is just not acceptable to settle for compromise.”

Be courageous and have those conversations. Challenge the things that are not adding value if you have to or simply drop them and see if anyone notices. If someone does notice, be prepared to have the conversation with them about why you dropped it.

Step 3

Sharpen your Axe – this is a reference to the story of the woodcutter who had so many trees to cut that he didn’t have time to stop and sharpen his axe.

You may be extremely busy – and however busy you are, it is always worth it, when you step back and reflect on whether you are busy doing the right things and if you are doing them the best way.

You might find you can save yourself a great deal of time, by finding better ways to do things.

Also – get a coach or a mentor.

Just imagine that you were given the job of running a sports team and your objective was to get the team to perform at the highest level they could. Would you expect them to be able to figure out how to do that and how to stick to it on their own or would you also hire a coach to devise training programs and track performance?

Why would you not do that in business too? For yourself and your team.

With a clear and aligned sense of purpose, vision and values, no crappy stuff getting in the way and abilities honed to the max we get the most out of ourselves, our team, our business and we start to feel fulfilled in our lives and work.

Both political and business transformation seem to be becoming more popular. So I am working on offering a range of options for transformational leadership and teamwork courses here in Mallorca this year. Offering varying mixes of physical, intellectual and emotional challenge to suit the preferences of the group.

The courses will use the wonderfully diverse and spectacular geography and facilities in Mallorca to challenge individuals to find the limits of their leadership, their courage, their persistence and their authenticity.

The physical, emotional and intellectual experiences will be unpacked and discussed to extract the maximum learning against the framework of authentic leadership.

More information will be available next week and if you are interested we can have a chat about what would work best for your team.

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With love


Neil Crofts
Neil Crofts
authentic business

+34 646391384
Skype – neilcrofts


About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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One Response to Sharpen Your Axe

  1. Pingback: Coming to terms with mediocrity | April Textworks

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